California Delta at sunset: this view looks west towards Mount Diablo, rising
3,849 feet, peaking over one of the San Joaquin levees.
One of my very first mentors was Bill Bergan. Our supervisor/subordinate relationship naturally morphed into a work mentorship while I was an apprentice, so to speak, for a local CPA firm. Our shared appreciation of all things outdoors fostered friendship beyond our profession and allowed the mentoring to grow alternate paths. Bill often describes his friends as “genuinely good people.” I understand that phrase to mean they are caring and compassionate, but he adds an inflection for those who also pursue adventure in the natural world.
|Bill, about 31 years old here, preparing to climb|
The Friar in Red Rock Canyon. Having
previously climbed it with Joe and Betsy Herbst,
this was one climb I was able to lead for Bill.
While the passage of wisdom from sage mentors often encompasses areas pertaining to marriage, children, and careers, it can and should involve our spiritual journey. For me, that also involves my relationship with God the Father, through Jesus Christ. For those of us without fathers, or at least “good” fathers, recognizing God is our Abba Father is important. While discussing His impending crucifixion, Jesus comforted the disciples who were concerned about His upcoming departure from our earth by assuring them He will prepare a place for each believer in his Father’s house, and that He will return to take us there (John 14:2-4). He also revealed the nature of God the Father in many parables, including the two sons working their father’s vineyard (Matthew 21:28-32), the lost, but found prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:23-35), and the laborers’ wages (Matthew 20:1-16). Over and over, God the Father is shown as a righteous judge with a merciful heart for those who believe, confess, and repent. If He were merely “just” He would give us what we deserve based on His law, but because He is “merciful” His grace gives us what we don’t deserve and cannot earn.
Since Bill’s relocation to Sacramento around 1980 we’ve only shared five adventures, including this trip on the California Delta for striped bass. While that computes to just one trip every eight years, it always seems like we pick up right where we last left off. It is a uniquely satisfying friendship.
|Bill's largest striper from the Delta, so far. Landed a few years ago, it measured|
over 35 inches and weighed an estimated 20 pounds.
Captain Bill navigating the Delta channels and sloughs in his trusted jet
boat. Note his Lowrance Fish Finder & Chartplotter...
standard equipment on the Delta.
Fueled principally by the Sacramento River from the north and the San Joaquin River from the south, the original Delta was a large freshwater marsh that emptied into the Suisun Bay, a shallow tidal estuary extension of the San Francisco Bay. It has a myriad of channels and sloughs surrounding low islands of peat and tule. The 19th Century saw much of the Delta claimed for agriculture, which is still the case today. Eventually erosion and oxidation led to subsidence such that much of the agricultural land sits below sea level behind levees (I’m told some refer to the Delta as "California's Holland"). Today the Delta serves up water for much of central and southern California via pumps located at the southern end of the Delta. The Delta consists of approximately 57 reclaimed islands and land tracts, surrounded by 1,100 miles of levees that border 700 miles of waterways. The southwestern side of the Delta lies at the foothills of the California Coast Ranges, with the Montezuma Hills to the northwest. It’s a massive area to explore by boat.
The Delta supports approximately 22 species of fish, including several Pacific salmon species, striped bass, steelhead trout, American shad and sturgeon. Amazingly, about two-thirds of California's salmon pass through the Delta on their way upstream to spawn. Similar to Lake Mead in Southern Nevada, stripers are not indigenous to the Delta, but rather are transplants from the East Coast where they can be found from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Alabama. However they got there, they seem to be the preferred Delta sportfish today.
Stripers are prolific spawners which accounts for their highly successful transplant into the western waters. They are also voracious predators which is helpful to fisherman, especially novices like me. In the inland channels and sloughs we fished their primary prey is threadfin shad, but in the larger bays they’ll feed on anchovies, sculpins, and even shrimp. They are migratory through the seasons, spawning upstream in the spring, and they also move with the stronger tidal currents throughout the Delta, which can be very confusing to newbies. Often you see Delta striper anglers consulting their “tide & current” phone apps to locate the moving waters caused by the various tidal and waterway confluences because they often contain baitfish, and thus stripers.
I had never fished for stripers before, not even on Lake Mead. I think that was mostly because a boat is needed to effectively find them and their baitfish prey, but also because the fly-fishing equipment is larger and heavier, obviously out of necessity. You trout fly anglers need to visualize leaded baitfish flies on 1/0 hooks, stripping buckets, 9½ foot rods for 7/8 weight shooting heads, and pliers (no hemostats here). Your first time out it won’t feel like fly angling… it simulates war!
B&W Resort Marina in Isleton, CA. We checked into our two-bedroom cabin, stowed away our clothes, food, and of course the beer and wine. And it was an especially nice wine, Dancing Lady bottled by Della Costa Family Vineyard in 2013 from the Alexander Valley… an old vine Zinfandel. Delicious!
|The B&W Resort Marina was more of a marina than a resort.|
The cabins were located off the photo's right side, conveniently
right next to the docks. Our second-floor cabin overlooked Dock 15
where Bill's boat rested between our striper assaults.
|Here's Bill demonstrating how to shoot line out of the white stripping|
bucket. If you look above his rod in the thin clouds you'll see the fly
whizzing out for its intended victim, the striped bass.
|My second striper, caught on the same spot where a levee pump was|
moving water. It was over 4 pounds, but it fought like an 8-pound trout.
|Captain Maury Hatch about to release a nice little striper that Bill caught.|
I sensed throughout the trip that Bill was somewhat disappointed we
didn't get into more fish, especially some closer to 10 pounds. I had a
great time, though, probably because I had no clue how good the
Delta could really be.
I can’t say enough about Maury. I highly recommend his Hatch First Guide Service for first-time Delta striper anglers, and he also guides other nearby waters like the American, Feather, Sacramento, and Yuba rivers. Bill’s occasional use of Maury is enough of a testament in itself. Not only is he a licensed guide, but a credentialed US Coast Guard Merchant Mariner who’s certified in First Aid, CPR, and AED. And he provides everything you need, except the fishing license. He can leave you be, or he can do everything including repairing leaders, changing flies, and landing the fish. I’ve been told he’s even cast the fly for clients when asked. He even has a special comb to remove weeds from the flies and keep their fibers aligned, bright, and shiny. Lest you assume the purpose of the comb is to beautify, know that it is to ensure the fly rides in the water properly resembling a baitfish.
|This might have been my largest of the trip, about 5 pounds.|
If you’ve never caught stripers on a fly, let me tell you it’s nothing like trout angling. The takes can be subtle sometimes, especially with 1 to 2 pound fish. But the larger stripers hit hard, and immediately bear down on you, pulling hard and deep. Based on my trout experience it was difficult not to imagine these fish were two to three times larger than they actually were. On at least three occasions I buried the butt of the fly rod into my waist to gain leverage to fight the fish. Since stripers are divers and not leapers, you don’t see them until they decide to give up. That’s when you say under your breath, “Wow, he’s a lot smaller than I thought he’d be.”
So, my journey into the Delta for stripers was highly successful (in my opinion). Experiencing what it takes to locate the fish, throw a fly at them, aggressively strip it in, set the hook, play, and land a few in the 20 to 23 inch range gives me confidence that I now understand enough to be able to replicate the results on my own.
|Here's an example of a "residential" slough, of which there are many on|
the Delta . You'll find their use is often limited to weekends or the summer.
|Here's what you wont see while fishing for stripers on Lake Mead. Your|
fishing competitors are sea lions coming up from the bay. The first time
you see them without warning it can be a little disconcerting.
|I apologize in advance that some of you will find this distasteful, but I|
wanted to inform you bait fishermen that services for you are available
at Bob's Bait in Isleton, CA