By Mark Lassagne
If you have dreamed of a place where you can catch 20-50 fish a day in the three to five pound range and have the opportunity to bag a ten-pound fish of a lifetime in the same day. The Delta, with seemingly endless rock banks, expansive weed flats and tulle islands is a bass haven. The Delta fishes big and almost every bank holds fish. The Delta is home to smallmouth bass, spotted bass and largemouth bass along with another 51 species of fish.
The smallies and spots tend to roam closer to the Sacramento River area where the water is cooler and more oxygenated. In the upper Delta, nearer to the city of Sacramento, the water is affected by the tides but the direction of the flow doesn’t change. The rate of flow or the speed of the current varies from tidal action but the water continues to run in a southwesterly direction toward the San Francisco Bay. “The river”, as we call it, is contained by man-made earthen levees that are protected or preserved with limestone and granite boulders. The rock or boulder shoreline is perfect habitat for tons of crawfish. The town of Isleton, located in the heart of the smallie country, hosts the annual “Crawdad Festival” in celebration of the concentrations crawfish. Almost any rock bank with current serves as a “crawfish condo” and is also where you will find foraging bass, it really is that easy. From February to November the smallies and spots bite well. An average day is 20-30 fish per rod with a few 2 to 3 pound powerhouses and if you’re lucky an occasional 5-pounder. Some hot baits are the Pepper Clear Water Elite spinner bait in shad and Chartreuse colors, Chartreuse buzz baits, and Luhr-Jensen Speed Traps in all the craw and shad colors. The hottest baits for smallies and spots is a rip bait or craw colors of the Radar 10. Also, a must-have bait if you are plugging for these hard charging river bass, is a Senko.
Even though there are largemouths up the river, they are more prevalent in the flat lands, or the marsh type waters of the Delta. From the brackish water in Pittsburgh, north to Lodi and south to Tracy you will find an abundant supply of largemouth. There are literally hundreds of small sloughs to fish. Don’t worry about the overwhelming number of sloughs because almost every slough will host bass. The Delta is tidal water… the depth of the water travels up and down one to four feet twice a day and the direction the water flow reverses with each tide change. The tide brings new water to each area twice a day keeping the water cool and oxygenated, Rarely does the water temperature get over 80 degrees even in the hot summer months. Over the last ten years most of the levees have been reinforced with more rocks (rip rap) providing additional structure for the bass. Weeds have spread throughout the Delta waters over the last few years providing more fish habitat. It wasn’t too many years ago that a limit of 2 lb fish was a good average during a tournament. Now, with this new weed growth, an average tournament fish is about 4 lbs or better. A 5-pound bass used to be a big fish but not anymore. Now it takes at least a 8 to 10 lb bass to be considered a big fish. Unlike most of the lakes in California you don’t have to down size on the Delta, you want to “super size”. Bring on your Bubba tackle, big baits, swimbait, spinner baits, frogs, buzz baits, crank baits, and flip big plastic or jigs. Top water lures often work all day since the weeds provide plenty of ambush spots; this is truly a bass fisherman’s paradise. During the summer months thin moss mats develop (often called cheese) providing shade for the bass to sit under while waiting for a frog to hop by on top of the “cheese”. If you have never caught a bass busting through the “cheese” to get your bait, trust me, it’s awesome and an experience you will never forget! Delta bass are structure oriented so a little practice casting before arriving will help land a few more fish.
The fish activity slows in December as the water cools to the high 40’s low 50’s and continues to be slow through January. In February it starts to pick up again with some really big fish beginning to bite. Although the pace may be slower the average size of fish is usually pretty good. The Speed Trap works all year but as March and April come around the bite becomes awesome as we get into really big fish. It is not uncommon to catch several bass over 5 lbs every day on the little crank bait. April and May are spawn times here and we have some good sight fishing in a few areas, but not too many due to water clarity causing limited visibility. The Speed Trap bite remains good but the fish seem to be a little smaller toward the end of May. By then, the spinner bait, buzz bait, frog, fluke and Helix bite are wide open. If you get on the right bank in April and May you may bag a 30 lb limit and 15 -20 lb limits are so common you won’t even get a check in a tournament. We catch a lot of big bass even in 6 inches of water this time of year. It’s pretty cool to toss your bait into 6 inches of water and watch a big swirl as the water explodes with a 10 lb bass. Towards the end of May and into the first part of June the water warms and the fish move a little deeper. The real shallow bite seems to subside moving into summer. Summer is top water tim!. You can count on catching lots of fish from June to August. This time of year if you want big ones you need to fish for them in highly oxygenated water with baits like the Roumba, AC Minnow, Shell Cracker, Persuader Buzz baits, Spooks, big flip baits and frogs. If you looking for numbers of fish you want to toss small cranks, drop shot rigs or use small worms to load the boat with smaller fish. It can be a great time to take the kids on a fishing adventure. One day last year we caught and released 230 bass. Get out there and catch some of these fish.
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Mark Lassagne free lance writer, pro bass angler, publisher, and bass guide would like to give a special thanks to his sponsors: