When the stripers start heating up this spring, will you be ready for them? Here’s some where, what and how-to info to get you all dialed in!
The first trick to being successful is obviously finding the fish. Luckily, bay, Delta and river bass all seek out very similar types of water. While they are known for being heavily armored, apex killing machines, stripers are actually very skittish and spooky. To that end, they prefer deep water for hiding. Unfortunately for them, however, most of their food lives up in the shallows.
So, shallow flats are key ares to begin your search for stripers…especially ones that have easy access to deep water. As you can see in the diagram below (which is an excerpt from my eBook Light Tackle Delta Striper Secrets) the fish will often hang off the channel edges and then make quick raids into the shallows for food…
To target stripers in the shallows, I go about it a few different ways. If I’m fishing a low light period…dawn, dusk or on a cloudy or foggy day, I’ll work topwater baits over the flats. I’ve caught fish on surface lures in water as deep as 12 feet but I think 2-8 feet is a better range.
There’s a wide array of plugs that will work…I like the 5-inch Cotton Cordell Pencil Poppers in Bone and Chrome/Black and the Luckycraft Gunfish 135 in the Chartreuse Shad pattern. In wooden baits, I love the Katch Fishing Pencil Popper and the 5″ Striper Squirrel from AJ Lures.
When working these baits, vary your cadence until the fish show you what they want. Usually, you’ll see a big push of water behind the bait and then maybe a splash. Most of the time, the fish miss the lure a few times before they actually get it in their mouth, so its important to wait until you actually feel the fish before you set the hook!
Sometimes, stripers will follow your topwater bait all the way in but won’t commit to it. When that happens, try tossing a follow-up bait right back into where the fish just was. These can be just about any minnow-shaped bait that sinks, but I think the best ones are jerk baits like the MegaBass Kantata in Western Clown or a soft bait like the Zoom Super Fluke (pearl/chartreuse tail). Throw one of these guys in and give it a couple twitches and hang on…a lot of times the fish is still there and ready to eat!
Glide baits have really taken off in recent years and are excellent choices when the fish don’t want to hit topwater. They can be fished several ways — all with the reel not the rod: You can slowly crank them in and they will have an “S” type of action. To change things up, do a couple quick cranks followed by a pause and the bait will speed up and then glide off to one side. You can even make gliders turn completely around once you get the hang of it.
As a basic rule of thumb, go slower when the water is colder and pick up the speed as temperatures increase. Mess around with your retrieve…the fish will tell you want they want (or don’t want) on a given day.
You can find a zillion of these guys on the market. I have had good success with the River2Sea S-Wavers in Bone or Light Trout colors; the Original TroutGlider (pictured above) and the Savage Gear Glide Swimmer in Bone.
You can find gliders for $100 and up, but I don’t think stripers can tell the difference…plus I’d never have the courage to throw one anywhere a fish might actually live!
Living on the Edge
As the sun gets brighter or the clouds burn off, the fish will often abandon the flats and head back out to the transition zones. They don’t usually move too far from their preferred feeding areas but will head for a little deeper water, where they feel safer.
Now, referring back to the above diagram, you can see a school of stripers in the bottom right. Those are fish that bailed out of the shallow water and are now patrolling the channel edges and breaks. These guys won’t be as susceptible to topwater and glide baits…Instead, try a lure that can get down better like a swimbait. Try a 1/4- to 3/4-ounce lead head jig and a 4″-5″ paddle tail swimbait body in white or white/chartreuse patterns.
Cast out towards the shallows and slowly work the bait just off the bottom, following the contour of the bottom as it starts to deepen up. When you get bit, keep cranking until the rod loads up. Set prematurely, and the fish will bolt.
Other lures for the edge zone include lipless cranks like the good ol’ 1/2- to 3/4-oz Rat-L-Trap or the Lunkerhunt Fillet Lipless Crankbait. Rip baits like the Megabass Kanata are also great choices here.
Now, just to help you visualize this flats near deepwater concept, here’s a bird’s eye view of a nice weedy flat with deep channels on both sides: A prime spot for bass!
More Striper Hot Spots and Techniques
To get to really dialed in on more places to catch stripers and what to use, check out my ebook, Light Tackle Delta Striper Secrets. It’s under $3 on Amazon and iBooks — or you can download the PDF version.