100 Best: Sacramento River, Upper
Location: Northern California at the head of Lake Shasta
Type of stream: Freestone
Angling methods: Fly, Spin, Bait
Access: Easy and ample
Season: Year ‘round
Supporting Services: Dunsmuir
Short take: Greatest least fished trout river in America
Handicapped Access: None
Closest chapter: Sac Sierra (Sacramento)
Less than an hour’s drive north of Redding, the Upper Sacramento River may be the longest run of least fished great trout water in the country. One may well ask why. Here’s my guess. Northern California has so many great trout streams: the McCloud, Fall River, Hat Creek, Pit River, to name a few. Why then would any angler of sound mind seek solitude in along Interstate 5 where 20,000 cars and trucks pound the pavement passing the town of Dunsmuir every day. If the sound of jake brakes isn’t enough to raise your hackles, how ‘bout the throb of a heavily laden Union Pacific freight pulling its way up the valley on the railroad’s main line?
Good, I’ve dissuaded you from fishing the Upper Sac. That leaves about 38 miles of riffles, runs, pockets, and pools from Box Canyon Dam to Lake Shasta, for me and a few other hardies willing to let the aspens, pine and spruce along the river’s course mute the sounds of traffic. The Upper Sac tailwater is fed by a multitude of springs which keep it cool and open all year long. Some are small and weep from canyon walls. Others like Mossbrae Falls, a mile and a half upstream from the bridge at Shasta Retreat, spurts forth from high on a mossy cliff and plunges into the river. More than a score of creeks, Soda, Castle, Flume, Shotgun, Slate and Dog among them, add their voices to the Upper Sac.
And what of the fish? Rainbows as wild as they come. Keep in mind, that the McCloud River, draining the next watershed east and home of arguably the most famous strain of rainbows in the world, flows into Lake Shasta as well. Upper Sac rainbows average 12 to 14 inches and they are hot as steelhead. Snowmelt begins to fill the river in late May but lasts little more than a week. Access to the river is more than ample. Every two or three miles along I-5 from Lakehead to Azalea, a hamlet near Lake Siskiyou above Dunsmuir, there’s an exit. Side roads either cross the railroad leading to private retreat developments or stop at the tracks. Anglers park outside gates and walk in. A stroll of half a mile or so from the parking area will take you away from most other anglers.