Spring Stripers…Choose Your Weapons!
Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 12, 2012
I’m looking out my window as I write these words. The wind is blowing, it’s been raining hard all night and I’m expecting to see snow by noon.
This being the case it seems strange to be talking about any sort of spring fishing, but the fact of the matter is that spring striper fishing in the fabulous California Delta should get underway by the end of the month.
When it comes to spring stripers, you can catch them trolling, plugging or bait fishing. In this respect spring fishing is pretty much like fall fishing, but there are some important differences to consider. Trolling and bait fishing are the most popular methods during the spring, so we’ll focus on these approaches.
“The thing that really distinguishes spring stripers from fall bass is that fall bass are focused on feeding, while spring bass are focused on pushing up river to spawn,” related Captain Barry Canevaro of Fish Hookers Sportfishing. “For me trolling gets the edge in the spring. The fish don’t feed a lot in the spring, but they are still very aggressive, so they’ll slam a trolled plug and of course trolling allows you to cover a lot of ground as you search for concentrations of fish. This isn’t to say that plugging and bait fishing don’t work in the spring. You can catch fish using these methods, but my feeling is that you will catch more fish while trolling.”
“My trolling set up is pretty simple. Most of the time I’m only using one of two plugs, either the shallow running P-Line Angry Eye or the deep running P-Line Predator. We tip these baits with plastic worm trailers,” said Canevaro.
Most trollers now working the Delta utilize 7 to 8 foot fast action rods. You don’t want a rod that is too stiff or one that is too light. A stick rated for 10 to 25 pound test line usually fills the bill nicely. Last year I did a lot of my trolling with a medium weight Lamiglas Certified Pro flipping rod.
The rod should be matched with a line counter reel spooled with 30 to 65 pound test braided line. Take your main line, attach a swivel to it and then attach a 6 foot 30 to 50 pound mono leader to it. Put a snap on the end of the mono and that is where your plug attaches.
Shallow running plugs are typically pulled at 3 to 5 miles per hour, 140 feet behind the boat. With deep runners slow the boat into the 3 to 3.5 mph range and run the plugs 80 to 100 feet back. As a general rule your shallow runner will be 8 feet deep trolled as I’ve described and the deep runner will get down 12 to 15 feet.
“Lure color plays a factor from day to day, so you’ve got to have a variety. In the spring red head plugs with white, chartreuse or chrome bodies typically fish really well, but sometimes the bass want a sardine colored lure. Last year we did really well with a yellow model that sported a checkerboard of red markings. Our biggest fish last spring, a 51 inch 48 pounder came on a red head/chrome body Angry Eye,” tipped Canevaro.
“I firmly believe that trolling bites are reaction strikes rather than an attempt to feed. There are exceptions, but in general I think you’ve got to get your plug within 2 feet of a fish to get a strike. This being the case you want to watch your sonar closely and make sure your plugs are running close to the depth where you are marking most of the fish,” added Canevaro.
Canevaro has been striper fishing the Delta for over 40 years, so I asked him based on his experience how he expects this spring to play out in light of all the rain and cold weather we’ve had.
“I’m expecting good fishing. Most of the time when we’ve got a lot of water the fishing is good, but I don’t expect trolling to get going until later than usual. I don’t think we’ll see good trolling action until the last week of March or perhaps even later. Today the water is muddy and 48 degrees. For good trolling it has to be halfway clear and around 56 degrees, so we’ve got a long way to go before the conditions we need develop.”
“I’m going to focus on the Old Sacramento and the Deep Water Channel this year. The West Bank will get a lot of pressure as always. If you join the crowd you’ll catch a lot of fish, but most of them will be small. If you get out and find your own fish, you’ll probably get fewer fish overall, but your chances of hooking a good fish will rise substantially. The big fish shy away from all that boat pressure,” disclosed Canevaro.
Trolling is a great way to fish, but let’s face it, some guys like to anchor up and soak bait and this approach will produce plenty of fish in the spring.
In the fall shad, bullheads and mudsuckers are typically the hot baits. In the spring, these baits will take fish, but the best offerings are typically sardines, blood and pile worms and shrimp baits. Up river, drifting jumbo minnows can work wonders, but that is another technique that we’ll discuss at a later time.
All the spring baits are fished on the same type of sliding sinker rig that is used in the fall. Some guys go to smaller hooks in the spring because we are dealing with smaller baits, but I avoid the smaller hooks. Stripers aren’t hook shy and I don’t like hooking small fish deeply. Larger hooks are harder for the little guys to swallow.
The bait angler may find good fishing throughout the lower Delta in the spring, but the best fishing will take place up river from Rio Vista. Back in the days before I had a boat I used to have outstanding success during the months of April and May, while fishing from the bank near the Isleton Bridge, while using bloodworms. I seldom hit that area without going home with a limit of bass. Unfortunately that area is now off limits to bank anglers, but if you have a boat don’t hesitate to anchor up near the bank above or below the bridge and go to work with worms. You’ll likely find pretty good action.
When bait fishing for spring fish, it’s wise to use slightly heavier tackle than you would during the fall. Like stripers, sturgeon will also be on the move this spring and since you’ll be using baits that are just as attractive to sturgeon as they are to stripers, you might find yourself slugging it out with a bonus diamond back.
I can’t wait to get started!