California Department of Fish and Wildlife
woman with striped bass catch

Striped Bass Fishing Tips

Tackle

Almost any rod and reel heavier than a light spinning outfit is suitable for striped bass fishing. The lighter the tackle, the greater the sport, of course. Under certain conditions, however, fairly heavy tackle is desirable. For example, heavy tackle is generally necessary in charter boat fishing to prevent undue fouling of lines, and in certain types of deep-water fishing involving the use of heavy sinkers.

The novice should consult one of the bait and tackle stores in the striped bass fishing area for information about the types of leaders, hooks, and sinkers used by striped bass anglers. To avoid catching too many undersized stripers, it is advisable to use hooks at least half an inch between the point and the shank. Fewer small fish will swallow the large hooks, so serious injuries will be reduced. Remember, for successful bait fishing, it is generally necessary to keep the bait near the bottom. Strong tidal currents are usually present on striped bass fishing grounds; therefore, it is particularly important to have a varied assortment of sinkers, so the amount of weight can be adjusted to match the changing strength of the current. Striped bass may be caught either by bait fishing or trolling. In the Delta, threadfin shad are probably now the most common bait. The shad are usually placed on the hook split and folded with the flesh side out. Sardines, anchovies, bloodworms, and pile worms are also popular baits in the Delta. Drift fishing with live bait - usually shiner perch or anchovies - is popular in the San Francisco Bay area. Sculpins (bullheads) and oriental gobies (mudsuckers) are frequently used in San Pablo and Suisun bays, either alive or dead. Trolling methods are specialized and it is advisable to observe this method of fishing in operation before attempting it. Many types of plugs, jigs, and spoons are used in trolling, frequently in double combinations.

Seasons

Striped bass angling is done all year, but fishing localities vary seasonally in accordance with the striped bass migratory pattern. During the winter, striped bass are spread from San Francisco Bay throughout the Delta and fishing is generally poor because stripers do not feed actively when the water is cold. However, good catches of large fish still are made occasionally.

Fishing success improves as the water warms up in March. Stripers that winter in the bays start moving upstream to fresh water for spawning. During the spring, the bulk of the legal population is spread throughout the Delta and as far north as Colusa and Princeton on the Sacramento River. Good fishing can be expected throughout the spawning area at this time. Occasionally, some good catches of either early spawning, or late migrating, bass are made in the bays during the spring. By mid-June, most legal-sized bass have left fresh water and returned to the bays. During the summer and fall, striped bass fishing is at its peak in San Francisco Bay. Trollers and live bait drifters make good catches with regularity in Raccoon Strait, at the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, at submerged rocky reefs in central San Francisco Bay, and off Alcatraz and Treasure Islands. In some years, large numbers of bass migrate into the Pacific Ocean and many are caught just off the beach by charter boat anglers. Summer surf casting from the San Francisco beaches is occasionally very successful. Shore angling is sporadically good in some areas of South San Francisco Bay during the spring and summer. The fall migration of bass to the Delta may start as early as October, even though fishing may still be excellent in San Francisco and San Pablo bays at this time. The beginning of the fall migration is marked by good fishing in Suisun Bay. Bait fishing in the Delta improves gradually with the movement of bass into the area, and then declines as the water temperature drops and the winter rains begin.

Charter Boats

Many charter boat operators in the bays and guides in the Delta and on the upper Sacramento River make a business of taking anglers striped bass fishing for a fee. Each individual usually brings his own fishing tackle, although rental tackle is often available. A trip on such a boat provides an excellent opportunity for inexperienced anglers to learn how to fish successfully for striped bass. Generally, the average catch per angler on such boats is high because of the experience of the operator in locating schools of bass and in knowing how best to fish at a particular time and place. Reservations are desirable for trips on charter boats and they are usually handled by phone through a bait shop. The classified sections of telephone directories should be consulted under "Fishing Parties" to obtain more information or make reservations. The preceding section on fishing seasons should be consulted to determine the general area to select for a fishing trip at any particular time of year.

Private Boats

Many anglers prefer to fish from private boats because they provide greater privacy and more freedom than charter boats in selecting fishing spots. In San Francisco, San Pablo, and Suisun bays, anglers should only use boats that are large enough to withstand the rough seas that develop when strong winds come up. Smaller boats are well suited to the more sheltered fishing grounds such as the Napa River and its marsh, the Suisun Marsh, the sloughs of the Delta, and the upper Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. A few resorts rent skiffs and outboard motors. Locations where boats can be launched or rented are indicated on the map.

Shore and Pier Fishing

Fishing from shore is generally less productive than boat fishing, but is practiced by many anglers and sometimes is highly rewarding. Numerous favored bank-fishing spots are scattered throughout the fishing area. During spring, the Sacramento River from Courtland to Colusa is one of the most popular areas. The San Joaquin River near Stockton is popular during spring and fall. San Francisco Bay also produces some good shore fishing during summer and fall. Favored locations include the Berkeley Fishing Pier, the shoreline near Ashby Avenue in Berkeley, and the area in south San Francisco Bay around Candlestick Park. Summer surf fishing off San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin County beaches sometimes provides fantastic sport. Pacifica Pier is a popular fishing location along the San Mateo County coast. Action is also spectacular on the beaches when schools of anchovies draw hungry bass within range of anglers casting heavy metal lures, but if the anchovies are not close to shore, fishing is generally at a standstill. Surf fishing in Monterey Bay can also be good at certain times of the year.