by Jack Naves
Spring is just around the corner, and stripers will soon be flooding into the California Delta in large numbers. During the spring run, stripers tend to be scattered out, so anchoring and soaking bait can be a hit or miss proposition. Trolling is the best way to cover water until you find the spots where pre-spawn stripers are holding. Before hitting the water this spring, let’s look at some advanced trolling techniques.
On February 8, I was lucky enough to be invited to fish on Jim Brittain’s boat. Jim is one of the best striper trollers on the delta, and he has a good network of anglers providing recent and accurate reports. Networking with other anglers is one of the best techniques you can use to put more stripers into your boat.
Knowing the latest trends and hotspots is something that the best guides and private anglers use to produce successful trips. Message boards, social media, and radio shows are a good starting point, but first person reports are the best way to get directly onto the fish.
After launching at Brannon Island, Jim and I hit the ‘west bank’ area of the Sacramento River just below Rio Vista. Although we trolled in some of the spots Jim’s friends had recommended, we came up empty. We pulled lines and Jim shot us across the river to a new area where he advised that we switch over to deep diving plugs.
As I held my rod, I felt a sharp BANG. I slowly eased the rod tip forward, and then back towards the lure. BAM! The rod loaded up and started pumping in my hand. “There’s one!” I relayed to Jim as he worked the kicker motor. Once netted, we had our first keeper of the day in the boat. I used a rod-pumping technique to draw the strike.
Back when I first started trolling the delta, I fished out of my dad’s 13-foot aluminum boat. It had a 15-horsepower tiller-drive outboard. I had to manually throttle and steer with my left hand at all times. I held my rod in my right hand, as dad’s old boat didn’t have rod holders. Although it was a lot more work, I developed a rod-pumping technique that I noticed would draw more strikes than keeping the rod stationary.
The key, I discovered, was to slowly pump the rod forward and back in one or two foot intervals. I didn’t quickly rip the rod like a jerk bait, just slow and steady. Just enough to feel the vibration of the lure speed up and then slowly flutter back. Like a bait fish escaping a striper that suddenly runs out of steam. They just can’t lay off an easy meal.
These days, I’m fortunate enough to parade around in a much larger boat fully equipped with rod holders and all the works. The downside is that it makes it hard to hold my rod as I’m positioned up front at the steering wheel. However, when I’m lucky enough to be invited out as a guest, I always resort back to the old-school rod pumping technique. Another advantage of holding the rod is that I can constantly adjust the depth of my lure to the bottom.
When I’m holding the rod, my eyes are glued to the depth reading on the sonar unit at all times. Deep diving plugs run at a different range of depths depending on how much line is let out. At 12 feet deep, I’m letting out about 40 feet of line. If I feel the lure digging bottom, I will bring it in 5 feet and see what happens. When the depth drops to 16 feet then I’m spooling out about 65 feet of line and going from there. The goal is to have the lure running just above the bottom, softly digging once in a while.
All this rod-pumping and depth-adjusting sounds like a lot of work, but is it really worth it? On the recent trip I took with Jim Brittain, the hand-held rods caught seven stripers. Rods in holders running the exact same lures only caught one fish. The results haven’t always been that dramatic, but I have seen at least a 2:1 ratio of fish hooked by pumped rods over stationary rod holders.
We only had enough room here to scratch the surface, but employing these techniques will certainly tip the odds in your favor this spring. The rod-pumping technique also works great for other species (hint: top lining for trout). Look for me on the water this spring with rod in hand!
Photo 1 – Jack with 2 Stripers.jpg
On February 8 Jim Brittain put Jack Naves into position to land these 2 feisty stripers using deep diving Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows. Jack employed a rod-pumping technique to draw strikes on a day when a full moon, big tides, scattered fish, and north winds made for the most menacing of trolling conditions.
Photo 2 – Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow and Line Counter Reel.jpg
The Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow deep diving plug is a delta trolling standard. Tip the rear hook with a white rubber worm and team it with a line-counter reel spooled with 20-30 lb test braid. These lures can cover water from 10 feet deep to 19 feet deep depending on how much line you let out.