Fishing Hat Creek
There are three fairly distinct parts of the Hat: the lower Wild Trout area that is largely a spring creek and offers the best fly-fishing; the middle portion from the flat-water Cassel Forebay area to Baum Lake which permits bait fishing but maintains solid fishing quality; and the upper freestone area that is heavily stocked and dominated by spincasters.
Upper Stretch (Lassen Park to Bridge Camp)
This section of the river is freestone in nature and heavily stocked with rainbow trout. Fly-fishermen are in the minority and there are no special regulations. Above Lassen Park and below Bridge Camp the water is private. In between are over 15 miles of water.
Middle Stretch (Cassel stretch and Baum Lake)
Above the town of Cassel is "Cassel Forebay," a shallow section where water gathers before being sucked into Hat #1 power plant. The Hat's character changes in this area as springs enter from Rising River, transforming Hat into a spring creek. Here you'll encounter classic spring creek conditions: clear, glassy water with steady year-round temperatures and an abundance of weeds and insects. Fish can grow quite large, over 5 pounds. Regulations permit bait fishing. Baum Lake, just downstream, is not much more than a wide version of the Hat and should be fished as such. Below Baum Lake the Wild Trout section begins (see below).
Lower Stretch (Wild Trout zone)
It is here that the serious fly-fishermen spend their time. This is designated Wild Trout water with Trophy Trout restrictions: a 2 fish limit, 18-inch minimum, barbless flies and lures only. This section of the river is 3.2 miles long, stretching from Powerhouse 2 downstream to the fish barrier just above Lake Britton.
The upper 2/3 of the Wild Trout section is flat spring creek water that demands near-perfect fly presentation. The exception is the beginning of the stretch -- Powerhouse riffle -- which is highly productive and the most heavily fished piece of water. If you want some serious nymphing, including numerous stonefly species, try this area. Otherwise, the flat water is spring creek fishing where you should expect mayflies and midges, not stoneflies. Hatches occur predictably in the morning and evening. Because of the range of insects on the Hat, you are wise to stop by a fly shop before hitting the water. The entire upper 2/3 of the Wild Trout section can be approached and waded easily. The banks are lined with tall grass, some shrubbery and an occasional tree. Fish average over 12 inches and can range up to 20.
The lower 1/3 is more freestone in nature, consisting of a long series of riffles, pockets and deep pools formed by ledges. Fish hold in pockets and around the ledges, some of which are more reliable than others. Because the water is faster than the spring creek section, the trout population is not as dense. The upside is that the fish are larger. Crowds here are not as great as in other sections. Fishing is not as tough, either, as the faster, more riffled surface does not demand the perfect presentations required on the flatter sections.
Accessibility & Directions
Hat Creek is highly accessible and most of the river can be crossed by foot. By car, it is 5 hours from San Francisco. Take I-80 east from San Francisco to I-5 north to 299 at Red Bluff, just south of Redding. Go east on 299 for about 58 miles. You'll hit Burney when you've gone about 50 miles, and may want to check in with fly shops or book a hotel here. Continue another 8 miles to Powerhouse 2. The closest fly shops are in Burney and Cassel. Burney is a larger town offering a range of services including motels, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, etc.
When and How to Fish
The fishing season stretches from the last Saturday in April through November 15. There are two free fishing days a year. Check here for the dates. Regulations vary by section as noted above (check out the official regulations). Water temperature in the spring creek area is fairly constant throughout the year. Spring extends from late April through late May. In early June, summer begins, bringing hot, sunny days with little chance of rain until mid-September, when a long Indian Summer begins. By season's end (November 15), the weather can range from summery to snowy. The Hat provides numerous hatches. The salmon fly hatches begin in April and continue through May or early June. Little sister sedges also begin in May, but continue through July. Green drakes come off in May and June on drizzly days. June also produces a little yellow stonefly hatch. As summer progresses, smaller mayflies and tricos become more abundant. Fall heralds some impressive caddis hatches, including the giant October Caddis.