The California Delta is a frequent stop for anglers in the Toyota Series Western Division. The storied fishery has hosted countless FLW tournaments over the years, but this year is different, as the event was rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of the traditional May or late-September dates for the stop, the rescheduled date is this week, right in the middle of August. The new time of year will surely make things different than previous years for two reasons: the heat and California's six-hour limit for summertime bass tournaments.
The Bay Area is currently under an excessive heat warning, and daytime highs each day of the tournament will be hovering around 100 degrees, with a predicted high today of 103 degrees for the host city of Oakley, Calif.
Besides air temperatures, anglers will feel the heat to perform with a short day. Having less time to fish will likely change the plans of competitors in the field this week.
But, this is still the Delta – one of the premier fisheries in the country, and giant bass live here. There will undoubtedly be some of them brought to the scales this afternoon.
Summertime on the California Delta is usually a punching and frog fishing gig, but more things are working right now, according to local guide Vince Borges, who has guided these waters for 25 years.
He believes the punching bite is likely going to be the path to a win, but it won't be easy.
"The punch bite is there, for sure, but it will be hard to make it work for three straight days," he says. "It’s going to be hard to have enough water to make it work for three days. They may have to get creative and fish different sections of the Delta each day to have enough productive mats to punch."
Aside from punching, Borges believes standard Delta techniques such as frogs, buzzbaits, and ChatterBaits will produce fish. He also threw in a wildcard in that some anglers may find success with spinning rods, light line, and finesse tactics.
"There might be a few anglers who do well and make the cut with finesse stuff like a drop-shot or wacky rig with a spinning rod,” he explains. “To me, the Delta is fishing more like it did 25 years ago before the grass really took off. There’s less grass right now, and you can find fish stacked up on deeper breaks."
On tidal fisheries, running the tides is a proven way to stay on the hot bite, but it may not be possible this week due to the size of the fishery and short day to work with.
"Most of the time, if you understand the tides, you can run them and keep the bite going,” Borges says. “With a short day, it almost becomes impossible to do it. The short day is going to play mind games with the competitors, and there will be no room for mistakes."
The field takes off from Big Break Marina at 6:30 a.m. PT and the first flight will be weighing in around lunchtime, with the weigh-in set to begin at 12:30 p.m. PT.
This is a massive waterway, but Borges feels that it’s fishing small and expects the field to congregate in the most productive areas.
"It’s fishing very small, and I expect guys to be stacked up around Big Break Marina and in Sherman,” he says. “Those areas have been the most consistent for the 3-pound-and-better fish.”
Ken Mah of Oak Grove, Calif., has seven FLW Top 10 finishes on the California Delta and is competing again this week. He believes the fishing will be similar to previous years – but with a slight twist.
"The big thing is the short day,” he says. “It will be a factor and limit how much running around you can do because you can't just run all over the place. Plus, less time just means less time to catch them and the weights will likely be a little lower."
On the fishing side of things, he says the big fish are there to be had if things align.
"The fish are deep in their summertime patterns, and I've had some really good days this week (in practice) and some where I couldn't find one over 2 pounds," he says. "It’s been up and down and 'touchy' to say the least.”
Major League Fishing pro Jared Lintner was able to fit this event into his schedule after wrapping up the Bass Pro Tour season and is grateful he came down to pre-practice before this week.
"It's kind of weird because it’s changed so much since the last time I was here four or five years ago,” he says. “Most of the areas I've done well on in the past are decimated and some of the places I never even wanted to fish now have the right habitat.”
Even though his areas have changed, it’s the same old California Delta.
"This place is still full of fish and there are some giants,” Lintner adds. “With it being in the middle of summer and having a short time to fish, the bite windows are going to be small.”
To combat the six-hour time limit, he's adjusted his approach for the week.
"The key for me is to not get in a hurry and fish too fast,” he says. “But, at the same time, if you get in a bad rotation or the fish aren't biting, it will be a challenge.”
Kickers – There is a legitimate chance of catching a double-digit bass on any cast on the Delta. One right cast or punch can change things in a hurry, and finding a kicker fish each day will surely separate anglers in the standings.
Time Limit – The short day cannot be overstated and will affect how long anglers decide to run, which may lead to lighter weights than past Delta events.
Weather – The weather is always a critical factor when it comes to tournament fishing, and it will be once again this week. Besides the high temperatures, wind may also come into play this week with predictions for 23 mph winds today and slightly less wind for the rest of the week.
Previous years required an average of over 20 pounds to win this event, but both were held in late September. That is still the goal, though both Borges and Mah believe it will likely be less this time. Jared Lintner says it could be more if things line up just right.
"From what I’ve seen, it will probably take an average of 18 to 19 pounds a day to win it," said Borges.
Mah had a similar prediction and thinks 18 pounds a day will take it.
"I'm guessing it will be around 54 pounds (for three days), but this is the Delta, and someone could be on another planet than the rest of us and bring in 65 pounds,” he explains. “I think you'll see 22 or 23 pounds leading after Day 1.
Lintner thinks 20 pounds a day is possible.
"The recent local tournaments are taking 20 to 22 pounds a day to win, and if you have a couple of patterns and it all comes together, you could see someone keep it up for three days,” he says. “In those same events, a 16- or 17-pound bag was a good day, and I think it will be in this one, too.”
Format: All boaters and co-anglers will compete for two days. The top 10 boaters and co-anglers based on cumulative weight after two days of competition will advance to the third and final round, with the winner determined by the heaviest cumulative three-day weight.
Takeoff Time: 6:30 a.m. PT
Takeoff Location: Big Break Marina, 100 Big Break Road, Oakley, Calif.
Weigh-In Time: 12:30 p.m. PT
Weigh-In Location: Big Break Marina