Off The Bank: A Trip with Bobby Barrack

TBT Cal Tatum and Bobby Barrack

The world renowned California Delta is, without question, one of the best fisheries in the world. It has excellent striped bass, sturgeon, and catfish, and when the times are right, it can be a fun salmon fishery.

I was first introduced to the Delta by Bobby Barrack several years ago and I have been intrigued by this waterway ever since. Since my introduction to the Delta, I have fished it several times and never enough times.

The first time still stands out in my mind because Bobby Barrack really showed me a lot about the Delta.

I met Bobby at his home; we hooked up the boat and headed for the launch ramp. He was pre-fishing for the very first BASS Open on the Delta and was considered one of the favorites. A few minutes after leaving the ramp he said, “Cal, don’t tell anybody where I’m fishing.”

Bob didn’t have a thing to worry about. The Delta is a massive waterway with so many twists and turns that two minutes after leaving the ramp I had no clue where we were.

Bob suddenly looked at his watch and said, “We have to hurry – there’s a 4-pounder that will bite at 7 a.m.”

I smiled and nodded while thinking that Bob had lost his mind – now the fish are on a time schedule? I’ve heard some pretty nutty things on the water, but knowing exactly when a fish will bite seemed a bit far fetched.

He ran his boat as fast as he dared to get to his scheduled meeting. Bob shut down and dropped the trolling motor, he turned to me and said, “We’re a little early so we’ll fish along here for a few minutes first.”

“Sure Bob – no problem,” I said. That’s it; I knew Bob had spent far too much time in the sun throwing Snag Proof Frogs.

Just before 7 a.m., Bob kicked the trolling motor on high and ran down the bank. There was a spot where there were no tules and Bob dropped a worm in there, sure enough, he set the hook and put a healthy 4-pound Delta bass in the boat.

“What the ….,” I said. “How did you know that fish was there and would start to bite at 7 a.m.?”

Bobby told me to look up and down the bank, for as far as I could see, there were tules in both directions, but there were none where Bobby caught his fish.

He explained in his own creative style, “All through the tules are baitfish, thousands of them, but we have to remember how a bass thinks. When a bass is small, they know they have to get big and get big quick. The key to getting big quick is to consume as many calories as possible while expending very little energy.”

At this point I started thinking that I should have been a bass.

“There are no tules here because the water is too deep for them to grow, so this old girl just lays here waiting for her food,” he said.

But why lay there, and how did you know she would start to eat at 7 a.m.?

“Like I said,” Bobby told me, “She has to expend very little energy and get the most calories. The Delta is tidal water and when the tide goes out the baitfish can only move horizontally or perpendicular to the bank. As the water moves out, the baitfish move and many of them will run right into her hole. She could run up and down the bank to consume 1,500 calories and expend 900 calories to get her food, or she can wait for the tide to go out and the food will come to her and she will eat the same 1,500 calories and only expend 15 calories. That’s how she gains weight. I knew she would start biting at 7 a.m. because when I looked at the tidal charts I saw that the tide started going out at 7.”

For those uneducated about our sport, they may think that Bobby has far too much time on his hands and really needs to get a life, but for those of us who watch the sport intently, we know it’s that kind of analysis that can make the difference between going home with a check or borrowing money to make a truck payment.

Since that day with Bobby I have watched many good bass anglers and am amazed with their analytical skills, because their analysis is based on simplicity. The truly successful ones keep it simple without over analyzing the situation because they know bass aren’t highly intelligent, they are instinctive, but would rate low on an I.Q. test.

There is a lesson to be learned here, people are very good at making simple things complicated. I have even known some anglers who try to convince themselves that bass are incredibly intelligent and even speak of them as if they were capable of reasoning – I don’t believe that to be true.

We must remember that bass really only want to do a couple of things in their lives – eat and spawn. That’s all, nothing more. They aren’t trying to build legacies for the offspring or build monopolies. They don’t care what other bass are doing so long as it doesn’t interfere with what they are doing. Eat and spawn is what their lives are about and when you learn where and what they eat, when and where they spawn, your level of success increases dramatically.

Mike Folkestad is one of the great anglers in the West and the reason he has enjoyed so much success is because he understands the movements of baitfish – one of the two key elements of a bass’ life. Mike has spent years studying baitfish and their movements. While others are working to understand so many other elements that may or may not be important to catching bass, Mike has studied what they eat. Find the food and you find the fish. It’s a little like, find the donuts and you find a police officer.

Bobby taught me to look at bass in a simpler manner. The successful bass anglers I met since that day have proven this to be true. Where the complexity comes in for a bass professional is how to keep sponsors happy and what to say when they are on the tank at a sportsman’s show.