The Fish Sniffer - San Luis Reservoir, the Home of Record Class Stripers
San Luis Reservoir, the Home of Record Class Stripers

Written By: Dan Bacher, December 10, 2013
Species: Landlocked Stripers
Location: San Luis Reservoir,

San Luis Reservoir, the Home of Record Class Stripers
San Luis Reservoir, the Home of Record Class Stripers San Luis Reservoir, the Home of Record Class Stripers
San Luis Reservoir, the Home of Record Class Stripers San Luis Reservoir, the Home of Record Class Stripers

Every trip you make to San Luis Reservoir or the adjacent O’Neill Forebay might be the one that produces a new world record inland striped bass. Hank Ferguson of Soquel set the all tackle International Game Fish Association (IGFA) record in 1992 when he landed a striper weighing 67 pounds, 8 ounces at the lake – and bigger fish have been reported since then.

On the night of August 5, 2008, Frank Ualat of Gilroy pulled in a 52-1/2 inch striped bass, weighing 70.6 pounds on Coyote Bait and Tackle’s spring scale, from the O’Neill Forebay. However, he never weighed the fish on a certified scale nor filled out the paper work necessary to certifying the fish as a state or world record.

The idea of hooking a possible world record – or at least a big striper – was on my mind when Roger George, outdoor columnist for the Fresno Bee, fishing guide and former Olympic decathlete, showed me a group of marks indicating big fish on his fish finder during a trip to San Luis Reservoir on November 15. As we went over the fish, I saw the downrigger pop off on the portside rod and grabbed it.

The line tightened up and the line began to rip off the reel as the striper made a big run to free itself. Meanwhile, George grabbed the other rod. “This is a big fish also,” he said.

We both fought our fish, trying to keep the lines from tangling. Suddenly, the fish on George’s rod came unbuttoned. “It almost spooled me – there were only 10 turns of line on the reel spool when it got off,” he noted.

Meanwhile, my fish, after forcing me to the other side of the boat nearly pinned my arm to the rail. I finally got some line on the fish and worked it towards the bow. Finally, George was able to net – it was a fat 22 lb. striper.

After taking some photos, we got back to trolling with Lucky Craft American shad pattern lures and other lures, including a River2Sea swimbait. Amazingly, as soon as we began trolling at the same location, the portside ride slammed down in the most exciting “bite” of the day. I grabbed the rod and just held on as the fish kept going.

Meanwhile, George hooked a huge fish also. Another double hook-up! We both watched our spools empty as the stripers went crazy on us. George’s fish came off, but I still had my fish on. When I got it next to the boat, it turned out to be another huge striper weighing 18 pounds.

Stripers are unique fish. Most 5 pounders feel like a 10 pounder, most 10 pounders feel like 20 pounders and most 20 pounders feel like they’re 40 pounders when they’re on the rod. They don’t make acrobatic leaps like a steelhead nor rip off line like a Dorado, but pound for pound, they’re one of the strongest, hardest fighting fish in fresh or saltwater – and these San Luis stripers were no exception.

The bite in that area of the lake shut off, so George decided to give this spot a rest and we went off to another spot across the lake. We caught and released several more stripers in the 19 to 22 inch range when George thought it would be a good idea to try the striper hot spot just before dark.

“They’re still here,” he noted as we trolled through the fish. Believe it or not, we had another double hook-up and this time both fish came in. I caught and released a 17 pounder, while George caught and released a 9 pounder.

Ironically, this day began as a very slow one when we arrived at the reservoir at 7:30 am. A north wind blew across the water when we left the Basalt launch area.

“We have both wind after a front and a full moon, not great conditions,” he said. Nonetheless, we started hooking fish about 2 hours after we began. I hooked a 19 incher, followed by several other fish in the 21 to 22 inch range that we released. We had caught 7 fish by 1 p.m., as well as lose a couple of others.

“You have two categories of fish in the lake,” according to George. There are the 18 to 22 inch fish, the most common. Then there are the larger and more elusive ones like the ones we hooked starting around 2:30 pm.

We caught 14 fish ranging from 19 inches to 22 pounds over the course of the day, releasing the fish except for a couple that wouldn’t revive. Only one fish was in the middle size range – the 9 pounder.

We hooked the fish while trolling River2Sea swimbaits, Lucky Craft Pointer Minnows, Lucky Craft diving crankbaits and other lures. The more translucent patterns seemed to work best, due to the clear water conditions.

The fish hit anywhere from 70 to 85 feet deep. Due to the depth, George had use a hypodermic needle to deflate the air bladder of each fish before releasing it back into the reservoir.

The fish we hooked that day weren’t the only big fish George or his clients have hooked lately. An angler fishing with George caught and released a 33 lb. striper, the largest he has hooked at the lake, the week before our trip. So far this year, he reported putting two other fish over 30 pounds in the boat.

Although he has drifted with jumbo minnows in the past like many anglers, he said the larger fish are taken on reaction baits while trolling. “You are able to cover more ground to go over the fish that are active,” he noted.

The majority of striped bass in San Luis Reservoir, a joint off stream storage reservoir for the federal Central Valley and State Water Projects, come into the lake through the Delta pumps as larvae and small juveniles. The healthy population of stripers at San Luis is due to a number of factors.

First, the California Striped Bass Association pressured the DFW to reduce the limits from 10 fish in 1997 to 5 fish 2 years later. Then in March 2002 the limit was reduced to 2 fish over 18 inches to put it in conformance with state regulations.

Second, the Fresno Chapter of the California Striped Bass Association, the state San Luis Parks and Recreation and the state Department of Fish and Game collaborated, along with Tom Hampson of the California Fisheries Foundation, to raise over 40,000 stripers in pen-rearing project at the lake in 2001 and 2002.

Third, the aqueduct and forebay serve as “incredible nurseries” with threadfin shad, bluegill and bass to

forage upon. In the main lake, the stripers also have large schools of American shad to feast upon.

Fourth, George and others conjecture that the fish may be spawning in the reservoir, due to the current in the lake provided by the heavy northwest winds that blow so frequently at the reservoir.

“I suspect that besides the fish pumped into the reservoir, it is possible that the fish are spawning in the lake in the spring as the lake water moves like a current and there is heavy wave action,” said George.

With all of these factors, it’s easy to see have such an epic day for fishing when you hit it right at San Luis, even when you get to a slow start like we did.

For more information about guided trips, contact Roger George of Roger George Guide Service at 559-905-2954,

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