On the 6 a.m. Southwest flight from Sacramento to Portland on a Monday morning, I am the odd man out. Surrounded mostly by folks in suits and briefcases – business commuters – I’m sporting fleece wading pants, a Gore-Tex parka and stained fishing cap. When we hit the tarmac at PDX, most of my spiffily dressed friends here will shuffle off to work somewhere downtown. I’m headed just a few miles southeast to do something quite the opposite – to go steelhead fishing on the Clackamas River.
This interesting contrast gets me thinking about how big cities and good fishing don’t always go hand-in-hand, but here on the West Coast, we have several major urban areas that play host to some surprisingly productive and diverse fisheries. Here now, in no particular order, are some of the best:
San Diego, CA
You could spend a lifetime sampling all the sportfishing opportunities that the greater San Diego area has to offer and never come close to doing it all. From giant tuna to record class largemouth bass and everything in between, there’s a little something for everyone here.
San Diego is perhaps best known as the homeport of the extremely popular long range fleet that fishes along the Mexican coastline – and points further south. Cow yellowfin, wahoo, dorado, albacore, yellowtail and marlin are the main draws, but there are plenty of calico and sand bass, barracuda, halibut, white seabass, rockfish and bonito in the local inshore waters to keep the small boat crowd happy, too.
Get seasick? No problem – just head into San Diego or Mission bays with some ultralight gear and have a ball with sand bass, spotted bay bass and halibut. Additionally, bay anglers also catch the occasional seabass, bonito, barracuda – and even bonefish. Or, you can always prowl the beaches for small ‘butts, corbina, perch and croaker.
Then there’s the whole freshwater scene. Giant Florida strain largemouth draw record hunters to places like Lake Dixon (formerly home of “Dottie,” the mammoth bass that made so much news a couple years back), Lake Miramar, Lake Hodges and others. As if that weren’t enough, you can also catch trout in lakes like Poway and Cuyamaca.
San Francisco, CA
Of all the West’s big cities, San Francisco may just offer the most diverse collection of angling opportunities. Right outside the Golden Gate there are lings, rockfish of every size and color, albacore and Chinook salmon to chase. And who could forget the Dungeness crabbing? Inside the bay, there’s terrific striped bass, sturgeon and California halibut fishing all within sight of the city’s high rises.
Shore-bound anglers can fish San Francisco’s ocean beaches for perch and striped bass or venture to one of the region’s many freshwater lakes that kick out a wide range of fishing that should suit just about everybody’s taste. Most feature put-and-take trout fisheries, along with bass, panfish and catfish. Check out Lake Chabot, Del Valle Reservoir, San Pablo Reservoir, Shadow Cliffs Lake and many others.
Just inland lies the vast Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that pumps out all sorts of mixed bag action. Stripers and sturgeon probably get the most attention here, but the Delta also has a solid reputation for harboring good numbers of jumbo largemouth bass, along with a modest population of smallies. The place is also teeming with catfish that can go from paniszed bullheads to blues and channels that have topped the 50-pound mark in recent years.
Location, location, location! Situated about an hour and a half from the coast and just minutes south of the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, Portland is an angler’s dream. Right downtown there’s some of the best sturgeon and spring-run Chinook salmon fishing to be found anywhere in the two big rivers. Smaller tribs like the Clackamas and Sandy rivers play host to seasonal runs of winter and summer steelies, springers, fall Chinook and coho salmon.
An hour east is the amazing Columbia River Gorge and more epic sturgeon, steelhead and salmon action – plus smallmouth bass and walleye, too. To the west lies the fabled Tillamook Bay area, which is the epicenter of some of the West Coast’s best salmon and steelhead fishing and there’s plenty more up north across the Washington border.
Los Angeles, CA
Much like San Diego, there’s a ton of saltwater fishing to be had off LA. Near shore, you’ve got calico and sand bass, barracuda, bonito, mackerel, halibut, sheepshead, sculpin, white seabass, cabezon, lings and rockfish. Get out into the blue water and you’ve got a shot at big game species like bluefin and yellowfin tuna, dorado, albacore and billfish.
Newport Harbor is an exciting fishery for the light tackle aficionado and fishes a lot like a bass lake. By tossing small plastics around pilings and under boat docks, you can expect to catch sand bass, halibut and croaker. For a really interesting experience, hit the beaches around the Santa Monica Pier in July when the sand crabs are out in force. If you look closely, you should be able to see plenty of corbina working the foam line right at the feet of the scads of waders, swimmers and boogie boarders.
If coldwater species are your thing, check out the trout fishing at places like Irvine Lake and Santa River Lakes, where chasing oversized planter rainbows on featherweight tackle is almost a religion. There are big bass here, too. Though not the glory hole it once was, Lake Castaic has produced a number of monster largemouth, including a 21-pound 12 ouncer that narrowly missed the world record for the species by ounces. Other waters to check out include Piru Lake, Lake Casitias and Ojai Lake. If you’re into stripers, try Pyramid Lake near the Grapevine.
It may be the smallest town on this list, but the Capitol City can hold its own. Flowing smack through the heart of downtown are both the American and Sacramento rivers and then you have the Feather River just north of the airport. All three play host to excellent runs of Chinook Salmon and several other species.
Anglers flock to the Sac and Feather every spring for world-class striped bass fishing, while the American is more of a size over numbers game. Good shad runs also enter these streams April through June and the Feather gets a run of small fall steelhead, too. Most of the action in the winter comes courtesy of the American, where winter steelhead to 15 plus pounds are taken – or the Sacramento which yields big sturgeon to bait anglers.
To the southwest is the vast Delta system and all it has to offer, while Folsom Lake is an excellent trout, king salmon and bass fishery. Lake Natoma doesn’t produce a lot of fish, but a handful of rainbow trout over 20 pounds have been landed there. Then you have a myriad of lakes within an hour’s drive in any direction, including popular Lake Berryessa, Camanche Reservoir, Sly Park, Union Valley Reservoir, Lake Pardee and Lake Amador.
Because it’s bordered by both fresh and saltwater, the Emerald City is another urban area that features great fishing diversity. Just yards off Seattle’s western edge, you can catch king, coho, pink and chum salmon, plus rockfish, lings, halibut and crab in Elliot Bay and Puget Sound.
To the east, the city is hemmed in by Lake Washington, which produces good cutthroat and rainbow trout fishing, along with yellow perch and smallmouth bass. Additionally, sockeye salmon migrate up through the Ballard Locks and into the lake in the summer months. On years when biologists determine there are enough salmon in the lake to reach escapement goals, they open it up to anglers and a zoo-like troll fishery materializes overnight.
Just over the hill from Lake Washington is Lake Sammamish, which gets seasonal runs of coho and king salmon to go along with a nice resident population of smallmouth bass.
For the river fishing enthusiast, there are several rivers that serve up nice salmon and steelhead action, including the Skykomish, Snoqualmie, Tolt, Snohomish, Wallace and Sultan to name a few.
So there you have it – there’s some pretty good fishing to be had in the concrete jungles of some of the West’s largest cities. On that next business trip, you just may want to pack a travel rod in with your laptop!
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