This just may be the coolest video I have ever seen…
In California, a huge battle continues to rage, pitting striped bass versus salmon. The basic storyline here is that the decline of native species like Chinook salmon and steelhead is being blamed, at least in part, to predation by non-native fish…most notably, the striped bass.
Who is making these claims? The stewards of the resource, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife? Nope? The salmon fishing industry? Guess again. Save the salmon organizations? Wrong again!
The folks behind the this rhetoric are water contractors and districts in Central and Southern California, who depend on the Sacramento River System for their water supply. Since 2009, there have been three bills introduced the State Legislature that had anti-striped bass language written in. Fortunately, anglers rallied against all of the bills and none passed.
Furthermore in 2011, the Coalition for a Sustainable Delta, a group of San Joaquin Valley water districts, asserted, that striped bass were harming native species. As part of a settlement agreement stemming from that lawsuit, the CDFW was forced to come up with regulations changes to reduce the number of striped bass in the region. Again, the public’s voice was heard and, in a unanimous decision, State Fish & Game Commissioners voted not to pursue a proposal that would have changed sport fishing regulations related to anadromous striped bass, including increasing bag limits and decreasing size limits.
So far, the stripers and striper anglers have won out, but the water districts are powerful, organized and loaded with money so there will likely be another attack soon.
But what of all this? Is the striper really the enemy of native fish in California? And would eradicating them bring back salmon, steelhead and fish populations?
First off, a little history is in order. According to the CDFW, the initial striper introduction to California took place in 1879, when 132 small bass were brought successfully by rail from the Navesink River in New Jersey and released in upper San Francisco Bay. Fish from this lot were caught within a year near Sausalito, Alameda, and Monterey, and others were caught occasionally at scattered places for several years afterwards.
There was much concern by the Fish and Game Commission that such a small number of bass might fail to establish the species, so a second introduction of about 300 stripers was made in lower Suisun Bay in 1882. In a few years, striped bass were being caught in California in large numbers.
By 1889, a decade after the first group of eastern fish had been released, striped bass were being sold in San Francisco markets. In another 10 years, the commercial net catch alone was averaging well over a million pounds a year. In 1935, however, all commercial fishing for striped bass was stopped in the belief that this would enhance the sport fishery.
The sport fishery took off from there and striped bass have been woven into the fabric of California fishing ever since. Today, they are an immensely popular gamefish and support a huge fishing industry that ranges from Monterey Bay to the south and Red Bluff to the north and all points between — the Sacramento, Feather, American, Yuba, Mokelumne San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers, San Francisco Bay, San Pablo Bay, Suisun Bay, Grizzly Bay, the 1,000-miles of Delta and beaches from San Francisco down to to Monterey Bay.
The Current Situation
Since 2006, fall-run Chinook salmon numbers in the the Sacramento-San Joaquin River System have been mostly a epic decline. As recently as 2002, the basin saw nearly 800,000 kings (by the way, the striper numbers were incredible then too) but by 2008, that number had fallen to a record low 59,000! Fall Chinook have bounced back a bit a few years since but, overall, the outlook isn’t good.
Until 2006, California’s fall kings ran in robust numbers — large enough runs that I never once heard any talk about concerns of striped bass predation. Well, when the king runs crashed and fisheries managers and anglers started looking for causes, it wasn’t hard to trace a lot of the system’s problems to massive water exports to the south.
The pumps that suck water from the Delta are so strong that they can reverse the flow of the river, fooling out-migrating salmon smolt into heading “downstream” right into the pumping facilities. There’s so much water being drawn out of the system that the Bay-Delta estuary water quality is extremely compromised, making for very poor rearing conditions. To satiate the southern metropolitan and agricultural district’s enormous appetite for water, the pumps run hard all summer, often leaving rivers low and warm in the fall — and, of course, that makes for poor spawning conditions.
With the ill-effects of the pumps obvious to even the layman, the water contractors and irrigators took to a different tactic — blaming the Chinook’s decline on predation from non-native species. And that’s where the lawsuits and Assembly bills I spoke of earlier came into play.
What of all this? Is there any truth to their claims? Well, as someone who spends more time “in the trenches,” living and breathing this stuff than anyone, I feel uniquely qualified to give you the real on the water story.
Let’s start with predation. I’ll never deny that stripers eat juvenile salmon. The fact is they do. And if you looked at the population trends and saw striped bass numbers were going through the roof while salmon continued to decline, you may have a point.
The reality of the situation, however, is that striped bass numbers are in a free fall, right along with salmon, steelhead, delta smelt and a whole host of other species. The entire system is in collapse! And the common denominator is water…more specifically, the lack thereof. The decline was exacerbated by the drought years of 2012-2016 as well, but the population crash began well before then.
The simple truth is fish need water!!
My latest underwater vid…a compilation of underwater salmon bites…kings, silvers, sockeye and all the rest are here. If this doesn’t get you pumped to go fishing, nothing will!
All this vid was, of course, shot with my WaterWolf camera.
Like many steelheaders, I have become a firm believer in the effectiveness of beads (especially when fished under a float) over the past several years. There’s no denying that there are times when they work better than anything else.
Up to this point, all of my bead use has been with the hard plastic variety…but I have been noticing more and more anglers using soft plastic beads as well. I’m always game to learn some new tricks, so I decided to dig a little deeper into this whole “soft egg” concept and recently talked with Brandon Wedam of BnR Tackle.
Wedam is a die-hard steelhead fisherman and his outfit manufactures and sells a wide array of soft beads that have become very popular in the coldwater world. I asked him what he thinks the advantages of using soft beads are.
“Hard beads work great but I think there are times when the soft ones can work better,” he says. “It seems like they have an edge on pressured fish — especially in low, clear conditions.”
He believes that the soft feel of the beads in those situations may contribute to the fish hanging on just a bit longer.
“Im starting to hypothesize that with beads there are lots of nips and near misses, says Wedam. “With the soft ones they are more likely to carry it around for a longer period of time. Catch some trout on them and you’ll see that first hand. The bobber will dance and the trout will be down there just chewing away — they really hold on.”
Wedam says that soft beads are neutrally buoyant so they drift in a more natural fashion than the hard ones do, which can help produce more bites when the fish are being difficult.
Another cool advantage of soft beads, particularly the ones in BnR’s system, is you can switch out sizes and colors without having to do any cutting or retying. That’s pretty sweet considering I normally have to cut my leader at the swivel and then side the bead and stop off if I want to switch.
“I like to fish some small, tight water where you know the fish are going to see your bead,” he says. “If I don’t get bit on the first cast or two, I can easily switch out colors and give the fish another look.”
There are plenty of rigging and fishing options for soft beads. Of course, bobber-doggin’ is one of the deadliest methods, but some folks are also finding that drift fishing with them (pegged) is really effective also. You can also use them as a dropper behind a yarn ball.
BnR’s rigging system is pretty nifty. With the basic method, you start by sliding a rubber bobber stop down the line 2-3 finger widths above the hook. Then you slide one of the clear plastic bead sleeves (included) down on top of the stop. Thread the hook through the hole in the bead and then slide the bead up over the stop and sleeve and you are done. Reverse the process if you want to change beads.
Wedam is always tweaking and improving his technique and has found that adding a small sequin between the bobber stop and bead will help keep the bead from sliding down onto the hook in heavy water — particularly when you are using larger sizes, from 12mm on up. That rigging takes the quick change aspect out of play but is sometimes necessary when fishing in strong current.
So, when do beads shine? Wedam likes them when the water is getting a little too clear to use yarnies — say 3 feet and up.
“Having said that, however, a lot of guys are now telling me that they are catching fish on the huge 14mm and 16mm beads in clear water,” he says. “That’s messing with my mind a bit!”
Those same 16mm soft beads are also gaining a loyal following among anglers fishing in high and off-color water. He says that adding scent in those conditions isn’t a bad plan. You can put some soft beads in a Zip-Loc and marinate them overnight in your favorite stink sauce and the plastic will soak a lot of it up. Most of the time, however, Wedam goes scentless.
As I mentioned earlier, the drift fishing crowd is reporting excellent success with pegged soft beads and more and enterprising anglers seem to be coming up with all sorts of cool new applications al the time.
In recent seasons, I have been finding that kings and silvers will also gobble up larger hard beads fished under floats. I asked Wedam about that and he said that he’s getting the same story from quite a few of his customers. Of course, the smaller sizes also work great for stream trout.
I’m excited to experiment with soft beads this season and see how they work for me. They sure seem to have several really attractive attributes.
If this doesn’t make you want to strap on some backpacking gear and do some back-country trout fishing, I don’t know what will!
My bro shot this with his drone in the Eastern Sierra…so cool!!!