Last week, we crossed the line into summer and the decline of trout season here in Virginia and Maryland (outside of tailwaters, of course). As I ruminated on this fact, it triggered fond memories of one of my two trips to California last year. On this particular trip, I hit the Pit River, the Trinity and then spent the better part of the last day on the Upper Sacramento.
The Upper Sacramento is one of California’s great rivers. It’s 35 miles of public access and wild trout water. While there are a few places that are stocked and allow bait, most of the fishery is restricted to artificial lures. The tourism folks for Mount Shasta recognize the great asset they have in the river and publish a detailed guide which looks at almost every mile of the river as it parallels I5.
On this day, I only had a few hours before I had to drive back to the Bay Area. As I drove south on I5 considering some of the other areas I had fished earlier in the day, the itch to fish in one more spot became overwhelming. I made a quick stop and scanned the tourist guide for the next likely location. McCardle Flats popped right out – it was only a few miles from where I was — a no-brainer. On a later trip, I fished the Dog Creek access point which is just a few miles downstream from here and another great spot.
It was a short drive from the easy exit on I5 to the McCardle access point. I popped out of the car, followed the railroad tracks for a short distance and then cut over to the river. What stretched in front of me was a broad pool which was wider than I could ever hope to cast at this stage of my fly fishing career. But, the river was compressed where it entered the pool and I knew decent fish would hold here. I began to work a Copper John with my standard pheasant tail dropper.
I continued to adjust the depth of the nymphs until I started to get some hits. With 35 miles of river, it’s not possible for any one location to have a significant amount of pressure and my luck on this day validated that assertion. It seemed as if these rainbows had not run into people before. While they were not easy to catch, they were not overly hard to hook up either.
I gradually worked my nymph rig across the stream adding a foot or two to the distance that I could cast. In this fashion, I was able to cover the entire riffle with great success. Finished there, I began to work my way downstream with less luck. Not surprisingly, the best water to hold a trout is at the head or the tail where the food concentrates, but not in the deep middle. I did not pick up another fish until I got to the next riffle downstream. That pattern would persist for the few hours I could devote to fishing this location.
As you can see from the pictures, this location is the typical, scenic western mountain location. The dry season vegetation provides an interesting frame to a wild river. The water on this day was running a foot deep in most places, but the pools open into very deep holes. It’s fast water – I needed my wading staff.
Bottom Line: I don’t think there is a bad location anywhere on the Upper Sacramento river in the Mount Shasta area. Access is easy on the many dirt roads as well as the formal I5 exits that lead to the river’s edge. I recommend that you stop at The Fly Shop in Redding for advice on what’s hot and what’s not and which of the formally designated spots are currently the most productive. Beyond that, you should hook up with a guide who will take you to the lesser known stretches of this river.
This is big water. Bring a 6wt.
Getting There: Easy. Just drive north on I5 from Redding. Be sure and pick up the tourist guide at The Fly Shop which will give you endless, specific detail on where to exit.
Secrets Revealed? No. This location is in the tourist guide (online version is pretty cool) and even more detail is available from StreamTime Maps
Just like the North Branch… the train tracks make for quick movement
Nice rainbow on a copper john
Pools like this are all over the place
Looking upstream from where I turned around
Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore