Delta Stripers: The Basics Of Fall Bait Fishing

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Traditionally mid-November marks the high water mark for Delta striper fishing. This is the time of the year when the bulk of the striper population is holding in the west Delta. Since the water temperature is typically in the middle to upper 50’s at this time the year, the stripers are biters cooperating equally as well with bait anglers, trollers and pluggers.

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While the Delta is one of northern and central California’s most important fisheries, I meet anglers every year that have never fished the Delta. They would love to get out on the brown water in search of stripers, but with 1,200 plus miles of waterway to explore and multiple fishing techniques in play they simple don’t know where to begin. Maybe I can help!

For the beginning angler, I recommend starting out with bait fishing such that you can focus on the basics of finding fish and putting them into the boat. Remember success leads to more success.

Trolling and plugging while fun and effective add the complexities of moving boats, moving lures and depth control. Let’s say for example you’re trolling shallow running plugs. Your speed is perfect. Your lure color and model are exactly right and there are stripers in the area, but instead of staying in water that is 6 to 8 feet deep, you spend your time in water that is 10 to 12 feet deep. You are going to get few strikes because your lures are running above the strike zone of the fish…

With bait fishing, once you locate some bass presentation and strike execution are much easier than when trolling or plugging. Let’s get started!

Image 3_webA good Delta bait fishing rig consists of a 7 foot conventional rod capable of handling sinkers up to 3 ounces, teamed with a high speed level wind reel capable of holding at least 200 yards of 15 pound monofilament.

The rod should sport a sensitive fast action tip along with sufficient backbone to drive the hook into a stripers tough mouth. The reel should be equipped with a clicker, since you’ll have your reel out of gear with the clicker on as you wait for a bass to move off with the bait.

Rather then going with mono a lot of Delta bait anglers are now running with braided super lines. Braids feature almost no stretch. The lack of stretch provides unparalleled sensitivity and plenty of hook setting power. Braid also holds its strength longer than mono. This means that rather then spooling up with fresh mono every few months, you only have to replace your braid every year or every other year.

The terminal rigs used for bait fishing all incorporate a sliding sinker. To begin rigging you’ll need a plastic slider sleeve, a bead, and a snap swivel. Pass your main line through the slider, then thread on the bead, and finally attach the snap swivel using a Palomar knot. It seems everyone has a favorite leader and hook set up.

Image 2_webThe basic leader I use consists of 40 inches of 30 pound test monofilament tipped with a 7/0 to 10/0 Gamakatsu or Owner Octopus hook. Most expert bait anglers snell their hooks incorporating an egg loop that allows them to better secure their bait to the hook.

Fall stripers will strike a long list of natural baits including threadfin shad, bullheads, mudsuckers, pile worms, blood worms, clams, sardines, anchovies, and various types of shrimp. Shad, bullheads, and mudsuckers represent the mainstays of most Delta anglers.

When using shad the standard approach is to “fillet” them. This sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. Begin by selecting a good size shad. Using a sharp knife fillet the baitfish from behind the gill to the tail but don’t detach the fillet. Take your hook and pass it through the fillet, twist the fillet one time and pass the hook through the shad’s spine near the middle of the body. Next pass the hook back up through the body just behind the gills. Finally pull open the egg loop, secure it around the shads tail and you’ve got a rigged shad.

When rigging bullheads and mudsuckers either alive or dead you’ll need a bait needle. Pass the needle through the bait from just behind the gills to the just before the tail. If the bait is alive be careful to keep the needle just under the skin.

Once the bait is impaled on the needle connect the leader to it and pull the leader through the bait’s body leaving the hook setting next to the baits head. If the bait is alive don’t do anything else. When using dead bait half hitch the leader around its tail a couple times to keep the bait straight.

The benefit of threading bullhead and mudsuckers is that you’ll be able to use a single bait to catch multiple bass throughout the day. If you want to utilize a simpler approach you can tip your leader with a small 2/0 live bait hook attached via a perfection loop knot. Pin the hook lightly between the bait’s tail and dorsal fin.

Rigged this way your mudsuckers and bullheads will hook just as many bass as threaded baits. The downside is that you’ll lose your bait almost every time you hook a fish.

Image 4_webWith a basic understanding of how to properly rig baits it’s time to select a fishing spot. Fall stripers do most of their feeding in water between 3 and 20 feet deep. A lot of anglers make the mistake of fishing too deep and too far off shore. For the best results use your sonar to search near shore areas for fishing holding along the bottom near rocks, drop offs, or other structure.

Early in the fall stripers strike a bait aggressively. As the season progresses and the water temperature drops strikes become increasingly subtler. For this reason it is critical to fish with your reel out of gear with the clicker on. At the first sign of a hit disengage the clicker and feed the fish line.

Don’t set the hook until the bass moves off with authority. When the water is cold it is common for even a large bass to play with the bait for a minute or more before moving off.

When the water is cold, tossing out some chum can both stimulate the bass to feed and lead them back to the boat and your waiting baits.

When I think I need to chum, I typically grab a bag or two of anchovies and cut the baitfish into tiny 1/8 to ¼ inch rings. I toss these bits of anchovy into the water a handful at a time. Very often when I clean my bass I’ll find these bits of anchovy in their stomachs, so I know that chumming works.