By David A. Brown
It’s a place of peerless potential and ruthless heartache; a place where dreams flourish and wither. No doubt, the California Delta makes champs and chumps with equal alacrity, but it’s hardly an exercise in randomness. Rather, how you manage this fishery’s many variables determines whether you simply hear about the Delta’s spring gun show or you experience it firsthand.
For expert insight, we turn to a trio of APEX anglers, who share their advice on maximizing the Delta’s spring potential.
Ideal Scenario: Having won the Wild West Bass Trail’s 2020 General Tire Duel on the Delta presented by the City of Oakley, the Tracy, Calif. angler believes his greatest potential awaits in the grass. But not just any grass; Acosta is understandably particular about the type of vegetation he fishes.
“I like to target the spawning areas where they’re going to move into and the (adjacent) staging areas; something like flooded islands and big grass flats,” Acosta said. “An important thing is finding the clean grass. There’s plenty of grass, but a lot of it is dirty and brown and nasty — that’s not where the fish want to be.
“They want to be in the really green, crisp grass. These areas are better oxygenated and they hold more bait. That’s were the staging fish are going to hang out.”
Meager depth allows optimal visibility for grass inspection, so Acosta suggests low-tide recon. Riding around promising areas and marking the healthiest grass gives him productive targets regardless of tide stage.
Acosta said the key to igniting the spring bite in any scenario is sustained warmth. “With three days of nice weather, (the Delta bite) will break wide open. This time of year, after a nice warm spell gets the water temperature close to 60 degrees, we get the biggest fish of the year.”
Best Baits: When higher tide stages find the fish roaming above the grassy zone, Acosta targets them with a 1/2-ounce Z-Man JackHammer Chatterbait paired with a green pumpkin Berkley PowerBait The Deal trailer. This combo, he said, delivers quantity and quality.
“That bait will get you a 3-pounder and it will get you a 10-pounder,” Acosta said of his bladed jig. “A little chop, a little wind makes the ChatterBait better, but they’ll still bite it on the slick days. I’m just covering water and intercepting those big ones as they move into these spots.”
When low tide pulls fish into the cover, punching is the way to go. Here, Acosta drives a beaver style bait through the compacted grass with a 1- to 1 1/4-ounce weight.
Presentation Tip: “With my chatterbait, I used to use a 6:1 reel because I wanted it to get down deeper, but I recently went to a 7:1. I think that’s important because when you hook those big ones, the moment they eat it, they take off so fast it’s hard to catch up to them. That 7:1 reel allows me to catch up the them and get a good hook set.”
Ideal Scenario: He’s confident he can catch fish on low-water, but the pro from Elk Grove, Calif. prefers a day that offers him a significant amount of high tide during tournament hours. Mah said this affords a wider range of bite windows, but he’s always going to play the percentages.
“I have this mantra that, on any body of water, I’m always going to fish for what the majority of fish are doing,” Mah said. “In an early spring tournament, if I don’t think the majority of fish are spawning, I’m going to seek out the prespawners.
“They’re big, fat, hungry and moving shallow — all the good things you want. So, I would rather spend more time doing that than looking for a few that are actually going at the moment.”
Picking from the Delta’s diverse array of opportunities, Mah described his ideal prespawn scenario as deep, pre-emergent grass flanking steeper riprap banks. Occurring throughout the fishery, this setup gives the big fish cozy transitional habitat that’s only a short swim to where they’ll bed.
Best Baits: Making long casts to explore these rocky stretches is the key to locating parked fish and Mah’s most confident doing so with a Bill Lewis SB-57 squarebill in strawberry craw. For grass duty, he’ll back that up with a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin Z-Man JackHammer ChatterBait paired with a Big Bite Baits Kamikaze Swimon trailer.
“You can pick your colors based on water clarity, but you can’t go wrong with green pumpkin and darker shades of black and blue with a black blade,” Mah said. “Those darker hues this time of year can be a major player.”
Presentation Tip: “Fishing a heavily (vegetated) fishery like the Delta, you’re often making a really long cast with that bladed jig and, a lot of times, you’ll get bit on the very end of your cast,” Mah explains. “I like having that no-stretch in that braid for two reasons: One is hook penetration.
“Also, when your bladed jig gets bogged down in the grass, the braid helps free it much cleaner and crisper. I’m able to pop it and make it react better than on the straight fluorocarbon.”
Ideal Scenario: Transition zones top the Livermore, Calif. pro’s spring preference, as they allow him to target staging fish close to their spawning areas. Example: tules abutting submerged vegetation next to spawning flats.
“That gives me the option to hit prespawn fish and if they’re moving up when I’m fishing, I’m able to hit that spawning flat,” Franceschi said. “I’m targeting two different types of fish.”
For spring tournaments, Franceschi prefers the last of the incoming and the first of the outgoing tide. As he explains, the high water gives fish a greater sense of security and the movement on either side of the peak brings the right amount of motion to stimulate feeding.
“When the tide turns and starts running out, in certain areas, it’ll actually move the water around and keep it stained, which helps me target fish that probably aren’t as skittish,” Franceschi said. “On top of that, as the tide drops, it draws bait out of rocks, out of tule roots and that kinda thing. When that happens, the fish will point their noses toward the bank and intercept the bait as it washes out, or migrates out of that shallow water.”
Key point here: Franceschi wants to target his spring fish in areas of lighter current. Bass have trouble spawning in strong flow, so he prefers a “softer” tide.
When possible, he’d prefer fishing away from the smoking tides of new and full moons. However, he also leverages geography.
“I want areas that have a break; areas that aren’t in the direct current,” Franceschi said. “I prefer to find spots that are in side sloughs, instead of in the main channel because you get slower moving water.”
Best Baits: Leaning heavily on his flipping stick, Franceschi likes a Missile Baits D-Bomb in black/blue or green pumpkin rigged on a 4/0 Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover flipping hook with a 1/2-, 3/4- or 1-ounce weight. Imitating bream is the idea here.
With both techniques, Franceschi notes that the Tatula 200’s 100-mm handle affords him the strategic advantage of maximum leverage.
Presentation Tip: “I’ll use the braid if I’m flipping really heavy cover like matted tules or matted hyacinth, but the fluorocarbon is a little more forgiving if I’m fishing open pockets or sparse tules,” Franceschi said. “The 1-ounce weight will typically be on braid and the 1/2- and 3/4-ounce weights will be on fluorocarbon. The cover I’m fishing is what dictates which one I’m going to pick up.”