Take a broad look at our different game fish, and one stands out above the rest in what I can only call versatility. There are several fish we can catch both in the ocean and in brackish and freshwater, like the king salmon, for example, but the striped bass can not only be caught high in the river systems, but the variety of methods used to catch them is amazing.
In the ocean, stripers hit topwater plugs and spoons cast from beaches. They hit trolled gear meant for salmon, and live bait. One of the prized trips on live bait party boats is the surf trip, where skippers back their boats into the surf and chum up the fish. In the bay, there is a period of time that stripers are caught on the rocky structure in main San Francisco Bay.
Anglers walk the shoreline casting plugs, jigs and spoons into bay waters to hook stripers. Others sit patiently with cut bait that the striper has no problem adding to its diet.
In the fall and winter months, stripers become a big option for charter boats that fish “on anchor.” Bullheads are the top bait for big bass, but midshipmen, gobys, shiner perch and cut baits also work for these fish. But you don’t have to kick back, soaking the sun’s rays and watching a rod tip for the telltale rattle of a visiting linesides, because you can also troll for stripers in the bay.
While most anglers use hair jigs, some will tempt weedy fate and put out minnow imitation lures like the Predator. Or, you can drift the shoreline and cast swimbaits and Rat-L-Traps to shoreline structure, black bass style, and still get plenty of action.
The voracious nature of a striped bass means just about anything smaller is fair game, and that’s one of the reasons these fish aren’t looked at with quite the respect us anglers think they deserve. The striper, an introduced game fish, is now the focus of politicians looking to point a finger at something other than water draws as the scapegoat for our ailing Delta smelt and salmon numbers. Evidence proves it’s not the bass, it’s the water draws at the source of the problem, but whoever said politicians are logical creatures.
Once up in the Delta, stripers continue to amaze with the variety of tactics that can be used to catch them. Jigging heavy spoons in deeper spots can be a super way to rack up the big numbers. Slinging swimbaits works great, and trollers use a hair jig and minnow lure on a spreader rig to great effect.
There is even a contingent that would rather fly cast to linesides than catch them any other way, using 10 weight rods and flashy streamers the length of your hand. And many are the tales of black bass tournament anglers who thought they had the contest in the bag after hooking a monster, only to see those familiar thin stripes on the weighty fish they are bringing to the boat.
Finally, these fish will arrive in the spring in their favorite upriver spawning areas, where anglers once again will catch them from both shore and boat. Whether big poppers or bottom sitting cut bait, the striper is consistent here as out on the ocean beaches in that they’ll eat just about anything smaller than them.Comments to Inside Saltwater can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.