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The image you get when flying into the Golden State's Capitol on a hazy
spring or summer day is that the plane has somehow missed California and
ended up in the midwest. The Sacramento River valley is broad and
flat with numerous farms, and the Sacramento River is wide and lazy in
Sacramento and straightened and civilized downstream in its delta.
The American river on the other hand is strong, clear and swift and becomes
more and more wild the further upstream you go. Between these two
rivers, and the Sacramento river delta system, the region is blessed with
permanent species such as squawfish,
blue, and bullhead
trout, and black
bass. More importantly, the region also witnesses waves
of migratory species such as Pacific sturgeon, Chinook
salmon, steelhead Rainbow Trout , and for most of the year, Striped
Bass. Starting in March, large Sturgeon
feet long!) creep up the river, through the delta to spawn in the upper
reaches of the Sacramento and American Rivers. By mid April the Sturgeon
are headed out of the river and are back in San Francisco Bay. Early
April sees the Steelhead Rainbows head up the same rivers on the heels
of the Spring salmon run. The 8 pound steelhead also spawn but loiter in
the American River and delta region until mid-May. Of course on the
heels of the steelheads are the stripers, who run in in all shapes and
sizes, not just to spawn, but to feed. While the Sturgeon are all
large (4-9 feet) and are caught largely on ghost shrimp and grass shrimp,
and the steelhead on salmon egg balls and a few large spinners, the Striper
run in sizes from 10" to 30lbs, will take most lures and baits and truly
light up and inaugurate the summer fishing season. Interestingly
the Stripers don't all make the run up the rivers (some stay in saltwater
almost all of their lives), and those who run up the river stay until October!
The only trick is to know where the big stripers are during which month
and how they like to be caught in each case.
Lets start in April up to mid-May. As the big girls (almost all the 20lbs+ stripers in the river are female) begin their run, they can be caught from San Pablo Bay to Rio Vista (the bulk of the Delta Region). These bass can be picked off by trolling large lipped sinking plugs up and down the various channels of the river (20lb class baitcasting reels are a must) very slowly, but this doesn't leave out the shore bound angler. The channels of the delta from Walnut Grove south are rock lined and have pull-offs everywhere, so look for a spot with a pile of boats in the water, park and walk down the rocks, and pitch a hunk (about 2" wide) of sardine on an egg weight or sliding bottom finder rig (with a 2oz flat weight).
Use a size #2 hook, and be prepared to catch dozens of 'shiners' (small stripers from 10" to 17") for every keeper (18"+) you hook. Buy at least 2lbs of sardines if you plan to fish more than a couple of hours (watch the tide table-a change in tide means a change in action) and also bring lots of weights and hooks, since snags are plentiful. I recommend 8lb-20lb tackle, though I favor the light end of this range for two reasons: 1) you will pick up more bites on the lighter gear (though you need to put the hook on a loop knot to fend off lip scraping), and 2) the current will not drag on the lighter line too much to obstruct feeling the bites. While using this rig also be prepared to catch Sacramento Squawfish in various sizes (I caught one 14" long) and, as night falls, catfish aplenty.
As May becomes June until September, the action move up river to from Discovery Park to Nimbus Dam on the American River and up to the swift waters of the Upper Sacramento River. Oh, this doesn't mean all the Stripers have gone up river, just the bulk of the larger ones (14"-20lbs). Both boat and shore bound fisherman now use sardine pieces and whole anchovies, along with live chubs and an assortment of lures. Most largemouth and smallmouth bass lures (silver spoons, Jigs, mid/large sized spinnners, plugs, and crankbaits) also pick off the Stripers and will usually result in a mixed bag. The baits will still pick up the stripers (though thread is sometimes required to hold the mushy anchovies on the hook in the swift up river waters), but they will pick up channel cats and bullheads in large numbers in the Sacramento River near sunset and after dark. In fact, a trip along Garden Parkway to the public parking areas under I-80 will result in more keeper channel cats (2lbs-8lbs) than stripers. Discovery park and the confluence on the American and Sacramento rivers will result in smallmouth, largemouth, sunfish, and stripers if a 1/4oz jig with tail, rubber worm, or small chartruese crankbait is used. Finally, a trip up the American river to Ancil Hoffman park, and using in-line spinners (#4 Panther Martin) and worms will result in Stripers and Rainbow trout. Like all fishing in the summer, fish sunrise and sunset.
Fall sees the return of the Chinook salmon and Steelhead rainbows (the Chinooks will strike at a swiftly jigged spoon or spinner out of anger-not hunger) herald the downstream run of the stripers, and October sees the stripers back in the lower delta, repeating the same bite patterns and tactics as in the spring. By late November the stripers are largely back in Saltwater, except for a few winter over bass, and the steelhead are back in the Pacific. The salmon die after spawning, but since many are captured by hatchery personnel, their young will be carefully guarded until mature enough for release 2 years later. As winter storms rain and blow, Sacramento fisherman poke for the winter overs, and long for the return of spring.
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