Fishermen and women who live in landlocked areas of the southwestern and western, especially the mountain regions of the US, should travel west to catch steelhead trout - and California has some of the best. The Six Rivers National Forest has an immense variety to offer, making it an ideal place for fly fishing. You won't be in your own stomping grounds, so load up your tackle box with your favorite steelhead flies and variations to try, and then map out several key fishing spots with some flexible options! A seasoned fly fisherman knows if you don't fish the right spots, you won't catch anything but a snag, no matter what clever steelhead fly patterns you use. 

A variety of factors impact the quality of steelhead fishing, which were considered when compiling this list. The temperature and flow of the body water are a few basic factors. A less obvious factor would be the prevalence of spawning grounds, which also impacts the population of steelhead in a specific river. While there's some overlap with fishing on a reel, the pros and cons considered here are specific to the fly-fishing logistics and limitations. Here we delve into some of the best spots in California to catch steelhead with fly fishing flies.

Trinity River

As the main tributary of the larger Klamath River, the Trinity River is home to some of the largest adult steelheads out of the entire river system. Generally, discovering the best spots can take miles of hiking and sometimes even a bit of luck. However, the Trinity River has plenty of access from the road to excellent fly-fishing runs. Known as the "Gentlemen's Stream" as it takes very little work to get set up in a great fishing spot. Further, almost any steelhead flies will be effective here. The Trinity River offers priceless convenience to enthusiasts just passing through or the casual hobbyists not wanting a huge trek. 

Smith River 

As California's only major river without a dam, it seems pretty untouched compared to some others on this list. The Smith River has a strong natural flow which can result in rougher waters and lack of water visibility. Like any water with clarity issues, you'll be a lot more effective here by using sinking tips with extremely colorful steelhead fly patterns. The Smith River is known to be home to some of the largest steelhead in California. While many are looking for those monster steelhead, there's also a solid population of hatchery fish available. 

Klamath River

Klamath River is nothing short of beautiful with its canyons, and arguably what the ideal fly fishing area looks like. Similar to the Trinity River, the Klamath River is relatively calm, making it a good destination for families and beginners.  It has gained a reputation for steelhead half-pounders since they will put up a hard fight despite not being full grown.  

Eel River

The Eel River can be credited as the first river where people fly fished for steelhead. This is another spot you'll want to use the most colorful steelhead flies you can get. Unfortunately, the logging industry has ravaged the area so downpours transport tons of sediment and compromise the rivers. Nevertheless, the Eel River has some of the best runs come from Fortuna and the surrounding areas. Not only steelhead Trout but also Chinook Salmon can be caught as they voyage to their spawning grounds. 

Mad River

The Mad River has had a history of immense logging industry, yet despite its past industrial use it still holds on to its true beauty. Unfortunately, the logging and resulting loss of habitat left this river nearly void of wild fish. A hatchery program has been used to fill the river again with many adult steelhead in this area reaching up to 12 pounds. You can almost cast your steelhead flies anywhere, as the large quantity of fish here makes it all the more likely you will catch your biggest of the season.

Van Duzen River

The Van Duzen helps feed the Eel River and has a plethora of both steelhead as well as Salmon. Locals fly fish steelhead in this water regularly but for visitors it can often be far more difficult to find a good spot. The great fly fishing spots are a bit harder to find because they are not as plentiful and so the locals tend to keep their lips sealed. 

California has a vast landscape that offers some of the best fly fishing in the world when targeting steelhead. Take advantage of the beauty that nature has to offer while embarking on a dream fly fishing trip in the Golden State!