Winter fishing in the California Delta

Christmas time, New Years, College Bowl games, and the Super Bowl can only mean one thing in the California Delta this time of year…Big Donkeys! Winter on the Delta can be grueling yet extremely rewarding if you can pay attention to a few of these key points I will be discussing in this article. As if the Delta tides aren’t enough for us to learn, but winter patterns, wind direction, and most of all bait. When we hear winter days, we think of foggy, cold, and or rainy days, but, we often forget about the bright, bluebird, no clouds in the sky days as well.

I try and keep my bait selection very simple this time of year, top water, crank baits, and jigs.

Top Water baits - Sammy’s, Rico’s, and buzz baits Crank baits - Bomber’s, traps, and rapalas (all in small crawdad and shad patterns) Jigs - Black/Blue, Black/Red, Brown/Black, Black/Green (all with pork trailers)

This time of year I like to stay very close to the San Joaquin. There is lots of current and plenty of bait. The two ingredients this time of year you will need to be successful in catching solid bags of fish. For me, I like to target structure; lay downs, rocks, broken boats, barges etc. I will generally fish from the lowest part of the river on any given day. Most of my success this time of year has been on low incoming. This doesn’t mean I don’t fish high tides, but that I will fish the incoming all the way to the high outgoing.

Approach a lay down on the down side of the current. I will always make my first cast with some sort of top water. No matter how cold the water gets, there is always an aggressive fish somewhere. As an example; it’s Sunday morning and cold inside the house. We are lying down on the couch watching football dosing off into one of those great weekend naps. There comes a knock at the door, but you and I both know we aren’t getting up to see what the salesman wants. But, now the knocking continues, over and over an over again. What happens then is we throw that blanket off of us, rush to the front door and give that poor salesman a piece of our mind. This is the same idea when fishing top water this time of year. The water is cold, and the bass are lethargic. They don’t want to chase some dumb baitfish out of their comfort zone. But throw that bait five, ten, fifteen times and you might be surprised what will come up and eat your bait.

From the top water I will go to a speed trap or bomber like bait. I like to bump the structure as much as I can. Many fish will let the bait go by until you deflect it off the route it was coming through. I try and keep the retrieve slow but continuous. Slight pauses in between can also be productive, but I don’t like to give the bass too much time to think about striking the bait. Usually this time of year when you stop those baits, many times the bass will come up and just nose, or move the bait without opening up their mouths.

Last but not least is my favorite technique for this time of year. Put on that big pig-n-jig and hold on. By far each year, the jig has been my go to bait in the winter. Once we find out how they want it look out. I predominately will use almost 100% of the time a 3/8oz jig. Heavy enough to get down fast, and light enough for it to slowly swim. I will always try and shake the bait in a violent fashion first. If there is no success, I will yo-yo the bait not too far from the bottom. And last but not ever least is what has proven to catch most of my big fish in the winter, dead stick! Flip or pitch that bait to your target and let it sit. Look around for a few moments, daydream, or whatever it is you have to do to leave that bait there, just do it. Most of the time when I dead stick jigs, I will generally start by leaving the bait in place for a minute or two, then slowly drag the jig keeping it on the bottom to create some silt or dirt movement. Repeat the process until you have thoroughly fished the area. Most of your strikes you won’t feel, they will either start swimming with it or the bite will be heavy almost like you’re hung in weeds. Remember, hook sets are free, and you should be dropping the hammer on anything that doesn’t feel right.

Winter fishing on the delta can be very rewarding, just remember that there are more times than not this time of year that you will have to slow down to reap those big rewards. On a side note, please remember that this time of year is very dangerous to anyone who happens to fall in the water. Make sure you have your safety vests on at all times, and if you can take someone fishing rather than go by yourself, please do so.

For more information check out www.vincehurtado.com.