Five major California rivers meet between San Francisco and Sacramento to form one of the most expansive estuaries on the West Coast. Known as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, it encompasses more than 700 miles of channels and sloughs interspersed with small islands. Striped bass migrate through the waters seasonally, but big catches are possible at anytime of year.
Stripers in the Springtime
As warming daytime temperatures warm waters in the Delta to about 60 degrees, striped bass to come out of winter hiding and head for freshwater spawning areas in the Delta. Early in the season, look for stripers lingering to adjust to the lack of salinity before heading upstream in brackish areas where the salty bay waters meet the fresh river waters. Sherman Lake and Broad Slough are two prime places to set your hook. As the season progresses, you'll find hot spots up the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. Check out the west side of Decker Island and areas below the power lines on the Sacramento and the San Andreas Shoals on the San Joaquin.
Summertime, and the Fishing Is Easy
When finished spawning, some striped bass never leave the brackish waters of the eastern delta. You'll find many of the year-round bass in the American and Feather Rivers when most other bass have headed west into the delta bays by mid-June. You'll usually find good summertime action on the west side of Suisun Bay upstream of the Martinez Bridge as far as Ryer and Roe islands. Here, a fleet of former maritime and military vessels lay at anchor -- be careful not to fish too close to the ships or to let your boat drift in between them. Some years, large numbers of bass leave the bays altogether -- catch them along the Pacific shoreline.
Fall Feeding Frenzy
Striped bass feed very sparingly during the cold winter months, and they spend the autumn returning to the delta's brackish waters to feed before cold weather sets in. Head to the sloughs and drop your hook among the grasses for best results. Head to Suisun Bay, Broad Slough, Decker Island, the West Bank or the river mouths to hook the hungry stripers. You'll find the annual Rio Vista Bass Festival taking place on the delta's waters in early October at which competitors strive to catch a striper closest to a predetermined target weight.
A Wintertime Challenge
By the time winter rains set in from November through January, the prime fishing season for striped bass is complete. As waters cool, the stripers' appetites taper off, and you'll find few fish actively feeding in the shallows during the winter months. But as with every rule, there are exceptions. Fishermen report catching stripers year-round at Lost Slough near Walnut Grove. You'll find the majority of fish spread throughout the Delta and San Francisco Bay. To catch a winter striper, fish deep during times of incoming and outgoing tides when natural food gets shuttled along in the water.