The Pit River is one of California’s longest rivers, starting in the Warner Mountains of Northeastern California and ending up at Shasta Dam, along with the Sacramento and McCloud Rivers. It is unusual in that it is a spring fed river, and does not depend on snow melt to have a steady flow. This has made it highly valuable for hydroelectric projects of which there are six along its length, operated by Pacific Gas & Electric. Three of these projects are in the canyon area around Big Bend, the numbers Pit 3, Pit 4 and Pit 5 reaches. The Pit 3 reach below Lake Britton, near Burney, has been made into a trophy Rainbow Trout reach.
Previously the Pit River’s only major drawback is that access to its canyon is limited. The fishing is pretty fabulous, with Rainbow Trout averaging about 14″ and reaching lengths of 25″ long. Pocket water is the norm, making the Pit River an ideal spot to use nymphs, especially bead head or weighted nymphs. Due to a parasite, there are no hook jaw brown trout in this section of the river.
This river is loaded with insects, from the giant stonefly in the spring to mayfly genus Isonychia in the fall. Since the canyon walls are so steep, shadows hit the water in mid afternoon, which allows for dry fly fishing.
The operators of the Pit River Hydroelectric system, Pacific Gas and Electric, has built a series of access points along the Pit 4 section of the river and paved a long section of the road through the canyon and upgraded the rest of the road to a high grade gravel road. They have built an improved campground at Ruling Creek, called Ruling Creek Campground, which has a Day use area and a Long Term camping/RV area with bathrooms and running water. It is right at the river’s edge and provides excellent access to fly fishing waters. This campground is 9 miles from Burney and 11 miles from Big Bend.
Just downstream the pavement ends and Pacific Gas and Electric have built an un-improved campground with fire pits and picnic tables that is next to a large pool. Kayakers can put in here for running the river. There is a boat take out area just above the Pit 4 Powerhouse, a distance of about 8 miles. Pacific Gas and Electric intends to raise the flow of the river in this section to winter flood levels, four weekends a year, for more exciting kayaking.
Two walk-in access trails have also been built, one just above Deep Creek, which gives access to some excellent fishing runs. Signs have been put in to help fishermen find the trails. This all becomes available January, 2012.
I have walked and waded this section of River in my younger days and I am looking forward to trying out the new access points. One thing I would like to try is to use a float tube on certain sections that have walk in access and be able to pull out before the Deep Creek area, which has some fairly treacherous rapids. The Pit River has been opened to year round catch and release fishing (with the usual single barb-less hook, artificial lures rules), and a limit of five fish during normal fishing season. Check the California Fish & Game Manual.