Lower American River

Known as the "Jewel of Sacramento," the lower American River stretches from the basin of Nimbus Dam to the Sacramento River. Although it runs directly through the busy metropolitan area of Sacramento, the American can be surprising with its year-round availability of gamefish and public access. As seasons change in the Central Valley, so does the river. The opportunity to catch steelhead, striped bass (Stripers), salmon, and shad all become available at some point.

Current River Conditions

River Information

The American River is the second largest tributary of the Sacramento River with flows ranging between 1,000 and 10,000 cfs. Big storms can blow out the river in winter months but springtime flows are generally the highest with water releases from Folsom Lake. The upper portion of the river resembles a typical California tailwater with long, flat stretches broken up by riffles and the occasional gravel bar. Once the spawning salmon and steelhead reach the upper part of the river word gets out fast. The fish that don’t make it up the ladder to the hatchery find themselves stacked up against the dam and the basin quickly becomes lined with fisherman. If you don’t like the crowds, drop in somewhere downstream and you’ll typically find space.

In the lower section, from Watt Avenue downstream, the river widens and becomes deeper. This can be big striper country. It is possible to find 20+ lb fish in this area so always keep a tight grip when you’re down there! Access to most of the river below Nimbus is very good, especially with the American River bike trail running along the entire length. There are several public parking areas and boat ramps as well, most of which are on the south side, accessible from Highway 50. An annual county park pass or daily use permit is required for entry into the launch ramps and parking lots. The cost of the parking permit varies with vehicle and vehicle/trailer combinations.

Fishing Regulations

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Important Steelhead Requirements

Suggested Gear

  • 5 - 6 weight two-handed spey or switch rod for steelhead
  • 5 - 7 weight fast rods for shad and 7 - 9 weight rods for stripers
  • Disk drag reels with stopping power are recommended for all species
  • Weight forward floating line for indicator fishing
  • 200-300 grain sink tips for swinging flies or stripping for stripers, depending on conditions
  • Leaders should be stout. Maxima is always a good choice for steelhead tippet in 8-10# and up to 20# for stripers.

Suggested Fly Patterns

  • Steelhead
    • Anderson's Euphoria
    • FFS Alevin
    • FFS Mossback
    • Speroni's Bubblewing
    • Blue or Pink Intruder
    • Carter's All American

  • Stripers
    • Toby's Teaser (Rainbow)
    • American River Special
    • Clouser Minnow

  • Shad
    • Small and large shad flies in orange, pink, chartreuse, and white.
    • Wet Pinkie