Get set for NorCal striper season

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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Okay, so maybe the whole halibut in Lake Englebright thing last week was a bit of a stretch, but there are some saltwater fish that are truly making a good showing in Nor Cal freshwater at the moment. Mid-April is prime time to intercept striped bass as they migrate up out of the Delta/Bay complex and into Valley rivers. The Sacramento, American, Feather, San Joaquin and Mokelumne rivers all have stripers in them right now and fishing should pick up over the next few weeks. Additionally, April and May can yield some good linesider action in the Delta as well. Unlike our beloved salmon, stripers are ravenous beasts when they come up river and are always on the hunt for an easy meal… which, of course is exactly why I like fishing for them so much. What’s not to like about a fish that loves to bite? Because of the greedy nature of striped bass, you’ve got a plethora of techniques you can employ that will get you bit. And that’s another appealing attribute to these fish — it doesn’t matter if you’re into bait dunking, fly fishing, trolling, jigging, live bait drifting or tossing artificials — you can catch ‘em. Now, let’s take a look at a few basic tactics to get you started. Dunking ‘dines Probably one of the most popular (not to mention laid back and fun) ways to catch stripers is to dunk cut sardines. Basically, you drop the anchor and rig up with a sliding sinker rig and a 5/0 octopus style hook. Fillet a sardine and thread it onto the hook, meat side out and use Miracle Thread to keep the bait on the hook. Toss your rig out the back of the boat or off the bank and prop your rod up on a balance bar. When the tip’s headed for the water, set the hook! The real key to fishing sardines is to buy the freshest one you can. The mushy, yellow-meat bagged-up variety is okay in a pinch, but you’ll get five times as many bites on good, fresh sardines. Ones with lots of scales still in tact and reddish-brown flesh are the ones you want. Live bait For sheer numbers of fish, drifting live minnows is going to be your hottest ticket. Stripers are apex predators and there’s no better way to get their attention than offering them a wiggling minnow. You can make it as simple as you can — run a No. 2 octopus hook with minimal weight to get your rig to the bottom. You can either anchor up above a likely-looking striper hole and work the baits over the lip and into the drop or slowly drift with the current like you would were you boondoggin’ for salmon. Some of the guides I know raise their own minnows but you can get away with using jumbo minnows that are available at many local tackle shops. The downside to this style of fishing is that jumbos are expensive – as much as a buck or more apiece. Get into a good bite and you may blow through $80 or $100 worth of bait in a day. Trolling If clean hands are your thing, give trolling a try. In all but super clear water conditions, you can put the wood to stripers by dragging Bomber and Yo-Zuri minnows around. I’d mainly run shallow divers — plugs that dive 6-9 feet over gravel and sand flats, but be sure to also keep some deep divers in your box. Sometimes a 6-inch white Zoom Trick Worm added to the back hook of your lure can up your success rate but there are also days when the fish simply don’t want it. As far as plug colors go, don’t get too caught up in having a zillion different patterns on board. I like rainbow trout, silver/black back and silver/pink back. The trend is to troll 3-4 mph, but you’ll get bigger fish by going slower. In another column, I’ll cover some of the other striper techniques, but these should get you started. Now go out there and have some fun! J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate, and his outdoors pieces have been published nationally. He can be found on the Web at