Why is striper fishing with artificial lures on the California Delta so appealing? Wasn't it just a couple years ago that most bass fishermen looked at striper fishing as a waste of time or had the attitude, "if it isn't green with a black lateral line, I'm not fishing for it"?
There are even some, "old school", bait dunkers that have traded in their slider rigs, Penn Reels and deep-sea rods for 7' graphite sticks and low profile high-speed levelwind reels.
The word is out: stripers are one of the most awesome gamefish on the planet. You don't even have to head to Florida or Brazil to enjoy the bone jarring strikes and explosiveness that this fish can deliver.
The striper is anadromous (sea-run) and migratory. Therefore it helps to know a bit about its seasonal characteristics to enhance your success while targeting this species. Traditionally, the striper bite in the California Delta "kicks off' in September or October. Many of the fish that have spent the summer gorging anchovies on the Pacific Coast begin their trek inland.
They will begin to stack up with the "local" fish that never leave the Delta waterways. Stripers cannot travel directly from the salt water to the fresh waters of the Delta without reacclimating in and around the brackish waters of the Martinez/Vallejo area.
This can cause a tremendous concentration of fish from Benicia to Decker Island during the early fall months. Some of these fish will reacclimate and move on, but many of the larger fish will hold in this area until the spring months.
During the late fall and winter months the stripers will distribute throughout the Delta system. Franks Tract to Grant Line Canal including the Stockton Port, Discovery Bay and Mildred Island become likely areas to find groups of fish. Hog, Sycamore and Beaver Slough's will begin to show signs of life, as will sloughs and tributaries off the Sacramento River.
During these cooler months, the fish can be found in specific little sections of the prior mentioned areas. Their feeding activity will be short lived, making it a bit tougher to find a productive area. This is equivalent to looking for a needle in a haystack. If the needle is found, it will be a great fishing experience for everyone in the boat.
The spring months of March through May usually don't offer the numbers of the fall period, but this could be the best time of the year to catch a potential trophy fish. Good current flow is the key to successful fishing in the spring. Stripers will use heavier current to feed and spawn.
The striper does not build a nest in a hard bottom area as many other species do. They instead spawn in moving water so the fertilized eggs can free float in the current.
Unfortunately, many of the stripers that spawn in the South Delta have their eggs sucked into the state and federal pumps - and then into the California Aqueduct or Delta-Mendota Canal to spend their lives surrounded by cement walls.
The most popular technique for catching stripers on the Delta system is with lip less crankbaits. Personally, I like the Lucky Craft LV 500's in Spring Craw, Chartreuse Shad and chrome/blue for clear water situations or the LVR D-10 in chartreuse/light blue, Table Rock Shad and Winter Craw for dirty water.
The warmer the water is, the faster the bait should be retrieved. Berkley's Big Game monofilament line in 15 pound test provides for optimum performance of the bait. If the area you've chosen has an abundance of weed growth, then 50 pound Spiderwire, a braided line, can be used. The braided line allows you to rip the bait through the grass more effectively than monofilament.
Topwater baits like the Zara Spook, Cordell's popper or Reaction Innovations Vixen can be used to entice some of the most mind-blowing strikes you have ever seen. Fishing for linesides on top has become "the new kid on the block."
Most people have never realized that the largest members of the striper family are vulnerable to a well placed, properly retrieved topwater bait. Many of my clients have landed stripers over the 20 pound mark including quite a few over 30 pounds on topwater lures with the largest being 46 pounds caught by Mike Ostlund of Lodi. Besides live bait, topwater fishing may be the way to the striper(s) of your dreams.
During the cooler months I like to throw Rodstrainer's ½ or 5/8 ounce Shim Jig in white or white/chartreuse. I really like the mylar that extends from the back of this bait.
If the fish are not in the mood to chase, then I will opt for Lucky Craft's 128,127 or 112 Pointer minnow. If the water has less than 12" of visibility, the 128 Pointer will be the bait of choice due to the larger profile. If the water is clear, I like the 127 or 112. My favorite colors are Ghost Minnow, Chartreuse Shad, Table Rock Shad and Pearl Ayu.
There are other colors that I throw, but these will work under the widest range of conditions and water clarities. When throwing the Pointer minnows for stripers, use 15 pound monofilament. The lighter lines will work, but you may lose more lures due to breaking fish off and the Lucky Craft Lures are not cheap. The heavier monofilaments will restrict the side to side movement of the bait and diminish the amount of strikes you'll get.
If you have not tried artificials for stripers yet, then do yourself a favor and give it a shot. Try some of the above techniques and you may impress yourself.