Stripers On Bait: The “Old Reliable” Method For Derby Anglers
Written By: Cal Kellogg, September 22, 2013 Species: Stripers,
From the Delta to the ocean, and back again, the seasonal travels of the Golden State’s striped bass are well documented.
Wherever the stripers are during their annual migration they dominate the angling scene and why not? Stripers are “A-List” predators that voraciously gobble up fish, crustaceans, and invertebrates. Slam a hook into a mature striper and you’ve got a battle on your hands. Land that battler and you’ve got a supply of flaky white fillets, guaranteed to make the mouth of any fish lover water.
Stripers begin surging into the Delta in late August and stay active through January, making the fall and early winter striper time in the Delta.
Early in the run stripers when the water temperature is between the mid 60’s and mid 50’s stripers are very active and their metabolism is fast requiring them to eat regularly. At this time plugging, trolling, jigging, fly-casting, and bait fishing will all produce results.
Now I enjoy targeting stripers with artificials as much as anyone, but I know that in terms of day to day success from August through January there isn’t a method that can match the consistency of soaking bait.
Add to the consistency that bait fishing offers the fact that a lot of sturgeon are picked up accidentally every year by bait anglers targeting stripers and you begin to understand why most of my Delta striper fishing time is devoted to flinging bait.
Certainly trolling and plugging can and does produce bass during the Rio Vista Bass Derby, but the consistency that bait fishing offers makes it the “old reliable” approach for derby competitors. And who know you might just get lucky and place in the sturgeon division while soaking shad for bass!
Before we begin discussing rigs and baits I’d like to discuss the most important aspect of successfully targeting Delta stripers: Patience! Small bass are aggressive and pretty easy to fool. The big bass, those hogs we all dream of catching that will place in the derby are tougher. Granted you might nail a husky in the first 5 minutes of your first trip, but don’t count on it. More likely you’re going to put in long hours before hooking such a prize. Yet, when you feel the weight of the fish and the line begins to scream off the reel the wait will have been well worth it.
A solid bait fishing rig is made up of a 7 foot conventional rod capable of handling sinkers up to 4 ounces, teamed with a high speed clicker equipped level wind reel capable of holding at least 300 yards of 15 pound monofilament. The rod should sport a sensitive fast action tip along with sufficient backbone to drive the hook into a stripers tough mouth.
The terminal rigs used for bait fishing all incorporate a sliding sinker. To begin rigging you’ll need a plastic slider sleeve, a bead, and a snap swivel. Pass your main line through the slider, then thread on the bead, and finally attach the snap swivel using a Palomar knot. It seems everyone has a favorite leader and hook set up. The basic leader consists of 40 inches of 30 pound test monofilament tipped with a 7/0 to 10/0 Gamakatsu, Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp or Owner Octopus hook. Most expert bait anglers snell their hooks incorporating an egg loop that allows them to better secure their bait to the hook.
Fall stripers will strike a long list of natural baits including threadfin shad, bullheads, mudsuckers, pile worms, bloodworms, clams, sardines, anchovies, and various types of shrimp. Shad, bullheads, and mudsuckers represent the mainstays of most delta anglers.
When using shad the standard approach is to “butterfly” them. This sounds complicated but it’s actually quite simple. Begin by selecting a good size shad. Using a sharp knife fillet the baitfish from behind the gill to the tail but don’t detach the fillet. Take your hook and pass it through the fillet, twist the fillet one time and pass the hook through the shad’s spine near the middle of the body. Next pass the hook back up through the body just behind the gills. Finally pull open the egg loop, secure it around the shads tail and you’ve got a rigged shad.
When rigging bullheads and mudsuckers either alive or dead you’ll need a bait needle. Pass the needle through the bait from just behind the gills to the just before the tail. If the bait is alive be careful to keep the needle just under the skin. Once the bait is impaled on the needle connect the leader to it and pull the leader through the bait’s body leaving the hook setting next to the baits head. If the bait is alive don’t do anything else. When using dead bait half hitch the leader around its tail a couple times to keep the bait straight.
With a basic understanding of how to properly rig baits it’s time to select a fishing spot. Fall stripers do most of their feeding in water between 3 and 20 feet deep. A lot of anglers make the mistake of fishing too deep and too far off shore. For the best results use your sonar to search near shore areas for fishing holding along the bottom near rocks, drop offs, or other structure.
Early in the fall stripers strike a bait aggressively. As the season progresses and the water temperature drops strikes become increasingly subtler. For this reason it is critical to fish with your reel out of gear with the clicker on. At the first sign of a hit disengage the clicker and feed the fish line. Don’t set the hook until the bass moves off with authority. When the water is cold it is common for even a large bass to play with the bait for a minute or more before moving off.