The California Delta is a fisherman’s paradise! There are also many places suitable for bank fishing in the Delta, including two public piers in Antioch, as well as parks with fishing access. A number of marinas rent small boats, and some of them are listed here and under boat rentals in the Marina-Resort facilities listing. Most area bait shops can give you good advice on the tackle and bait you need, and advise you on when and where to wet a line with what in their area.
There are some grand derbies, some focusing on a particular species such as sturgeon or striped bass, and they are fun to to compete in, even for amateurs. The black bass tournaments in the Delta are awesome, especially when you consider that maybe over 300 boats will launch at a given area.
STRIPED BASS are the most sought after fish in the Delta. They run from two pounds to over 50 pounds, but an eight- to 20-pounder is more typical. You can troll for them, usually rigging with a bugeye jig and a Rebel lure. A keeper must be at lease 18 inches in length. You are allowed two in a day or two in possession. You can use bait for stripers — threadfin shad is a favorite bait, but anglers also are successful with sardines.
STURGEON are awesome, an almost prehistoric fish. Minimum size for a keeper sturgeon is 46 inches. If you catch a sturgeon over six feet long, these days you must return it to the water. You are only allowed to catch one per day or have one in possession. Photos have been taken of sturgeon that weighed between 300 and 400 pounds. Most sturgeon are caught using bait, some by anglers after striped bass. Ghost shrimp is a favorite bait. Some anglers practice catch and release.
CATFISH are the most dependable fish in the Delta. Some say they also are the best eating. This is a prolific fish and it is not difficult to catch 20 or 30 of them on one evening’s outing. Typically they weigh in at a pound or two, but many tip the scales at 8 to 10 pounds. Occasionally one weighing over 20 pounds is taken. You fish for them off the bottom using a sliding sinker arrangement. Delta clams are the preferred bait, but some anglers have caught them using Vienna sausages.
BLACK BASS has become something of an elitist fish. The Delta is becoming well known for its excellent black bass. Anglers who will tell you the truth say it is not difficult to catch them. Some very big bass tournaments are held here in the Delta, some with as many as 600 anglers competing for cash and merchandise awards that can total out to over $75,000 for one event. All practice catch-and-release. In a March 1998, two-day Western Buddy Bass Tournament, 628 anglers weighed in over 2,100 black bass, of which only 10 died.
SALMON. Although some species of salmon have been on the threatened or endangered species list, anglers will agree that partly because of government efforts, the salmon fishery in the Delta has improved greatly in recent years. Although salmon can be taken throughout much of the Delta, best fishing seems to be on the Sacramento River from below Sacramento and upstream. The American River and Mokelumne River both support good salmon fisheries.
AMERICAN SHAD. The shad spawn in the spring, and provide some lively fishing for a few weeks in late April, early May. Usually they are sought using shad jigs. Shad size can go from about one to three pounds and it is a real fighter. This is a very bony fish, and most anglers prefer to prepare them by smoking. A long-practiced method of shad fishing called “bump-netting” is fading out. You bump-net at night with a cone-shaped net on a long pole out of an outboard-powered boat with the engine raised just enough to thrash the water, moving along slowly with the net in the water. When you feel a “bump” you haul in the net with (hopefully) a shad. Favored shad waters are on the Mokelumne River (especially above New Hope Landing), on the Sacramento River below the Freeport Bridge and across from Four Seasons Marina, and on the American River.
FLYFISHING. The Delta As An International Fly fishing Destination. The Delta has a growing and highly-rated reputation with fly fishermen and women worldwide. And it’s for good reason. Noted as California’s Backcountry, (by writer and acclaimed fly fisherman Dan Blanton), the Delta’s fresh and tidal waters, and riparian scenery are high on the list of the world’s fishermen for large striped bass and bragging-size large mouth bass. All taken on flies.
Striped bass, an andromous fish which winters in the rivers of the Delta, and grows to over 40 pounds can be caught on the fly. This fact enthralls those of us who live in the Northern California, and can call the Delta our home, as well as those around the world who pursue record-book catches and sheer quantities of fish caught per day. Large mouth bass are caught routinely by fly fishermen, and they find themselves enjoying the challenge of landing them on fly fishing tackle, a very different experience than bait casting or spin fishing provides.
The popularity of Delta fly fishing has grown in recent years. Known for the enormous quantities of fish produced in its estuary for a hundred years, the Delta is now known for its production of sizable fish which run and fight hard when coaxed to a fly. Of course with hundreds of miles of boatable water, and the fact that striped and large mouth bass can be found in most of it adds to the appeal of the Delta as a fly fisherman’s destination.
Rental boats are available at various Delta locations. Bethel Island tackle shops near Franks Tract can provide the novice or intermediate with marked maps, productive fly patterns, sodas and a smile as you leave the dock. Guides can be arranged through several sources online.
CRAWDADS. The crawdad (crayfish) is considered an essential delicacy in Louisiana, and is eaten in fine restaurants all over the world. Many Deltaphiles feel the same way about Delta crawdads, which are tasty, grow to over eight inches in size, and are easy to catch. You need a fishing license, however. And one or more crawdad traps, available in area bait shops for around $25. Perforated cans of cheap dog food make fine bait. Place the cans in your trap, lower it over the side of the boat or from a favorite shoreside site on a tether line and let it rest on the bottom, preferably for overnight. The next morning you might have a wriggling mass of crawdads from six to 40 in number. They are nocturnal feeders, so if you must trap for them during the daytime, do so in a shady site. The best season is mid-May to December. They hibernate in the winter. Crawdads are shipped commercially from the Delta. Just a few years ago, over a half-million pounds of Delta crawdads were shipped annually to Sweden. (Bob’s Bait Shop can ship you fresh crawdads.)