Fishing for bass on the California Delta during the summer time can be the most exciting time of the year! It can also be the most frustrating time. Everyone has their own way of attacking it, but here is my approach.
Summer time for me starts when the fish move off their beds. This will happen in late May to early June depending on water temperature and weather. When they are done spawning, they are weak, tired and skinny from the weeks that they have been busy making beds, chasing away predators and not eating. First thing the females will do is move out of the shallows and leave the smaller males there to guard fry. They will move out either into deeper water or off shore into the weed beds found in the big flooded islands such as Franks Tract, Big Break and Mildred. For the next few weeks they will feed up and get their strength back and settle into their summer pattern that is sitting in shade with heavy current and feed. That’s when they will get more predictable. Current + shade = Summer time river bass! That is the most important thing to remember when you are out on those hot summer days and not catching anything. Seek SHADE!
First thing in the morning and the last of the evening will be the better times of the day to catch a big fish because bass feed best in low light conditions. If you get an overcast day in the summer, you can really load the boat!! But that only covers about 4 hours of the day. What do you do the other 10 hours? Find shade what else! Shade can be found in many different ways. Boat docks, trees, floating weeds, tullies and as subtle as a rock but you will always find bass hiding in the shade.
One of my favorite ways to catch numbers of bass is the crankbait. I will take a Dobyns 705cb put on a 5:1 ratio reel with 14 pound mono and start chucking crawdad colored crankbaits on rock walls with a lot of current. These banks will have fewer weeds to get caught up in your hooks because of the heavy current. I like to use a 1/4oz Speedtrap. The 5:1 reel will get you more bites because it forces you to slow down. The most productive banks will be the ones facing west. In the summer we have a West wind blowing almost every day and that will move the fish right up on the bank. The fish will usually be bunched up, so you might have to cover a mile of bank with nothing, then 10 in a row! I will use the crawdad color until the water starts to cool towards the fall. Then the bass will go on a shad bite and I will switch to a white or shad colored bait. This is a great way to catch numbers of fish to have fun or fill that tournament limit.
Another great way to catch numbers and have a chance at a big fish is Punching. Punching is taking a big weight (1 ½ oz) putting it on heavy braided line (65-80) and a heavy flipping stick. I use a Dobyns 805Flip. This is a power fishing technique meaning you need to be in shape and strong to do this kind of fishing all day. You go out and look for the thickest heaviest floating cover you can find and flip that big weight up in the air and try to bust through it. Periwinkle, floating tullies, floating moss, trash, whatever you can find that is making a canopy for the fish. Because that is shade! And big Delta bass love shade. It also pulls bluegills crawdads and other prey in there because of the cooler water for the bass to feed on. I will use a Reaction Innovation Double Wide Sweet Beaver on a 5/0 BMF hook. Use a bobber stopper above and below your weight. This will keep your weight tight to your hook to make it go in easier and will keep the weight from breaking your line on the hook set. When you get your bait through the cover, just shake it on the bottom for a couple of seconds. If no bite, yo yo it a couple of times. There is no mistaken when you get bit. They will just about jerk the rod out of your hand. When you do, swing hard! Get that fish coming up through the thick cover right now!! If you let the fish dig down and burry their head, you will be digging through a lot of weeds and a lot of lost fish. Your best chance of landing that fish is on the hook set. You must set hard and crank like heck!!
Now we come to everyone’s favorite way to catch them Top Water!! Nothing is more exciting that watching a double digit fish smash a top water bait and the Delta is the best place in the country to get just that. Being ready for that bite is the key to a life time trophy and a fish story. Make sure you come prepared. This means heavy rods, heavy line and big baits! By far my favorite top water bait is the Black Dog Lunker Punker. They come in all colors and sizes, but I seem to always go back to plain old white in the 6”. I will throw it on a Dobyns 795 SB MT rod a Curado 300 and 50 pound Power Pro. The 795 SM MT rod has a little shorter handle than the 795 ML rod and is prefect for big top water baits. The night before I am going out I will hang my bait on my line and add a couple of drops of super glue 10”-12” up the line and let it run down. This will make that line stiff and will help with not catching the front hook on the bait while casting. A big plus when fishing for giant bass. Throw the bait close to your target. Be prepared! A lot of times fish will hit that bait right then. Slowly start walking the bait out with long pops of the rod tip. Allow enough time between pops for the bait to glide side to side. Pause it every 4 to 5 pops. That is a good retrieve to start with but let the fish tell you what they want. Some days they want it moving fast and some days they want it just sitting there. Experiment each day to see what they prefer. Areas I target with the Punker are rock walls with weeds, big weed flats, tullie islands and anything else that will make shade. Low light conditions will get more strikes, but this bait will catch big fish all day. Big bass want a big easy meal and the Punker is just that, so if you put it in ones zone…….. Who knows what will smash it next! May even be a 40 pound Striper!!!
Another top water favorite is the frog. Personally I use the River2sea frog, but there are many brands to choose from Snag Proof make a good one too. I use a Dobyns 736c with a curado and 50 pound Power Pro braided line. Guys like to use 65 pound braid for frogs but I have more confidence in the 50 because I like to throw mine in open water more than I do on top of the weeds and cheese and think those crafty big bass can see the bigger line and it might cost me a bite or two. I like to throw frogs everywhere you find shade. Under docks, over mat (cheese), under trees, tullie points. Anywhere there is an ambush point for a big bass to be. I will throw up, let the bait sit for a couple of seconds, then walk the bait back using quick snaps of the rod tip to make the frog walk and spit water back and forth. When you get bit, it will usually be a violent strike! Be prepared. Don’t let it startle you, just sweep the rod to the side hard and crank like there is no tomorrow! This is not time to play a fish. Big bass have a way of getting them frogs out if you give them any slack. I use white on sunny days and black on overcast days. Color don’t seem to matter much if you put it in the right place at the right time, it can be a big fish catcher!
And if all else fails, a Dropshot can be very productive in the summer months. Fish will load up in the good sections of a bank. Weather it be a rock bank with a big tree making shade or a deep tullie point with current coming around it, if it’s a good spot chances there are more than one fish there in the summer. Even if you catch a couple on a crankbait or top water, you can come back with the dropshot and load the boat. Take a Dobyns 703c put on some 10-12 pound Fluorocarbon a 2/0 light wire wide gap hook and a 6” Robo worm in MMIII or Shad color (late in the summer). Just toss it up current and shake your rod tip working the bait towards you until you feel a tick or the rod loads up. This is a great way to catch numbers with a big one thrown in here and there.
Try some of these techniques and I’m sure you will be catching more bass on your next trip out to the Delta.
Summer time on the Delta can be some of the frustrating times to fish. Its always windy and the pleasure boats will muddy up your spot in no time. To combat this you need to get out early! fish all of the high traffic areas first thing in the morning, then when the wind and the boat traffic picks up, move into the tullies islands such as Mildread, Franks Tract or Big Break and marinas. Look for shade and deeper water in the middle of the day. The punch bite had been steady too. There are a lot of big rafts of perrywinkle weed floating around and it makes great cover for big bass. Getting them out is another story. Be prepared to lose a few, but if you use a big heavy rod with 65-80# braided line you will be able to horse some of the hogs out of the stuff. Work big topwater baits and frogs early and late in the day and punch and flip jigs and plastic’s in the middle of the day and you should be able to put together a solid day on the River.