Can you fish in the Sacramento river?

The Sacramento River runs through California, providing habitat for many different types of fish. The river is home to both warm water and cold water species. There are also some native species found in the river that you don’t find anywhere else! 

The question often arises, “Can you fish in the Sacramento river?” Yes, you can! In fact, there are many other activities that one can do when they visit the Sacramento River. Fishing is a popular activity. There are many opportunities for catching fish like carp, catfish, striped bass, and white sturgeon. The river is also home to many endangered species, including the Delta smelt and Chinook salmon. 

So, let’s explore what kinds of fish can be found in the Sacramento River, as well as tips for fishing success!

What kind of fish are in the Sacramento River?

You can find many different types of fish in this area. But, some are seasonal, and others are endangered—the season changes based on where you go. 

King Salmon (Chinook)

The Sacramento River is a living legend with the highest density of Chinook salmon in California. This mighty river has been home to many monster Kings over 70 pounds and even holds the state record for largest Salmon, an 88-pounder caught back in 1979! 

Striped Bass

The Striped bass come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from 2 pounds to 50 pounds or more. These freshwater beauties have a mighty reputation as excellent fighters and tasty catch. They strike hard and are known for their delicious meat.

Sturgeon

Sturgeon fishing in Sacramento is no joke, as some of these beasts can easily reach up to 800 pounds. It would help if you had extra elbow grease and mental preparation before heading into battle. Using your heaviest tackle would be your best bet. It’s most effective to have fresh bait if you want a good chance at catching one.

Rainbow Trout and Steelhead 

The Sacramento River is a popular place to catch Rainbow and Steelhead Trout. These fish are known for their large size, power, and strength. There’s an excellent opportunity to target Trout all year long. They first emerge in the spring, when water temperatures start increasing and spawning starts as well.

Sacramento Pikeminnow

The Sacramento Pikeminnow, a native freshwater fish, is also known as Sacramento squawfish. In their natural habitat, Sacramento pikeminnows are found throughout the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system. They are most often associated with low to mid-elevation streams. These rivers typically have deep pools that are easy for these fish to swim under.

American Shad

The tough fighting American Shad make their annual spawning run up Central Valley rivers and streams each spring. When sports anglers pursue them, these fish have been called “little tarpon” for their reputation of being a fighter in the water.

Common carp

Carp are making their way into lower Sacramento. You see these fish all the time along weed edges in the main stem of rivers, but they typically stay spooky and selective. Finding them on mudflats where they actively feed is the best carp fishing.

Striped Bass

The Sacramento River is home to some of the most prolific striped bass that migrate back and forth each year. The migration begins when schools of fish swim upriver in huge numbers during March-May. Then retreat down towards the bay soon after spawning around full moon time. These migrations are no secret either-fly fishers from across California will travel here just for these prized anadromous fish!

Where is the best fishing on the Sacramento River?

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Anglers come from across California to fish at the Delta. It is where they can find a bounty of various types of freshwater fishing. Whether you’re looking for a sturgeon or trout, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is sure to have what you need!

The California Delta is like a giant fishbowl. Year-round, you can find the salmon and stripers making their annual spawning runs into this scenic waterway in southern California. There are largemouth bass and smallmouth bass that haunt its depths as well.

Is it safe to eat fish from the Sacramento River?

Fish is rich in Omega-3s and protein, so it’s good for your health. It reduces heart disease risks and improves the development of babies’ brains. But, some fish carry high levels of mercury with them that could harm a baby’s brain or even lead to cancer through PCB exposure.

Luckily there are steps you can take! The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has guidelines on how much you should eat certain types. So, you can safely eat fish low in chemical contaminants and enjoy the well-known health benefits of fish consumption.

Guide to Eating Fish Caught in the Sacramento River by OEHHA

Women ages 18-49 and children under 17 should avoid eating these five types of fish:

  • Black bass
  • Catfish
  • Sacramento Pikeminnow
  • Striped Bass
  • White Sturgeon

However, they may safely eat a total of:

  • 5 servings per week of Rainbow Trout 
  • 1 serving per week of Sacramento Sucker, Common Carp, crappie, crayfish
  • 2 servings per week of bullhead, Chinook Salmon, Steelhead Trout
  • 3 servings per week of American Shad or small baitfish and shrimp

Men 16 years older and women 50 years and older may eat a total of:

  • 5 servings per week of Rainbow Trout
  • 4 servings per week of bullhead or sunfish species
  • 1 serving per week of Sacramento Pikeminnow, black bass species, or White Sturgeon
  • 2 servings per week of Striped Bass, catfish, Common Carp, crappie, Sacramento Sucker
  • 7 servings per week of Chinook Salmon, Steelhead Trout, American Shad

A fish serving for an adult should be about the size of your hand. Give smaller servings to children.

Where on the Sacramento river should I fish? 

Now, if you’re up to the fishing endeavors in the Sacramento River, here are some fishing spots you go to:

Sacramento

Sacramento is a city that got its name from the river running through it and has excellent urban fishing. You can find charters in the center of town to take you out or spend your day onshore, casting for Stripers and Salmon.

Anderson

In Anderson, you can enjoy the splendid nature of this town while fishing for Shad and Striped Bass. The bite is strong here, so there are plenty of opportunities to reel in a big catch! There’s no shortage of fish that call Anderson home. Trout, Chinook Salmon, and even Shad are all waiting at your fingertips when you visit its many watery habitats.

Redding

Redding is a fishing paradise, boasting trout and steelhead in the winter months. Fly anglers swear by Redding with its fantastic Trout population that runs from November through March. Rainbowfish are present year-round for those who want to catch one of these beauties on their line. Just be sure not to fish for Salmon here, or else you might end up with a hefty fine!

Dunsmuir

Dunsmuir has been hailed as one more Rainbow Trout treasure chest by avid anglers looking to explore its farthest reaches. The town offers easy access right off Interstate 5, perfect for those who don’t have much time on their hands but still want some fresh fish in their bellies before they head home again at day’s end.

Are there any special regulations for fishing on the Sacramento river?

The more people are aware of the importance of freshwater fishing and how to do it responsibly, the better. Due to the higher commercial value of these fish, there is a need for extra enforcement mechanisms. It is to make sure they’re not over-harvested or illegally caught.

First, you must always bring with you your fishing report cards. One of the best things about steelhead and salmon report cards is that they are not transferable. They belong to you, so no one else can use or abuse them. Data recording procedures vary between species. But, with all lines in your card filled out, you should return or report to the department. 

Aside from that, the law prohibits anglers from killing or retaining any fish that refuses to eat the bait.  Any fish taken within these limits should be released back into the water immediately.

Anglers are only permitted to use a gaff that is three feet or less in length. Especially when fishing from boats on the Sacramento River below Deschutes Road Bridge. So, if you’re looking to fish at night, make sure that the location and time are permitted to use light.

There are strict regulations on fishing in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Anglers can only use hooks with a gap of less than 1 inch or ¾ inches to protect fish populations. 

More importantly, anglers are not allowed to take or possess any sturgeon in the Sacramento River. And don’t even think about catch and release fishing for sturgeons. They’re off-limits!

Final Thoughts

So the final question is,  can you fish in the Sacramento River? Yes, there are many spots of opportunity for fishing success for everyone, from experts to beginners! 

But remember to follow all regulatory guidelines and familiarize yourself with where the hotspots are located so your fishing trip will turn out to be successful!