Bait Fishing for Delta stripers
By: Kirby Desha for The News Messenger
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When my friend Jack Naves, aka: BassJack, asked if I wanted to go striper hunting last Friday I immediately said yes. Jack knows the delta much better than I do, and his big North River boat can handle just about any conditions.

As it turned out, we were going to put it to the test.

Friday was just about the windiest conditions I’ve ever tried to fish in, but we knew that going in. While the wind does not affect the bite, a combination of the incoming tide and 30-mph gusts makes it extremely difficult to navigate.

At sunrise, we launched at Brannan Island State Recreation Area, made a turn onto Three Mile Slough toward the Sacramento River side and were hit with brutal north winds. Jack tried his best to get us some action while trolling the west bank, but we gave up after the first hour.

Once the tide started to turn, we anchored up a little ways below the Sandy Beach Park and rigged up for bait fishing. Jack’s favorite bait in this area is chicken liver, more specifically huge globs of liver wrapped around a snelled 8/0 circle hook.

Rods were 10-foot Ugly Stick Salmon/Steelhead rods and reels were Abu Garcia 6500s with 20-pound mono line. A 2-3-ounce weight is clipped to a sliding sinker holder and the hooks are on the end of a 3-foot leader of 20-pound mono.

The trick to using circle hooks is to fight the urge to set the hook, as the fish will basically hook themselves. All that the angler needs to do is simply start reeling.

We cast out four lines and set the rods in rod holders and started watching for a strike. The wind was making it real hard to see the bites so Jack deployed some wind socks in an effort to stabilize the boat. We started getting small “shaker” type bites right away.

These were short strikes that usually come from undersize fish trying to pick off the bait. We landed several of these and a few that were close to the 18-inch minimum for keepers, but it took almost an hour to get the first keeper in the boat at 20 inches.

Let me tell you, when fishing is tough, it’s hard to toss back a fish that measures 17 ½ inches!

Finally, we moved and tried our luck over on the San Joaquin River. Conditions there were actually worse. We anchored up next to the Sherman Island road and threw out the rods again – same results – small fish and we were burning through boxes of liver.

We were getting close to the end of the outgoing tide, when fishing is at its worst. I was rebaiting the extra hooks when my rod suddenly slammed sideways. Dropping the bait, I bent over and started reeling before I even took the rod out of the holder. “Holy cow, this is a keeper” I yelled, while Jack cleared the rods away from the fish.

He netted a 4-pounder that went about 24 inches and I finally had something for fish tacos this weekend.