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Written By: Dan Bacher, January 18, 2013
Location: Sacramento River- Delta,
On June 29, 1963, I attended the grand opening of the Port of Sacramento with my father, Al, and mom, Cassie. With 5,000 spectators waiting to welcome her, the Taipei Victory arrived and the Port was open for business.
A three-day event celebrated the Port's dedication. Over 75,000 people attended the festivities, which included dignitaries, parades, navy ships and the Golden Bear cadet training ship.
The event featured a special program that touted the many benefits of the port for the Sacramento region and California. These included the great fishing opportunities the port and the Sacramento Deepwater Channel were expected to provide.
The fishery has changed a lot over the years since the port opened. In the late sixties and through the seventies, the Port and Deepwater Channel became famous as a channel catfish fishery. Every year at the state fair, anglers would be treated to a fish tank where big channel cats from the port were displayed.
Anglers caught lots of cats averaging 3 to 6 pounds in both areas, along with bigger fish up to 10 pounds. Of course, there were also white catfish to be taken, as my cousin Tom Mulderig and I found one dark night fishing the channel south of the port.
The explosion of the catfish population was probably spurred by the influx of food and nutrients that took place when the port was finished in 1963.
However, by the 1980s striped bass became the main fishery in the port and Deepwater Channel. While available year round, the striped bass fishing is generally best in the fall and winter months. When the Delta and Sacramento River are muddy from storms, the port and Sacramento deepwater channel often offer the only clear water where anglers can target stripers.
The Port of Sacramento has been a sleeper for anglers interested in catching striped bass, black bass, catfish and other species for years, but access to the area was problematic. This all changed in November 2007 when the Barge Canal Recreational Access to the Port area was opened.
Located at 2100 Jefferson Boulevard in West Sacramento, the facility allows driveway access at South River Road. The access features an all-weather vehicle parking area, an all-weather walking/biking trail and fishing access along south bank of the Barge Canal.
The barge canal is lined with trees, so anglers fishing during the heat of the summer can take advantage of the shade. The area includes picnic and sitting fixtures, port and environmental resource interpretive panels and trash and recycling receptacles.
For the boater, there is a hand-carry boat ramp. Unfortunately, motorized boats aren’t allowed.
To launch a motorized boat, you still have to apply on a long waiting list for the Washington Outboard Club. However, this ramp is OK if you want fish from a float tube, kayak or other non-motorized boat.
Only small, hand-carried boats should be launched here for safety reasons, according to John Sneed, City of West Sacramento Project Manager. Shore anglers should park at this access and walk to their fishing spot, since you can’t park on the levees anymore.
An angler who enjoys the new access a lot is Wes Ward. “The port area is the best kayak fishing spot within 50 miles of Sacramento,” he proclaims.
He likes to fish the port and channel with swim baits on 1 oz. jig heads from his kayak, as well as troll with hair raisers. “The best time is to fish the high switch tides from November through March,” he tipped
Ward’s largest fish out of the port measured 32 inches, while a recent fishing venture yielded stripers in the 26 to 28 inch class. “I catch and release every fish that I hook,” he emphasized.
He noted that the best fishing is available when a ship is not docked at port. That’s because the ship going in and out of the port muddies up the water two days after, slowing down the striper bite.
Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are caught in the port. Although spring is the best time for the port black bass, these fish can be caught year off the tules and brush and other structure around the barge canal.
Most of the cats are “eating size” whites in the ½ to 2-pound range, with an occasional larger white or channel catfish. Mackerel, chicken liver, nightcrawlers, minnows, sardines and prepared baits are you best bets for the whiskerfish
Although catfish and black bass keep summer anglers busy on the port, stripers create the most angling excitement of the year in the fall and winter, drawing the largest number of anglers to the port.
Striped bass are caught throughout the year, but the port really gets going from November through March when the stripers move into the port to feed on the big schools of shad that congregate here, according to Dennis Phanner at Sacramento Pro Tackle. Boaters can hook the stripers while jigging, trolling, casting lures and drifting jumbo minnows.
“The key to catching stripers in the port is finding the threadfin shad balls,” he said. “When you stay on shad, anglers in a boat can catch and release 25 to 30 stripers in a day. Most are keepers in the 18 to 22 inches, but there are some bigger fish there, including and occasional fish in the twenties and thirties.”
From a boat or kayak, your best bet when you find a concentration of shad is to jig with Hopkins’s lures, Little Cleos, Kastmasters and Bladerunner Duh spoons in half to ¾ oz. size over the top of shad schools.
Mark Wilson, striper fishing expert and member of the Washington Outboard Club, recommended trolling minnow imitation lures including Mann’s Stretch 15 Lures, Yozuris, Bombers and Rebels, tipped with wormtails, for the stripers.
“Ninety percent of the anglers troll deep, but you can catch fish with both shallow diving and deep diving lures,” said Wilson. “I like to troll at 16 to 20 feet deep at 3 mph or shallow at 7 to 8 feet at 4-1/2 to 5 mph.”
Shore anglers experience the top action while drifting jumbo minnows under a bobber or fishing them on a sliding sinker rig. Mudsuckers, butterflied shad, sardine fillets and pileworms, fished on the bottom with sliding sinker set-ups, are also very productive striper baits.
The lock system between the Sacramento River and the port used to allow boats – and water – to flow between the port and the main river. However, the City of Sacramento, because of decreasing use and concern over increasing costs, decided to stop operating the locks on a daily basis and the locks no longer remain open. The port is now a dead end slough, with the water coming up through Cache Slough with a higher salinity level on the high tide than the Sacramento River in the metropolitan area.
Just about any type of fish that swims in the Sacramento River and Delta can be caught at times in the port. Starry flounder have been caught by anglers bait fishing in the barge canal, while other fish caught in the port over the years include white sturgeon, king salmon and steelhead.Back To Reports
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