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Richey: Striper fishing scary, but worth the trip

Outdoors
By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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Are you ready for the most exciting fishing that this area’s got to offer… something that will make your heart skip a beat and have you seeing big, splashing fish in your sleep? If so, it’s time to head down to the Delta where we’ve hit prime time for topwater striper fishing. Warning: Catching 4- to 30-pound stripers on surface plugs is a highly addictive activity that often makes all other types of fishing seem boring in comparison. If you’re okay with that read on! The Cliff’s Notes version of the story is striped bass move out of the bays and into the Delta in the fall. As the water temps cool (like right now!), the fish get extremely active and go on a feeding binge to fatten up for the leaner winter months ahead. What all this means is it’s the perfect time to chase them with topwater gear. Technique While there are lots of subtleties to the technique, the basic method involves tossing out some sort of surface plug or popper (more on that later) and cranking it back to the boat. By working your plug so it sputters, splashes and walks like a wounded baitfish, you’re appealing to the fish’s appreciation of an easy meal. They’ll come up from the depths and absolutely hammer these plugs, sometimes with such gusto that the lure will get kicked 3 feet into the air. The sudden ferocity with which they hit a surface plug is exciting and sometimes even enough to scare you a bit! While the attacks are typically furious, stripers miss the lure quite often. The key here is to keep cranking! Though instinct will very likely tell you to stop reeling when a fish blows up on your lure and misses, it’s imperative that you keep going… all the way to the boat. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had fish eat the lure right as I was lifting it out of the water — in fact, it happened to us just yesterday morning. It’s extremely difficult, but you need to remain calm under such circumstances if you want to convert strikes into hook-ups. The real problem with surface fishing is you’ll be inclined to set the hook prematurely. If you set the hook when you first see the fish boil on the lure, you’re going to pull it away from him 90 percent of the time. Ignore what your eyes and ears are telling you and wait until you feel the fish load up the rod. If you’ve ever fished dry flies for trout, it’s the same concept. Let the fish eat the lure and go back down with it before you hit ‘em. Locations Look for shallow, clear flats when chasing stripers with topwater. The best ones are no more than 6 to 7 deep and, preferably, more like 3 to 5 feet. Ideally, those flats will be located immediately adjacent to some sort of drop-off or channel edge and feature cover like weeds, logs, rocks or pilings. I know what you’re thinking — the Delta is a very big and intimidating place and where the heck does one even start? Well, the best advice I can give you is head for the main river channels and then start graphing around the edges until you find some likely looking flats. Surface Baits There are many different companies that make surface poppers and I’ve tried most of them. I’ve had the best success with 5-inch silver/black Pencil Poppers, white Zara Spooks and Lucky Craft Gunfish. Each has it’s own pros and cons and, for starters I’d stick with the Pencil Poppers. They’re very easy and forgiving to use — and have a great action that stripers really love. Give it a try! Wait for a nice calm day (if it’s cloudy, so much the better). The bass will be around until the water temps drop down into the low to mid 40’s. If you want a crash course on topwater fishing, I do have a handful of guide trip dates left available in November: www.thesportfisher.com.