Upper Butte Creek and High Lakes-Sierra Tahoe

Upper Butte Creek and High Lakes

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Upper Butte Creek
Sierra Tahoe Hatch Selection

Suggested Flies for Butte Creek and High Lakes:
Parachute Adams
Grey Wulff
Rio Grande Trude
Parachute Madam X
Yellow Humpy
Lime Trude
Yellow Stimulator
Denny's Stillwater Nymph
Carey Special
Bird's Nest
Prince Nymph
Lightning Bug
Woolly Bugger, Olive or Brown, #4-10
Krystal Buggers #4-10
TS BH Bugger, Hex #8
Mohair Leech #8-10
Marabou Leech #6-10


From Chico take Highway 32, then take the Humboldt Road (also designated as Forest Service Road 27N43 and County Road 914-22) to the community of Butte Meadows. From Butte Meadows eastward, this road parallels Butte Creek.

Butte Creek is a large tributary to the Sacramento River. It is reknown within its lower reaches for the Chinook Salmon and Steelhead runs that take place in the Spring. The upstream dams provide cool water year round that enhances this fishery. The salmon reach cool pools and wait for the spawn in September. They cannot get to the upper headwaters of Butte Creek due to the dams and this section has both wild browns, brookies, and rainbows. The CDFW stocks around the Butte Meadows campground with about 7,500 hatchery rainbows each year. If you hike about one mile downstream the fishing gets better with wild trout. There are no trails and the creek is about 20 feet wide with heavy overgrowth. You will need to wet wade. The upper 5 miles of Butte Creek is within the Lassen National Forest and the upper meadow above Butte Creek House is state land. However, many of the lower reaches of this section has private land that cannot be fished without permission. Butte Creek House is a 110 acre ecological reserve managed by Calif Div. of Fish and Wildlife at 5,800' elevation and has Brookies.

Big Chico Creek is also reknown for the Steelhead and spring-run Chinook Salmon that run up this creek. The runs get up to Higgins Hole Falls and cannot go further. Most of this lower section has fishing restrictions requiring barbless, artificial lures and specific fishing season. The section from the upper boundary of the Big Chico Creek Ecological reserve to Higgins Hole Falls is closed to fishing. The Upper Big Chico Creek above Higgins Hole Falls has no restrictions and is open from the last day of April to November 15th. This section has wild browns and rainbows.

Snag Lake is also known as Round Valley Reservoir. Built in 1877 with an earthen dam of 29 feet. Owned by PG&E, the dam required repairs in 1965 but continues to have issues with leakage and erosion. It holds about 1200 acre-feet of water with a maximum depth of 25 feet. Each summer it is totally drained and no fish reside within the reservoir.

Philbrook Reservoir covers about 271 acres with a maximum depth of 60 feet. It consists of two earthern dams that were constructed in 1926 and is owned by PG&E. The lake is planted by Calif Div of Fish and Wildlife annually, usually in the 10-12" size. It has a resident population of Rainbows, Browns, and Brookies as well as Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass. Catfish have been introduced at times and the lake has been drawn down and poisoned to remove this invasive species. On the eastern end of the reservoir, PG&E leases about 44 homesites, the western shoreline is National Forest.

The West Branch of the Feather River is a popular stream for many, so popular that the fishing can be tough. The river is a destination for many locals to escape the heat with a quick dip in the water. Many of the deeper holes have dredging claims and are off-limits to fishing. The water levels are at flood stage in the Winter and Spring and often too low in the Fall, so Summer is your best bet for fishing. Since the stream has a rock and sand bottom, it is extremely clear and you have to be stealthy in your approach to the fish. The West Branch has both wild Rainbows and Browns, mostly in the 7-11 inch range. Calif Div of Fish and Wildlife will stock rainbows near the West Branch Campground

The High Lakes were formed from glacial activity that formed depressions or cirques. Many of these lakes can be deep and clear. Some of the lakes were planted with trout but plantings were halted in 2000. In 1964 to 1966 CDF, using convict labor, with funds provided by California Fish & Game and P.G.&E., dams were built at the outlets of 5 of the lakes: Spring Valley Lake, Long Lake, Morris Lake, Saddle lake and Grassy Lake . These dams were for the regulation of water outflow into the creeks fed by the lakes.

Lotts Lake: (34 acres) The lake is named for Judge Charles Lott, a 49er pioneer of Butte County. In the 1870s he built what became known as the Old Lake House on the slope of Spring Valley Mountain overlooking the lake. He died in 1918 and the building burned. Jess Sank who married the judge's daughter, Cornelia, built a small cabin in 1928-29 that still stands today. Much of the property at Lotts Lake is privately owned, with several cabins. Notably the Native Sons of the Golden West,The Hume family, The Stratton Family, and managed by Lotts Lake Association. The USFS does hold a portion of the rocky, steep edge at the north side, accessible from the 'T' on a foot trail. The lake consists of pan-size rainbows.

Spring Valley Lake: A medium sized, shallow and circular lake with an occasional trout and plenty of catfish. There are three designated campgrounds. Most of the lake is owned by Sierra Pacific Industries that was bought from Diamond Match Company. There is some public forest land on the east and west edges of the lake.

Bear Lake is two miles south of Spring Valley Lake on the upper end of the North Valley Trail. The trail is an old route into the High Lakes from North Valley and requires 4WD. Just below Bear lake is the remains of the old shingle mill, and possibly one of the reasons for North Valley Trail to get the shingles to rail cars. The lake is quite shallow and catfish have taken over the fishery.

 About 2.5 miles southeastward along the 4WD trail from Spring Valley Lake the trail forks. The left fork leads to Morris Lake and the Lott and Morris mines.

Morris Lake is one of the largest and prettiest of The High Lakes. Named after John S Morris who staked the original claim nearby. It holds both Rainbows and Browns. Catfish were introduced in the mid 1980's and have got up to 2 lbs. Most of the trout are in the 12-14 inch range but some get up to 18 inches. Calif Div of Fish and Wildlife did a Fish Survey here in 2013 and classified the lake as a Self-Sustaining Brown Trout lake.

The right fork off the main trail is a 4WD route that leads to Campbell, Long, Grassy and Saddle Lakes.

Campbell Lake is probably named for the Campbell family that operated Campbell Cow Camp several miles south over a 4WD trail. Some of these lakes have been stocked into the late 1990s and the trout fishing is can be good. A considerably smaller lake just north east of Long Lake and joined to it by a small creek.It has several camp sites. One between the two lakes but at the edge of Campbell Lake. A very large camp site at the north west end of the lake, but not near waters-edge. There are a couple smaller sites along the west side. Consists of Rainbows and Brookies.

Long Lake: This is the second largest lake in The High Lakes, having shallow parts, and deeper troughs. Both ends, north and south have very shallow parts, here vegatative growth is very visible. Fishing in the past has been excellent, but in recent years, sketchy at best. This lake offers the largest number and largest in size camp sites. But being the busiest, it always, even mid-week in the peak season, has crowds. It is a very pretty lake, and very popular. Long Lake is fed from several streams and its outlet is at the dam at the south end.

Grassy Lake is partially covered with vegatation, lilys and grasses. There is a small camp site here, on the south side. A pretty setting, but not as desirable for camping unlike most of the rest of The High Lakes.

Saddle Lake: This lake has two camping spots, one at the dam and one along the east side. Fishing can be good at times with Rainbows and Brookies.


Fishing Regulations

All Creeks and Streams in this area including Upper Butte Creek, Big Chico Creek (above Higgins Hole Falls), and West Branch Feather River:

Open last Saturday in April to Nov 15th. No restrictions. 5 fish limit, ten in possession.

All Lakes and Reservoirs in this area including the High Lakes and Philbrook Reservoir:

Open all year. No restrictions. 5 trout limit, ten in possession.

© 2021 Steve Schalla
This page is not to be copied without my explicit permission.
Colby Creek Butte Meadows Campground Butte Creek House Philbrook Creek Philbrook Reservoir West Branch Feather River at Inskip Butte Creek Dam Discovery Creek Big Kinshaw Falls North Fork Feather Bear Lake West Branch Feather River Snag Lake Lotts Lake Morris Lake Yellow Creek Deer Creek