A Super Sunday: Fishing the “Lower Sac” in California

I was originally going to use the title “California Dreaming” but I will save it for another time. That said, I was blessed to be able to fish the Lower Sacramento or “Lower Sac” River on Super Bowl Sunday.

As I was planning my work trip to California, I realized that I faced the depressing prospect of watching the Super Bowl alone in my hotel room. For me, that simply would not do, particularly as California is one of fly fishing’s hidden gems and who knows how many opportunities one will have to fish in any given state.

Mike Holland on the Lower SAC, California

In any case, I booked Colin Coogan of Coogan Fly Fishing in Chico, California; Colin is affiliated with Fish First, a fly shop in Chico. I had had the privilege of fishing for steelhead with Colin on the Feather River around Christmas in 2021. Colin and I had originally planned to fish the Yuba River near Marysville this time but made a last-minute course correction due to adverse water conditions. Speaking of steelhead, I did need to purchase a steelhead card. They can only be purchased at a state licensed agent or online. In my

experience, finding a state licensed agent can be challenging but if you buy it online, make sure you do so at least three weeks in advance as they are mailed and there is no ability to print them off the website.

In his book, “California’s Best Fly Fishing,” Chip O’Brien describes the Lower SAC as being “renowned as one of the best wild-trout fisheries in the western United States ….” O’Brien explains that

7 the Sacramento River begins as a spring on Mount Shasta and becomes two very different rivers due to the interruption provided by several dams. The Upper Sac is the portion of the river between Box Canyon Dam and Shasta Lake and the Lower Sac begins downstream from Keswick Dam.

As Colin shared and O’Brien writes, the Lower Sac has a rich abundance of food and a very healthy population of wild rainbows. While it does have hatches in March and April, the predominant and consistently most productive fishing strategy is with nymphs. It can be fished all year, but the summer months are quite hot.

Colin and I put in at about 8 am at an area known as the Posse Grounds; it is behind the Redding Convention Center and is not far from the AndersonCottonwood Irrigation Dam (ACID) dam. We headed upstream and fished an area known as Market Street as it is in downtown Redding. I was using an Orvis Clearwater, 9-foot, six weight rod with a triple nymph set up. It included a chartreuse plastic egg with a hook followed by a caddis nymph.

From 8 am to about 11 am, the fishing was terrific. I hooked into nine fish and was able to land seven of them. They were each about 16 inches long and full-bodied; the biggest was 24 inches long. I only lost fish, “fumbled” if you will, twice; the second one was on the way to the Sundial Bridge and was a

clean break-off. I like to imagine that it was a “big un.”

The Sundial Bridge is large, white pedestrian bridge which connects the Turtle Bay Museum to various walkways and gardens. It is not uncommon for people to watch the anglers below and to cheer them when a fish is landed. To me, it is pretty cool to think of fishing as a spectator sport but it sure can be on the Lower Sac.

From there, we floated through various sections of the stream known and the Long Bar, Little Alaska, and Hog Alley until we reached an area known as Aqua Golf which is home to a driving range. I will say that the fishing was fairly tough after 11 am with fewer and far more subtle strikes. I had good drifts but did not capitalize; perhaps I began to think too much about the mechanics of setting the hook or maybe I was too slow to react. In all likelihood, it probably was a little of both, but it is nothing that more time on the water cannot eventually cure.

I did make it back to the hotel to enjoy a great half of the Super Bowl, which will always be memorable because of the time I spent with Colin on the Lower Sac. If you find yourself in California and are looking for a good guide, I encourage you to reach out to him at www.cooganflyfishing.com or 530-636-5188.

By Mike Holland