Fishing in California Delta
Fish the California Delta
California Delta Rivers have been epicenters of many civilizations, attracting and supporting people with a scenic labyrinth of channels and sloughs rich with fish. And the California Delta fishing charters are no exception.
The confluence of the San Joaquin River and Sacramento River creates enticing fishing holes! The 1,100 miles of waterways include small tributaries that form a branching landscape with over 200 tranquil islands, offering the perfect getaway for anglers hoping to catch prized fish species.
The mild climate of the region offers fishing opportunities year-round. The summer months are the most vibrant period in the north delta – a perfect time to explore the estuaries and rivers with a kayak. However, for passionate anglers, even the winter month are welcoming.
There are numerous suitable fishing locations with the proper infrastructure in the form of public piers and marinas that offer boat rentals. Out-of-state visitors will feel at home in the vicinity of San Francisco Bay with local fishing charters.
Let’s examine the essential facts about your next trip to the thriving ecosystems where you can enjoy fishing in California Delta.
California Delta Bass Fishing Guides
Preparing for Your Fishing Trip
The allure of fishing in the California Delta stems from its reputation as a multi-species fishery. There are three species of black bass when fishing in California Delta: spotted, smallmouth, and largemouth bass. The Delta is one of the rare places where theoretically, you can catch all three on the same day.
The biggest and most widespread is the largemouth bass. However, the smallmouth bass has been rising in numbers recently, while smallmouths are also in good supply.
Don’t be surprised if you catch a giant sturgeon, although you prepared the bait for smallmouths. React fast to unplanned circumstances, something best achieved with a complete gear setup for the fishing expedition.
Every trip is a different chapter in your story with the Delta. Have an emergency plan because you can lose your way quickly among the channels and islands.
Do not be shy to hire a guide or augment your gear with a sturdy GPS. Knowing where you are in the river waterway and where you aim to go is a priority, especially for first-time visitors.
Arriving at the Delta
The California Delta is a sprawling piece of nature, not contained within one jurisdiction but part of five counties. However, river deltas are generally triangular, hence their name.
We can subdivide the California Delta into three segments.
San Francisco Bay near Vallejo is the western branch where the Delta merges with the Pacific Ocean. Sacramento marks the northeastern corner, while the southeastern corner is on the San Joaquin River at Stockton. Antioch is the central area of the California Delta and is an hour’s drive from all major metropolitan areas in the northern part of the state.
Top Targeted Fish Species
When fishing in California Delta, the largemouth bass population reaches epic proportions, with an avid quantity of medium-sized fish. It’s not unheard of for the murky waters to offer a 15-pounder. The convergence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers is the country’s most significant fishery for largemouth bass.
The best chance to corner a largemouth bass is shoreline weeds found all over the place. Locals will be more than happy to share tips about the best fishing spots, which are often the edges of river beds during rising tides.
While the best tools for the catch are soft plastics or slow roll spinnerbaits used tactically in suitable places, such as under docks or eddies under a break in the current. If bass fishing is the only reason for visiting the delta, mark your calendar from the end of winter until mid-fall as the best period to harvest the estuaries.
You will not need a specific map to track down largemouth bass – they move through the entire delta. But remember that the tide affects the circulation of water in the delta. Patterns can alter as the tide goes through its phases.
That’s why the best bet is to move upstream, where the influence of the tide diminishes. Focus on a fishing radius around Stockton and Antioch, but explore the rest of the region.
The northern Delta offers the most productive smallmouth fishing holes. However, an angler seeking a trophy for photo opportunities should be aware that, on average, the bronzeback reaches 2 pounds in the Delta.
The advantage is that this is one of the few places in California where smallmouth is abundant. The best season of the year to catch smallmouth is through the spring and summer, when the bite is good, making it possible to fill your net with a couple of dozen specimens.
But keep in mind that smallmouth bass can be tricky. It’s a fish that inhabits fast-moving water and is not one to give up without a few strong pulls on your fishing line. It tends to hug the rocks of the riverbed. Its reputation for tough-to-catch fish is well-earned.
The creeks and upper reaches of the Sacramento River provide the best prospects for a good catch, especially when positioned several feet from a riprap bank. Luring the bass is easier with crawfish-patterned crankbaits or all types of soft plastics. As well consider
Anglers planning to fish for spotted bass frequently end up with mixed catches of spotted with smallmouths, considering both species share habitats. This is not a native fish to the ecosystem but has managed to carve out an existence, especially in the upper reaches of the Sacramento River, where temperatures are lower and more oxygenated.
Open waters are the familiar setting for spotted bass, which tend to be on nearly constant move, gravitating towards the previously mentioned colder regions of the Delta. Brush and weeds are the preferred hiding places, with rocky bottoms favored by smaller specimens.
Most anglers do not prioritize spotted bass but see it as a backup option when the bite is not favorable from other varieties of bass circulating in the Delta. Experience has shown that spotted bass readily bites. The best bait is soft plastics, jigs, and crankbaits. Catches will be of modest size, but in recent years 3-ponders are expanding in numbers.
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The striped bass did not migrate by itself from the East Coast, the native habitat, but was transplanted in the 19th century and adapted very fast. After nearly 200 years in the California Delta, stripers are fully integrated into the ecosystem and are a crucial segment of the Delta’s food chain.
The striped bass prefers the San Francisco Bay in the summer months and moves back to the Delta in October at the start of the fall season, predominately in the lower reaches near Montezuma Slough and Sherman Lake.
Once winter sets in, the bass disperses. If looking for a more significant specimen in the 10-pounder range and above, shallow waters are the best option. On the other hand, deeper waters will produce medium-sized fish.
Considering it’s not a fish that likes to stay put, the best time of the year for striped bass fishing is the start of spring. April is when you can intercept the migration from the ocean back into the upper reaches of the Delta. You can use the same tactic but change the date to late spring when the bass starts moving back downstream.
Baits that offer the best results are sardines in combination with a medium-heavy tackle. Try to position the bait at the bottom of the riverbed. Modifying the weight with sinkers according to the present depth and current is the best approach. Some anglers use minnow-imitating lures but also natural baits to lure the bass. Alternatives are spinnerbaits, spoons, crankbaits, and jigs.
For the angler that needs an exact spot to anchor down, the regions of Colusa and Knights Landing around the Sacramento River are viable options.
Spawning is a yearly ritual for salmon by making an arduous track from the ocean, a preferred habitat to the Delta’s tributaries. The tricky part for anglers is that this migration is not on the same calendar date every year. There are variations in the salmon runs, forcing locals to be on standby for the big move.
Luckily, for anglers interested in catching a prized king salmon, known to weigh 20 to 40 pounds, with a record-setting 80-pounders occasionally found in the waters, there are several salmon runs during the year. In the summer, the lower Delta hosts the most salmon.
But the most prolific run is in the fall, between August and November when the salmon move upstream in huge numbers. During this period, the kings will spread out throughout the river system.
Determining the exact locations in the Delta that can afford bountiful catches is a bit problematic because of the irregularities of the salmon’s yearly migrations. Choosing opportune fishing holes will depend on the salmon’s upstream progress. The best tip from locals is to stay close to piers and banks, as they offer the best chance to locate the river kings.
Catching a chinook salmon is not a small undertaking. The enormous weight makes for a challenging duel, even for seasoned anglers.
Some pursue the salmon with trolling flasher rigs with plugs, spinners, and spoons. Trolling is a highly practiced technique, although anchor fishing allows the bait to drift downstream, producing satisfactory results. When upriver, fly fishing can be a valid strategy for intercepting salmon.
Because of the potential to catch a salmon with some weight, rod selection is crucial for optimal performance at the Delta. Select a long rod to get the required leverage. Around 10 feet would be optimal, with a sturdy backbone and flexible tip. Use at a minimum 20-pound line on the reel. You can quickly hook 40-pounders or heavier salmon.
Salmon fishing from shore is possible around Antioch and Pittsburgh, well upstream to Rio Vista and further. You can have fruitful outcomes at these locations with large spinners.
Salmon makes a great trophy, not to mention a delicious lunch!
The sturgeon is indigenous to the river system, with a reputation as a mysterious giant. There are all kinds of stories about specimens of epic size.
The most impressive myth retold by locals is of sturgeon weighing 1,500 pounds caught in the 1880s. If you want to believe the story, it got hauled out of the river by a pair of horses!
You will not need equestrian help these days to catch sturgeon. The biggest recorded specimens are 100 pounds. However, on average, anglers catch sturgeons around 30 pounds.
The most common type of sturgeon in the Delta is the white sturgeon, while green sturgeon is rarer, and anglers are obligated to release them immediately after a catch.
Picking the correct time of the year for sturgeon fishing is not a difficult task. The winter months are your best chance. This is the time sturgeon transit upstream to their favorite spawning grounds.
The spawning occurs between February and April in the upper parts of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers. The latter is a popular option for fishing American Sturgeon, especially in the area of Sherman Island and Sandy Beach.
The lowest reaches of the Delta get infested with sturgeon year-round. Montezuma Slough can provide a big haul, and the deep fishing holes between the Three Mile Slough and the Santa Clara Shoals are equally productive.
Baiting sturgeon with worms, shrimp, or American shad is a sure bet of attracting interest from the underwater giant. In addition, baitfish and minnows positioned close to the bottom of the river are a good option, but you risk catching a different fish, something catfish anglers experience frequently. Fish will go after most bait types, searching for a good meal. And nobody is complaining too much about a successful catch.
If you can be sure about one thing in the California Delta, it’s that catfish are lurking in every shallow corner over the huge expanse of water. Catfish are the most numerous fish in the river system, with several varieties inhabiting the waterways. Most abundant are white, bullhead, and channel catfish.
Shore anglers prefer the night, and pulling catfish off the water seems effortless. The catfish is very cooperative smelly bait of any kind will do the trick. You can experiment with anchovies and sardines, cut into chunks on a large hook.
Springtime is favored, but summers should not get ignored when fishing for catfish. This is not a fish that hides. It navigates the entire Delta. Any sloughs or channels in springtime offer advantageous positions. Take your chances at Sherman Lake and Frank’s Tract. The wide-opened waters offer excellent fishing opportunities.
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California Delta Map
The California Delta is the home of bluegill, crappie, redear sunfish, and warmouth, species that come under the umbrella term panfish.
From the bunch, crappie poses the biggest challenge to pin down. They move into large schools, and when you locate them, you can be sure it’s going to be a bountiful harvest. The most productive fishing areas in the spring are the Whiskey Slough and Snodgrass Slough. Going up the San Joaquin River can also be rewarding when crappie fishing. Stockton offers a great shore spot, thanks to the 8-mile Road Bridge, located outside the city.
The secret to crappie fishing is to scan the terrain and move quickly looking for schools, but when you track them down, it’s time to remain in place and do the work. After dark seems to be the most productive time, and crappies can get lured by using light to attract minnows, a food source for crappies. Alternative substitutes are small jigs.
Other abundant fish variates when fishing in California Delta are sunfish and bluegill, congregating in weedy areas and under boat docks. They are all over the river system and bite easily if offered worms. Fishermen that want to use natural baits and hope for success can focus on these varieties when visiting the Delta.
The middle of spring offers some lively American shad fishing. It’s known to be a fighter in the water, but fishing it out at a 1 to the 3-pound range will not be a problem. The best way to entice it is with shad jigs, and the old technique of bump-netting in the night is going out of fashion. Waters rich with shads are found in the Sacramento River below the Freeport Bridge.
Accessibility of the Delta
The Delta is accessible via several state fishing sites, public parks, and private marinas. Exploring the waterway by boat is recommended. Focus on Riverview Park in Pittsburgh, where you can find solid shore fishing access and options for fishing charters or boat rentals.
The same applies to the Antioch area, while Sherman Island provides good fishing spots at the mouth of the Sacramento River. The Brannen Island State Recreation Area is not far from there, with similar facilities and bank fishing opportunities.
Few locations in the Rio Vista area are available. When fishing in California Delta, the San Joaquin River basin is equally attractive, with fishing piers and kayak launch points.
Camping in the Delta
The selection of camping sites is virtually unlimited in the California Delta. Campsites are accessible at Sandy Beach County Park and Sherman Island Regional Park.
But the most attractive campgrounds are in Brennan Island State Recreation Area, which can accommodate RVs and tents. Brennan Island can serve as a home base during your stay in the Delta. Plus, there are a few privately owned campgrounds to choose from.
The California Delta Is an Angler’s Paradise!
The river system is full of fishing holes with thriving shoals of salmon, bullhead catfish, striped bass, sturgeon, and the popular local favorite trophy big bass. The scenic landscape is impressive in any season of the year, with multiple suitable bank fishing spots.
You can find adequate camping sites or use accommodations in surrounding cities. Most local bait shops are happy to share advice and equip you with the required bait for the area you plan to visit.
If in a competitive mood, there are tournaments on Bethel Island and other locations where you can fish with one of our Bass Online pros no matter the level of experience. There are immense opportunities for you to fish with professionals. Consult your calendar and schedule an angling adventure in the California Delta and send us a message.