Fishing gets exciting

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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Okay, so we’ve finally gotten to the time of year I look forward to the most. Late fall, when one of the most exciting types of fishing you can find anywhere gets going strong in our local waters. Got any ideas? I’ll give you a hint. This kind of fishing can get you wet, make your heart nearly stop and then jump to 250 beats per minute in an instant; It can make your arm ache and your cheeks burn from prolonged smiling. And oh yea, it’s more addictive than caffeine and the TV show “Entourage” combined. I’m talking, of course, about throwing topwater lures for Delta stripers. There’s just nothing cooler and more exciting than tossing a 6-inch surface popper out on foggy, glass-calm morning and watching a big linesider boil up behind it and then devour it in an explosion of spray. In October and November, striped bass migrate up out of the bay system and into the Delta and start to feed heavily in preparation for winter. Until the water temps get below 44 and/or the water gets muddy, you can have some epic days while tossing surface baits. But the topwater lures are more than just fun. They’re an excellent “searching” type of bait that allows you to cover a lot of water quickly. Additionally, I also seem to catch larger fish on them. There’s quite a bit to learn if you’ve never tried it before, but I’ll try to give you the basics on popper fishing here. To start with, let’s look at the lures themselves. You can’t go wrong with the basic Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper in silver/black, rainbow trout and red/white. They cast like bombs and have an erratic action that the fish really seem to like. Super Spooks and Lucky Craft Gunfish have the classic “walk the dog” action, which stripers also have a taste for but require a little more feel and take longer to learn. You can also try Chuckle Heads and a whole host of other popping baits. Basically, you want a lure that’s going to push water and kick some spray and swims in a fashion that resembles a wounded fish. Big stripers will cruise up out of deep water and onto shallow bars, shoals and flats in search of fish like small bass, bluegill, suckers and squawfish to eat. And that’s precisely where you want to fish for them — in water that’s 3 to 10 feet deep that’s close to a drop-off. If you’ve got some structure in the shallows, so much the better. Cover like weeds, rocks, trees and pilings is perfect. Target these spots when you’ve got some tidal movement over them. Generally, slack tide is the worst time to fish and you’ll do much better when there’s current. Fish the back (downstream) sides of the breaks — stripers will sit just below the structure, nosed into the current, where bait can be pushed right into their faces. Foggy and cloudy days yield the best popper fishing as the bass feel safer in the shallows during periods of low light. To that end, early morning and late evening are also good times to hit the water. One last tip before I turn you loose. When you get bit, you have to trust your hand and arm and not your ears and eyes. In other words, wait until you feel the weight of the fish on your rod before setting the hook. If you try to hit him when you first see or hear the splash, you’ll miss 9 out of 10 bites. It takes some seriously steady nerves to wait to set the hook when a bass the size of your leg is blowing up on your lure, but then again, that’s all part of the fun! I’m just getting started with my Delta topwater striper trips, so if you’d like get a crash course out on the water, give me a ring: (916) 388-1956. J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoor pieces have been published nationally. Find him on the Web at