Denis Peirce: Prognostications on the 2020 striper run
The two big fish migrations each year are the fall salmon and the spring striper runs. I spoke this week with local guides Brett Brady and Justin Leonard about their take on the striper season that is now just getting underway.
It is normal for the bulk of the striper population to winter in the delta and begin their spawning run in March. This winter, there was not the abundance of stripers in the Delta. These fish seem to have wintered downstream in San Pablo or Francisco Bays.
A month ago there was a good bite centered on the Napa River area. One reasonable explanation is that these fish follow the food source and the bait was below the Delta.
Starting in the last week of February good sized schools of stripers began arriving in the western Delta. There have been good days above the Antioch Bridge. This is the area where the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers come together.
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Mother Nature does not send all of her fish in one big push, they come in waves. The pattern has been schools coming up every three to five days. Based on angler results, the schools will pause to feed along the “West Bank” downstream from Rio Vista and above the Antioch Bridge. The bite will be excellent with schools of fish feeding recklessly on bait and willing to bite spoons and swim baits. Then overnight the stripers move on and there is not a fish to be caught here. A few days later a new school arrives and the cycle repeats.
Brett Brady has found that the stripers will pause to feed where they can locate food. This is usually where there is water big enough to hold sufficient quantities of bait fish. From the upper Delta through the city of Sacramento up to Verona, where the Sacramento and Feather Rivers split, is primarily a striper traveling zone. Yes they can be caught here, but not as readily as in the Delta or farther north in the river spawning zones.
One big factor in any given year is water flow. Last year we had heavy rains lasting well into May and the rivers were high, drawing large numbers of fish up river. This year the opposite is true. 2020 is shaping up to be a dry year and river flows will be down. It won’t be long before the farmers begin drafting from the rivers further limiting flows. Low river flows push the spawning activity lower down the river. Low flows also allow for the water temps to rise more quickly.
The actual spawn is triggered by water temperature and phase of the moon. The spawn begins at 62 degrees and on the full or new moon. In droughts, many stripers will spawn in the delta.
Current Conditions: There are stripers on the bite on the San Joaquin River. The launch ramp at B&W Resort is a central spot for accessing this area. On the Sacramento River below Rio Vista the bite comes and goes as the schools move through. The recent water temp in the Delta has been 58 degrees. In our recent warm weather, the Delta waters have gone from 55 to 58 in one week.
On the Sacramento River there are some stripers as far north as Colusa but not in big numbers. The launch ramps at Colusa, Tisdale, Knight’s Landing and Verona are open.
The Feather River is very low. Getting upstream from Verona is tough due to sand bars with little water over them. The ramp at Boyd’s Pump is questionable due to low water and a drop off at the end of the concrete. The water is very clear making any fish in the system easily spooked.
Brett Brady started his river striper season this week. He is taking his clients to the Sacramento River. Based on recently caught female stripers, whose eggs are immature, he expects the first good spawn to occur with the next full moon in April followed by another weaker one on the May full moon. His prediction is that most of the spawning will be on the Sacramento River below Grimes. He also thinks there will be a significant spawn in the Delta. The key to finding a spawn in the Delta is locating consistently flowing water. The Mokelumne River is a good place to start.
On the Sacramento River there will be problems with boat traffic putting the fish off the bite. Expect the best bites to be at dawn and dusk. Night time angling can be good but navigation can be hazardous. Brett recommends not going on the river at night unless you have boated that area a few time recently in the day.
On any given day the striper fishing will be good. This season’s river fishing will probably be shorter than we would like, with water getting too warm by mid May. The Feather will not be a good choice unless the water flows pick up.
This dry year will shorten the striper season but it will also bring on an early start to the Sierra trout season.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at http://www.trollingflies.com.
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