|The California Delta is a fresh-water system primarily comprised of fertile agricultural islands that sit below sea level, that are protected by a stout system of levees. You’ll find an abundance of Black bass in this fishery including the giant Florida Hybrids scattered through out the central system. Fierce smallmouth reside in the upper portions of the rivers to the north and south along both the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and their tributaries. Spotted bass are also found in the northern part of the system along the Sacramento main river.
The California Delta is located roughly between Sacramento on the north and Stockton on the east, Tracy to the south and Pittsburgh to the West. The Delta encompasses more than 1,000 miles of waterways. The two main contributing rivers are the Sacramento River, coming in from the north, and the San Joaquin River, coming in from the south. Other rivers feeding into the two major rivers include the American River, the Mokelumne River, the Cosumnes River and the Calaveras River. There are more than 20 rivers that cascade from the Sierra run off that pour into this water system. Before these rivers empty into the Pacific Ocean through the San Francisco Bay, they pass through some of the best fishable waterways in this country, if not the world. The California Delta is a labyrinth of sloughs with names like Potato Slough, Whites Slough, Snodgrass Slough, Lost Slough, Georgiana Slough, Steamboat Slough, My personal favorite, “Pilot Slough” and many, many more. As one explores these watery avenues, vistas of vine-covered trees, blackberry brambles, grazing cattle, flocks of fowl and countless acres of tulle islands and grasses, appear at almost every turn. It truly is God’s country and a fisherman’s paradise.
Fishing is a year-round activity in the California Delta, although the prime season is from about March through July, when the heaviest of the Delta Florida strain hybrid bass are up in the shallows spawning. The climate here in Northern California is very pleasant year round, although we do have our moments of extreme. Some of the balmiest weather is Sept. 1 through Oct. 15. Tulle fog can occur many days from late Oct. through part of the winter and into February. Often it will burn off by midmornings. Even in midsummer, hot days will cool off for comfortable sleeping in the evening. Average high and low temperatures for some months are: Jan. 32 - 52 deg.; Apr. 44 - 72 deg.; June 55 - 95 deg.; Jul. 60 – 110 deg.; Oct. 48 88 deg. It usually is a few degrees cooler out on the water. The “Delta Breezes” that come up in the mid summer through early fall, can range from gentle breezes of 3-5 mph to gusty, dangerous, gale forces winds exceeding 50 mph. Most often the wind blows from the north. But the many east/west running sloughs and various marinas, allow for sufficient protection for anglers presented with bad conditions. Caution must be taken when traveling to and from launch sites on these windy days.
The vast majority of the Delta is relatively shallow. You’ll find the deepest water out in the two main shipping channels of the Sacramento & San Joaquin Rivers. These two channels are tattered with U.S.Coast Guard beacons from the where the two rivers meet out west all the way to Sacramento and Stockton. Depths of 35-75 feet can be found along the main channels. The remaining sloughs can vary from 1-16 feet, with a number of washed out areas, those having with strong current flow, reaching 17-30 feet along the smaller tulle islands that are scattered through out the system. Being attached to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, the Delta is indeed a tidal system and experiences four tidal changes on most days with two lows and two highs. Periodically there is an over lap each month where there are a day or two where there will only be 3 tidal swings. The water level can fluctuate from 1-6 feet depending on the time of day and month and tide cycle. Tidal charts can be purchased at most any retail outlet in every county the Delta touches. Most of the river system experiences some level of current flow going in or out. Many areas, such as the flooded islands, only experience an up and down sensation, although there will be heavy flow near the openings to these flooded lakes, lagoons and ponds.
There is a vast array of cover available to the bass here. Most predominant are the various varieties of aquatic vegetation found through out the system. Most evident are the Elodea (CoonTail) and Hydrilla grasses. These two can be found growing along most shore lines and scattered over vast flat areas. They can be growing in small mushroom like clumps, or in larger, thick beds. During the lower portion of the tides, the upper stems of these plants are very visible as they create a matt or canopy or sorts, providing excellent protection for the bass below. At times during the summer or very hot periods, this grass will decay and form what the locals refer to as the “cheese” on top. There are other varieties of aquatic plants found through out the system, including the ever fast growing and suffocating Hyacinth flora. This is a surface plant with wide green leaves and spectacular purple flowers, which grow in every inch of the system. As the winds come up, parts of this plant are separated and moved through u=out the system by the tides. They will settle into a small pocket and in a matter of days, a clump the size of a basketball can expand to cover areas of 20-40 feet long and 10 feet out from the shoreline. An excellent canopy for summer time bass seeking darker, cooler cover in the summer time. Also found through out the system are the vast fields and islands of tulles.
The majority of the Delta’s shoreline is made up of rocky riprap banks. Many varieties of river rock, cement slabs, sand stone are used to shore up the levees. These rocky banks will in most places extend out to depths of 6-8 feet. It is where these rocks end that most of the weed lines will begin to grow along the levee banks. This in fact creates a great ambush area locals refer to as the “trough.” The area of open water from the bank to where the weeds begin. Many of these banks are over grown with a variety of flora whose roots too help to strengthen the levees. Delta willows, varietal fruits from farmland crops, bamboo, cypress, oak, Eucalyptus, wild berries are some of the more common trees, as well as you’ll find a lot of palm trees in many of the marinas. These also provide a wide array of wooded cover along the rocky banks.
The delta too, has a large variety of hard cover. The River system supports many communities right on the water, not to leave out the marinas. Therefore, many docks can be found all over the river system. These docks provide an outstanding form of cover for the bass. Of great note, most of the docks on the river are found in the 5 mph idle zones and tend to be overlooked by many anglers. Many of the islands today are still being used for agricultural purposes, which means there are many pumps and such that take water out of the system for irrigation. You will find many pipes, pumps and supporting docks for this purpose all through out. You will also find many submerged and partially exposed shipwrecks, flooded orchards, ancient remnants of old marinas, that too provide some form of hard wood cover. All these forms of cover provide a great advantage and versatility to the ever so aggressive and predatory nature of the Delta bass.
The Cal Delta bass grow big and fierce. The current record is 18.62 pounds, caught by Galen Jenson in February of 2002. In April of 1999, Mark Tyler caught a 14+ pound fish that to this day is still the all time BASS single fish record in their tournaments. The bass on this system are provided with ideal conditions to grow rapidly to double-digit weights. If you’re looking for that double-digit trophy, the Delta is THE place to find it. 10-pound fish are caught here with regularity. The abundance of 6-9 pounders will astonish the average angler. Yet, the system is full of juvenile fish in that 1-5 pound class as well.
The forage base that supports this fishery is vast and endless. The two most common table fair choices of the bass are crawdads and shad. The Delta is home to some of the worlds most productive and sought after crawdad supplies. The crawdad industry is booming here. No less than 10 species of craws reside here through out the river system. They will range in colors from greens, browns, blacks, oranges, blues, and reds. Year round, anglers will find regurgitated parts of craws in their live wells. Many times bass will be caught on lures with a craw hangin in it’s gullet. They are greedy and eat these freshwater crustaceans with a fervor. The shad provide an easy source of forage for the younger smaller bass. They are abundant and found in every inch of the system year round.
Yet, there is a wide variety of other forage sources that these bass prey on as well. The Delta is full of fish species ranging from panfish, gills, perch, gobbies, salmon and steelhead smolt, baby catfish, suckers, mitten cabs, shrimps and their own careless young. Amphibious and reptilian creatures abound, frogs, salamanders, water dawgs, lizards, snakes, you name become table fair on the River. In addition, the bass here are not shy on taking advantage of the many warm blooded creatures who habitat the system. Small mammals such as rats, mice, young ferrets, squirrels and such that dare to roam near their dining rooms are all open game for these bass. Moreover, our feathered friends are not left off the menu as well. Many a sparrow, blackbird and ducklings are engulfed from the surfaces when exposing themselves to the range of a river bass’ strike.
No living creature is safe from the predatory nature of the Delta bass.
Stout rods and heavy line are a must when fishing on the Delta. Yet, the finesse fisherman can come enjoy this fishery too. Light tackle is not recommended though due to the heavy cover, size and nature of these bass. They are bigger here, and due to their environment living in the current, they are stronger here. Light equipment will lead to heart breaks when that fish of a lifetime grabs you bait.
As you can see, with the wide array of forage available, many tactics, and baits can and do work here. Pitching and flippen and king. The Delta is a paradise to the angler who favors these two techniques, no matter if your tossing jigs, plastics, blades, cranks or topwater baits. Knowing how to do this is essential. Topwater action is exceptional as well, but ya had better do it with braided line! Frogs and spooks are top choices from spring through summer. Buzzbaits excel from late summer through fall. Spinner baits and crankin work year round. In the winter, don’t overlook the lipless and rippin baits. Weightless Senkos in the spring are king. Giant fish are caught as they move shallow to spawn. Bubba drop shotting with heavy line, larger weights and big plastics are effective on summer bass in the grass. There is no technique or bait that won’t work on these delta bass.
As for colors, shoot, I think I’ve caught bass on every color imaginable out here. There are some standard colors though, that are time tested. Red Texas Craw, Tennessee Shad, chrome blue or black, Fire Tiger and Chartreuse blue are the standard for cranks. Browns and blacks for jigs and worms, especially combos of brown/purple, black/blue, black/red and olive natural tone greens. For plastics, Watermelon red and Junebug are exceptional colors, as is the local favorite PBJ(peanut butter n Jelly). Stick to your earth tone greens and browns. White, chartreuse, black and red blades, buzzers and Frogs all excel on the Delta. Let your imagination and confidence dictate what ya use, but by sticking to these basics, you’re sure ta git bit.
LAST FEW EXTRA NOTES
By California DFG laws, not only does an angler here require a state license to fish, but the addition of the Bay/Delta stamp is required. The size limit of bass here is 12 inches, and the take limit is 5 for any combination of Largemouth, smallies and spotted bass. Catch and release over the years has become the norm on the Cal Delta. It is a process the local anglers here take to their heart, they preach and protect it with a passion not experienced on other fisheries. Never proceed for a days fishing here without your camera, that photo of you and your trophy will last a lifetime, it also assures another angler will have the chance to experience that fish you turn loose. This is one of, if not, the best fishery in the country, welcome to the California Delta, respect our resource, and enjoy your day on the water here.
Keep A Tight Line!
Andy "Cooch" Cuccia