Fishing is often overlooked when talking about things to do in the winter in the Sierra.  But it shouldn’t be. Contrary to mid-summer, which demands early rising, winter allows for a more leisurely start to your day. Fish tend to be more active during the warmest parts of the day, which of course are later in the winter months. Here’s a round-up of some of the best spots to throw that line in winter. While these locations provide year-round fishing, it’s wise to double-check seasonal fishing regulations with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife before casting your line.

Truckee River

winter fly fishing of a river brown trout on Truckee River in the High Sierra California
Nate Cutler from Trout Creek Outfitters shares a colorful Truckee River Brown Trout. Image appears courtesy: Trout Creek Outfitters

During the coldest months, Truckee transforms into a winter wonderland, surrounded by snow-capped peaks and pristine white meadows. While classic winter activities like sledding and snowshoeing abound, one of the most unique experiences is fly fishing along the Truckee River. On those sunny, warmer days sandwiched between storms, it’s the perfect outing. You can ease into the day with a leisurely breakfast or kick off with some Nordic skiing. As the sun warms the waters, you can cast your flies in the peaceful stretches of the Truckee. For the latest information, swing by Trout Creek Outfitters or check out their weekly reports available all year.

Owens River

brown trout in the Lower Owens River Valley near Bishop California winter fishing
Photo by: Fred Rowe – Image appears courtesy: Bishop Visitor Center

The Eastern Sierra boasts world-class fishing that any serious angler would enjoy. While November 15th marks the end of the general fishing season, numerous rivers, streams, and lakes remain open year-round, such as the lower Owens River near Bishop. If that wasn’t enough, Bishop stands as the quintessential ‘choose your own adventure’ destination for ANY activity. Especially in winter! Picture this: skiing through powder in the morning, indulging in afternoon climbing in just a t-shirt, and capping off the day by casting your line on the Owens River.

All thanks in part to the Owens Valley climate which seldom is blanketed by snow while the mountains surrounding it are. Winter days in the valley typically hover around the 50s, yet feel even warmer under the high desert sun, creating a “warm” winter wonderland.

Hot Creek

Winter fly fishing on the Upper Owens River / Hot Creek – Photo by: Josh Wray – Image appears courtesy: Mammoth Lakes Tourism

Mammoth Lakes is typically renowned for its world-class skiing rather than fishing during this time of year, however, fly fishing should be part of your winter getaway itinerary. Begin your adventure by strapping on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis, then capture photos that will make your friends jealous at the Hot Creek Geological site. This spot marks the headwaters for one of the top spots for winter fly fishing – Hot Creek.

With the California Department of Fish and Game surveys boasting counts of 8,000 to 10,000 trout per mile, Hot Creek stands out as the most trout-dense stream in the state. While Hot Creek Ranch is a private fishing resort, the downstream section of the canyon remains a beloved spot among the public sector of local and visiting anglers.

When it comes to winter regulations, note that Hot Creek from the State hatchery property line to the confluence with the Owens River remains open year-round, providing ample opportunities for winter fishing enthusiasts.

Topaz Lake

Topaz lake winter fishing
Winter sunrise over Topaz Lake

If you haven’t noticed, fishing in the Eastern Sierra isn’t merely a hobby. It’s a true passion. Even the general fishing season opener known locally as “Fishmas” spans from the last Saturday in April through November 15th each year. But there’s a significant exception to this ruleTopaz Lake.

Nestled along the Nevada and California border, Topaz Lake remains open year-round. In fact, it’s at its best during the winter months when most bodies of water in the Eastern Sierra are frozen or buried under snow. Topaz Lodge even runs an annual winter fishing derby, offering anglers a nice outdoor fix during the chilly winter months.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe on a winter's day
Image appears: Go Tahoe North

How often do you get to cast a line into an alpine lake amid the winter wonderland of snow-covered landscapes? Lake Tahoe stands out as one of those rare places on Earth where this experience unfolds. Cold days. Clear skies. And a whisper of wind are the perfect conditions to fish the many varied species of trout on Lake Tahoe — Mackinaw, Brown, Kokanee and Rainbow, to name a few.

You may come for skiing, but consider extending it for the ultimate fishing experience of the season. You can either perch yourself up from one of the many shoreline spots. Or if you’re up for the challenge of braving the elements, consider chartering a boat. After you’ve caught your fill of fish, make sure not to miss witnessing one of the most breathtaking sunsets you’ll ever see. With the backdrop of the shimmering waters of Lake Tahoe embraced by the majestic peaks of the Sierra, it’s a view you’ll remember for a lifetime.

Caples Lake

Overlooking Caples Lake during winter from Caples Lake Resort
Photo by: Gwen Niccoli – Image appears courtesy: Caples Lake Resort

If you’re up for trying ice fishing, Caples Lake near Kirkwood in Alpine County stands as one of the prime spots in the region. Surprisingly, it doesn’t require a ton of equipment, just the determination to brave the cold. All you really need is a fishing pole, some bait, an ice auger to cut through the ice, and a shovel in case the ice is covered by snow. For those in need of gear, Tahoe Fly Fishing Outfitters in South Lake Tahoe offers rentals and sales of ice augers, tackle, and all the rods you could possibly want. And if you feel like skipping the drive entirely you can stay right up on the shore by booking a room or cabin at Caples Lake Resort.

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

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