Hat Creek Fly Fishing

Hat Creek is spring and snow-fed creek which runs nearly 50 miles from the eastern slopes of Lassen Peak down to Lake Britton.  Hat Creek is a tributary of the Pit River. Fly fishers generally focus on four sections: headwaters, Old Station, Cassel and wild trout:

Wild Trout Section

Fly fishers flock to the wild trout section, especially the riffle just below Powerhouse #2 which is appropriately called the powerhouse riffle. This section was the first water designated by the State of California as a wild trout fishery. Despite the pressure, this riffle is a consistent producer of nice catches. Below this ripple is Carbon Flats, where the creek runs flat in a weed lined, mud-bottom river bed... and is gin clear. The Carbon Flats area is technical tailwater fishing. Further down, close to the highway bridge, the river changes character yet again. Here you'll find a series of riffles... with a few running over shelfs into deep pools. This lower segment has less fishing pressure, is less technical than the Carbon Flats area. It can produce some really nice catches.

Carbon Flats at Dawn

Hat Creek

Lower segment (CDFW Photo)

The powerhouse riffle and the top of Carbon Flats can be reached using Hat Creek Powerhouse No. 2 Road off of CA 299. The trailhead at the end of Carbon Flats access road off of CA 299 provides access to the middle segment of the Carbon Flats area. The Hat Creek Park off of CA 299 at the Hat Creek Bridge provides access to the transitional area between Carbon Flats and less technical lower segment. The lower segment is best accessed by trailheads off of Hat Creek Park Road off of CA 299.

All of the wild trout section is a catch-and-release only with the usual restrictions on gear.

Cassel Section

The Cassel section, due to the confluence of the Rising River, behaves for the most part as a slow, meandering tailwater.  The section includes the Cassel fore bay, the Hat Creek Powerhouse #1 forebay and connecting canal, and Baum Lake, as well as portion of Hat Creek running from Cassel fore bay down to Baum Lake. This section is well stocked with rainbows and occasionally large brookies. The Cassel fore bay is just a short walk from the Cassel campground, making it ideal for some sunset and sunrise fishing for those camping there. Also try your luck catching the large brookies which call the top of the canal home.

Old Station Section

The Old Station section fishes as a freestone creek. It is regularly stocked with rainbow trout, especially around campgrounds and day-use areas. It fishes well except during the spring run-off when the creek and upper tributaries will be blown out. The Fisherman's Trail between Cave and Bridge Campgrounds provides easy access for the 4-plus miles just downstream of Old Station. Other easy access points include the Old Station day-use picnic area; Hat Creek, Honn and Big Pine campgrounds; and various dirt roads in the area.

Headwaters Section

The headwaters section is mostly contained within the Lassen Volcanic National Park. Brook trout can be found in Hat Creek and its tributaries. Be prepared to foot it... and deal with heavy brush in some areas.

Various trails off of CA 89 near the Summit Lake Ranger Station provide access. Camping is available at the Summit Lake and Manzanita Lake. Much of this area was burned by Dixie Fire in 2021 and is under emergency closure orders.

Seasonal Changes

Spring (April through June) is generally regarded as the prime season for fly fishing in the Cassel and wild trout sections. At any given moment in the spring there will likely be some hatch...including salmonflies, green drakes, pale morning duns, caddisfly, little yellow stoneflies, and tricos.

In the summer months (July and August), temperatures can get quite hot on Hat Creek, especially on the Cassel and wild trout sections. Most mornings will have a nice trico hatch and most evenings will have a nice caddisfly hatch. Please avoid taking fish out of the water in these months and stop fishing altogether when water temperature is 67℉ or higher.

The fall (September, October, and November) is a great time to fish the Hat... pressure wanes and there's lots of hatches to get fish rising. As with the summer months, commonly tricos come off in the morning and caddisflies in the evening. You might even find a few large October caddis coming off. There can be awesome blue winged olive hatches on overcast days. Late in the season one can find blue quill.

During high pressure months, it can be hard to get fish to rise in the middle of the day, especially in flat water sections... but fishing wet flies on Baum Lake or in the forebays or on the nearby Pit River will likely produce some fish.

Fishing terrestrials can be quite productive throughout the season... including grasshopper and ant patterns. Trout will take streamers, such as small wholly buggers and leach patterns. Try swinging wet flies as well.

For gear, a 3-to-5 weight rod/reel with a floating line and 9ft 5X tapered trout leader and 5X tippet will do nicely. In more technical waters, such as Carbon Flats, drop to 6X if necessary.

For dry fly fishing, you'll commonly be rigging with an indicator fly, like a small Hot Creek Stimulator (#18) and then a small fly for the trout to actually take. Size the indicator fly so it large enough for you to see it well but no larger.  Hang the second dry off the bend of the indicator fly so that it's about 9 inches away.  Set if you see any rise anywhere near your indicator. And, if not on a fish, put your flies back just upstream of the rise. For Carbon Flats and Cassel forebay, you may need to drop to 6X tippet.

For nymphing in the wild trout section and Casel forebay, a hopper/dropper rig is recommended as fish are wary of bobbers. As an alternative to beaded nymphes, consider using bead-less fly patterns with a small split shots two feet above the fly.

Best Camping

There are lots of great campgrounds in the area, but the best, in my opinion, is PG&E's Cassel Campground. This small, basic campground provides a great base for fly fishing for Hat Creek and many of the nearby waters. For more info, select Cassel Campground on the PG&E Camping page.

Nearby FishABLE Waters

Though Hat Creek itself offers a good range of different waters, there's lots of great fisheries nearby that you might want to check out while you are in the area.

Article authored by Kurt Zeilenga, President of the High Sierra Fly Casters. If you have suggestions on how to improve this article, you may contact Kurt at education@hsfc.us.

Additional Reading