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How to improve your striper catch

By Bill Adelman
Each particular species within our world of the outdoors holds a special place in not only our memory bank, but also in our immediate planning. All during the winter when we plan for sturgeon, steelhead and catfish, how often do we plan ahead for stripers? Maybe once, when you can't fall asleep, as your mind wanders back to last spring, when the linesiders were number one.

Well anglers, it's spring again and stripers are on the move. The annual March migration up the Sacramento River is underway. These early season fish are mostly small males, but there's often a bunch of them running together.

Bill Adelman with two nice keeper-sized Sacramento River stripers.
The author with two nice keeper-sized Sacramento River stripers.

For some reason, Spring stripers, unlike their fall cousins, don't react well to the bait guy. If there's a plus to fishing now it's that we don't just anchor up and soak mud suckers. The favorite method now is trolling, so at least we're doing something. However as in every fishery, there's those that gits and those who don't. Why?

Technique is everything, in every presentation, knowing the ins and outs of a particular target and working to perfect that option. In years past we'd troll about 40 to 50 feet directly behind the boat with a broken back Rebel. We caught fish. We broke the lips off of many of our trolling lures. We had hooks just straighten out from medium-sized stripers. The adjustment we made was buying better quality hooks and replacing the trebles that came on the lure out of the box. Then a few companies ran a light cable through the bodies of the lures and attached the two or three trebles to the cable. Even at that, we sometimes replaced the hooks.

Our trolling plan back then was to utilize the "S" pattern. This worked quite well, as the lures were often pulled through a zone that we didn't disturb with the outboard. As we moved on to counter casting reels, it became much easier to locate the proper distance for success. Then came braided line, which didn't sink as drastically as mono as well as having almost zero stretch.

Moving on, our current program utilizes these products as well as more updated lures. Two very popular and successful baits are the shallow running broken back P-Line Predator and Yo-Zuri. If you're using a lure with three hooks, consider removing the middle hook.

Our rods are generally one-piece 7-footers, say 17 to 20 pound blanks, with a counter reel loaded with 40 to 60 pound braid. As this run progresses stripers will move way upriver, but now they're mostly in the lower sections, say below mid-Sacramento.

Our recent outing was in the Rio Vista area where tidal movement is a consideration. During the slack tides, the bite is very soft. When the tide, incoming or outgoing, reaches about 4 feet, hang on. With this gear configuration, we now run the lures between 120 to 140 feet behind the boat. The "S" curve approach isn't necessary, nor does it work very well with so much line out. However, as stripers are on the prowl, even when you run over or near a school, by the time your lures reach them, the boat intrusion doesn't mean much.

When trolling the shallow runners, in less than 10 feet of water, consider running at 4.5 to 5 mph. When you hit the deeper water, 10 to 20 feet, switch to deeper running lures and reduce speed to about 3.5 mph.

Back to our recent trip. We took off and headed upstream from Rio Vista using shallow runners in slim water. Rods were placed in holders, angled perpendicular at about 60 degrees and it was time for coffee. Our reels also have a clicker, and as I turned to reach for the thermos, click-click-click. My rod was buckling and shortly our first fish was in the box. Re-set and reach for the thermos a second time. Again with the clicking. My rod again was alive. In less than two minutes of actual fishing I had limited out using a yellow Predator with a chartreuse head, trailing a 12-inch white rubber worm. As the other two anglers had 2-rod stamps, we were able to leave my rod active. We ended up limiting and all of our fish were early run males, but that didn't affect how well they went with hash browns, fried eggs, biscuits, honey and more coffee.

This run hopefully will last through April. After that, look for stripers upstream from Verona to Knights Landing, as well as in the Feather River. When working these upper sections, a productive technique is to kill your engine and free drift with the current. Try tossing swim baits, fish traps, three ounce Kastmasters with a white deer hair hook or any of your favorite lures. When you locate a school, it often works to drop the anchor and free cast the area. Good luck and Tight Lines!!!

Bill Adelman is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of California. His work has appeared in the Fish Sniffer newspaper and MarketPlace magazine. He was a full time freshwater fishing guide for 20 years. Now retired he still likes to serve as a flyfishing instructor, rod builder, outdoor photographer, seminar speaker and hunting mentor.

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