Escape the City: Fly Fishing Deep Creek in Southern California


Article contributed by Editor-in-Chief J. Townsend.

Everyone deserves a break from the regular, from the mundane, and from the chaos that is life. We all deserve a chance to relax, cast a line, and fish. In some locations, this becomes more difficult to accomplish than others. I personally enjoy fly fishing in comparison to other types of fishing because I find it more challenging and engaging.

Usually, when a person thinks of Southern California, they think of warm sunny beaches, fish tacos, and palm trees. That image, while picturesque in its own regard, is not exactly in sync with fly fishing for trout. Although, there is a large following of anglers who use their fly rods to surf fish here. While surf fly fishing is certainly fun, I still like to get my feet wet in the fresh water every now and then.

Since my first introduction into the world of fly fishing a couple of years ago in Wyoming, I have taken every advantage at the opportunity to improve upon and utilize my fly fishing skills. I have always been a little frustrated that the only locally available trout, which are mostly farm raised, are in the local lakes here in San Diego. There is a specific season in the winter months where the lakes are heavily stocked, but the population never spawns naturally due to the water temperatures. The banks along almost all of these lakes are crowded, over fished, and not conducive to cast a fly rod. In my mind I don’t feel that this is really natural. I have images of factory farms for fish in my head when I eat the trout.

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I was excited to hear about a local wild trout stream located in the San Bernardino Mountains near Lake Arrowhead. Deep Creek is arguably one of the Southernmost available wild trout stream in California. While, there have been rumors spreading for years of people spotting wild trout in other areas, these waters are actually confirmed, monitored, and specially regulated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. One other wild trout designated area is located near this area at the base of the Big Bear Lake Dam.

Pacific Crest TrailWe quickly began planning a trip to fish Deep Creek after learning of the potential of wild trout. I conducted a little more research on the area and found that access was fairly easy, which unfortunately is usually a bad sign for fly fishing. A curious fact of the research was that I found little information on fishing Deep Creek. This could indicate that there were no fish at all or that this area was difficult to access to fish and kept all but the determined anglers away. Most of what I uncovered involved hiking the Pacific Crest Trail  (which runs parallel to the creek) and a nearby Off Highway Vehicle Area.

Finally the day arrived, a friend and I headed up towards Deep Creek from San Diego with our fly rods, daypacks, waders, and a handful of flies tied by Gem City Flies. The drive up was quick and uneventful. Lake Arrowhead sits at about 5000 feet above sea level and Deep Creek slowly dips in elevation as it travels north-eastward. We finally arrived in Lake Arrowhead and then would traverse a series of windy roads which eventually gave way to a dirt road. At the end of the dirt road was a fairly well kept trailhead which was setup at the junction of Deep Creek and the PCT.

Deep Creek at PCT
Deep Creek at the PCT

We threw on our gear, and I was so excited to get into the water that I almost sprint to the creek. We hiked a short distance down the PCT until we could see a good sized pool just below us. Here is a disclaimer about fishing Deep Creek, you must be prepared to hike. Most of the pools are isolated and you must travel up and down steep ravines to access. There are specific trails down to the water, but still be prepared for a leg workout. There are various areas of the creek which are not accessible at all, unless you have a rappel rope, trust me, we heavily debated scaling down because we could see trout in the pools below.

The terrain alongside the creek varies as you work northward. You begin in a mix of pine and then emerge to a landscape of steep chaparral covered peaks of what can only be described as a deep creek. The water was almost an emerald color in most areas, but was also very clear.  Large smooth boulders and rocks shape the path of the creek as it journeys. The pools and waterfalls entice you to strip off your waders and jump in, until you feel the actual temperature of the water, which is very chilly.

Deep Creek
The steep banks and deep pools of Deep Creek

Since we are on the topic of stripping down, I will provide another disclaimer. It is legal to hang out in the nude at Deep Creek. I did not realize this until I conducted some research after the trip. Needless to say, we were fishing and hiking slowly around a bend and then BAM, two naked people were just hanging out on the rocks. It was even more awkward because they were sitting at the base of the trail we needed to hike to get out of the ravine. The encounter was odd since I had seen them earlier up on the trail while I was fishing, they knew we were there.

image (9)I threw a variety of flies that day and didn’t have much luck. I believe it was a combination of the exploration of new territory, not knowing the stream, and the lack of fish. Unfortunately, this creek, in the areas we explored, seem to be sparse much like the other wild game in Southern California. I believe we fished too close to the trail heads which see a good amount of traffic. Next trip, it has been decided that we will push further north to the more remote areas of the stream and are going to attempt to access some of the more difficult holes where we did spot fish from above. That day, we hiked about 4 miles round trip and only fished 1.5 – 2 miles due to difficulty of access. There is still a great amount of water to discover, which gives me the hope of catching a truly wild Southern California Trout.

Despite our lack of fish, I still had a great day of exploring and challenging fishing. I look forward to heading back to our local trout stream. If you are up to escape the city and embark on an adventure to Deep Creek, I recommend bringing your waders, plenty of water, some patience, lunch, and be prepared to hike. Be wary of nudist and rattlesnakes, otherwise you should be fine!

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Men’s Backcountry Blue Shirt

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Justin Townsend

Justin (Choctaw) is an avid hunter, angler, and chef whose passion for the outdoors lead him to create Harvesting Nature in 2011. He continues to hunt, fish, and cook all while sharing his experiences with others through film, podcasts, print, and with recipes. He also proudly serves in the United States Coast Guard.

9 thoughts on “Escape the City: Fly Fishing Deep Creek in Southern California

  • Pingback: One More Cast: Fishing with Family in Southern Utah | Harvesting Nature

  • can you eat the trout in deep creek?

    • Please do not keep them for eating. This is a creek that is not stocked, and has very few wild trout left. With the drought, very few creeks still hold in the Southern California area, and it would be a shame to further hurt this isolated, unprotected population by taking a few for the fryer. Thank you!

      • Cory Richards

        This is a gem in the rough that needs to be protected its rare to find a wild stream these days that is surviving this far south.

        • Harvesting Nature

          I agree completely – Justin

  • Wildman

    Deep creek is no longer a viable wild trout fishery thanks to the drought….silting from fires ….too many internet posting like this one and too many people harvesting fish in a 0 take region. You tube and Instagram have transformed what was very much a wilderness fifteen years ago with plentiful wild trout to a creek whose coliform count from human fecal matter is higher then the LA river and you are pretty assured not to even see a fish. With 22 million people within an hour of this place , posts like this garuntee the place gets trashed.. The graffiti and car break ins at the trail head are not from sportsmen.

    • Harvesting Nature

      While I see your frustrations and am not in agreement with your opinion. Instead of pointing fingers and laying blame to my post why not use your passion for Deep Creek to build support from those who want to fish there? Why not start a movement to return the water to its former glory? Posts like this can be used to bring light to the issues facing this fishing area. My motivations simply are to positive promote fishing and get people involved in the sport. This also includes the preservation of public lands.

      • The Python

        You are both correct – Yes – Wildman – it is posts (and feeds) like this that destroy little hideaways that have been secrets forever. Call Someplace Paradise, Kiss It Goodbye – who said that? (rhetorical – we all know) But Harvesting Nature – you are correct too. This little fishery could be managed into becoming a workable spot – just not the way it used to be. Will just need some work… Promote catch & release, barbless hooks, etc. Maybe even get a few plants of fingerlings per year. Is the Deep Creek flyfishing group working on anything like this?

  • Matt Eddins

    Internet has damaged a lot of fisheries through out the nation , as far as protecting the creek , The State of California nor the federal government do not care about its wildlife . California was once a beautiful place but the state and local bureaucrats have let it turn into a crap hole, People here are pigs , you get outside this state and you don’t have trash and along the highways and rivers . Anything that is somewhat accessible will be turned or already has bee turned into garbage. I once hiked into the back country of the Sierra Nevada and came across an old vehicle frame from the early 1900s and it had tagging on it . People can’t help themselves but to destroy things here .


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