Top 10 baits from the California Delta - Major League Fishing

Top 10 baits from the California Delta

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Dirty water and an earlier time of the year than is usual for MLF allowed some different baits to shine at this visit to the Delta. Photo by Rob Matsuura.
March 21, 2023 • Tyler Brinks, Rob Matsuura • Toyota Series

OAKLEY, Calif. – The talk leading up to the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats Western Division tournament on the California Delta was that things would be tough. Cold and muddy water from recent storms had anglers stymied, but the top finishers were able to adjust and produce some respectable weights. Some tried-and-true Delta techniques came into play as well as several brightly colored baits used by anglers to combat the dirty water.

Here’s a closer look at the top baits and patterns from the California Delta.

1. Most anglers in the field gravitated to the scarce clean water, but Nick Salvucci took a slightly different approach during his wire-to-wire win.

“All of the other anglers were looking for clean water and so were the best fishermen on the Delta, the sea lions,” he said about the bass-eating creatures that are known to wreak havoc. “They’re not great sight feeders, so they weren’t in the dirtier water and there were fewer bass anglers in that water color, too, because most everyone was in the back of dead-end sloughs where the water was clean. I used 80 gallons of gas during practice to look for some off-colored water with active fish.”

Salvucci’s winning area was a three-mile stretch with a combination of hydrilla, tules, and riprap. As the event went on, he dialed in specific areas.

“About 80% of the stretch was unfishable and no good, but there were key stretches where I could get a bite,” he said. “I could return to those areas multiple times with a different angle and usually get a few more bites.”

He kept things simple with a spinnerbait, which accounted for every fish he weighed in. It was a ½-ounce BOOYAH Covert in white and chartreuse with one gold and one silver Colorado blade. Salvucci added a 4.3-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbait in sight flash as the trailer.

2. Delta ace Ken Mah now has nine Top-10 finishes with MLF on the fishery with his runner-up showing. To finish in that position, he focused on one area he said was a classic prespawn location.

“It was a big spawning bay with deep water very close by,” he said. “The fish wanted to move shallow, and I had a feeling that they would keep replenishing. They were using the ditches as highways to travel.”

The area had vegetation in various stages of growth and he fished it with an original ½-ounce Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap in natural craw and several variations of a Z-Man ChatterBait.

“I started with a shad pattern but rotated through seven different blade and skirt configurations,” he said. “The second and third days, the bluegill pattern seemed to be the best with a green pumpkin Big Bite Baits Kamikaze Swimon as the trailer.”

Mah also punched a 1 ¼-ounce weight with a Big Bite Baits YoMama in the confusion color.

“It wasn’t a traditional punching pattern in hyacinth mats,” he said. “I was punching laydown tules, which helped me get a few key fish.”

3. Oakley local Nicholas Cloutier kept things simple and flipped and punched his way to third place, mainly on the strength of a 20-pound, 7-ounce bag on the final day. He caught five keepers on the first day, four on the second, and five more on the last day as he found success without ever culling during the tournament.

“Every fish I caught was from flipping and punching,” he said. “I was targeting primrose with current running around them on spawning flats. It wasn’t very tide-specific, but I got a few better bites on the incoming tide.”

Targeting the central Delta, Cloutier was punching with a 1 ¼-ounce WOO! Tungsten Never Chip Flipping Weight with a 4/0 Gamakatsu G-Power Heavy Cover Hook and a Reaction Innovations Spicy Beaver in the black and blue and hitman colors. He also added a Cloutier Custom’s punch skirt in summer craw to the package.

4. After a brutal practice, Colorado’s Ty Faber went into survival mode and went to a dead-end slough that produced two of just three bites he had during practice.

“I started there in the morning just trying to catch a few and then headed right towards where we took off at Russo’s because that’s the only other place I got a bite,” he said. “The back of that slough had clear water, and I fished a green pumpkin Yamamoto Senko and Zoom Trick Worm on a wacky rig. I fished really slow, just trying to get a bite. I was fishing docks, tules, and rocks by the ramp with a ChatterBait and punching. The bigger fish came each day doing that, but the fish in the slough helped me to get some fish in the boat.”

His ChatterBait of choice was a 5/8-ounce Z-Man Big Blade ChatterBait in chartreuse and white with an orange blade. He added a blow torch-colored Hog Farmer Baits Spunk Shad as the trailer. He used a hot tamale and black and blue Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver with a 3/0 straight shank flipping hook and a 1 1/2-ounce tungsten weight for punching.

5. Finishing in fifth was Benicia, California’s Nick Nourot. Coming into the event, he planned to punch mats exclusively, as he’ll “punch anything that floats” on the Delta. But his three-fish bag the first day told him he’d have to find a way to fill limits.

“I only caught three the first day, but one was an 8-pounder,” he said. “With the tough fishing, I decided to finesse fish between mats for the rest of the event. I was fishing two dead-end sloughs that are good spawning areas, punching the mats and fishing a drop-shot rig when I was moving from mat to mat and that allowed me to get a limit the last few days. I was also able to catch a 6-pounder on the drop-shot.”

His punching setup included a 3/4-ounce tungsten weight, a homemade punch skirt that was black and blue with some chartreuse mixed in and a Missile Baits D Bomb in bruiser flash. His hook was a 3/0 Gamakatsu G-Power Heavy Cover Hook.

On the drop-shot, he used a 1/8-ounce weight, a 3/0 Roboworm ReBarb Hook, and a 6-inch Roboworm Fat Straight Tail Worm in Margarita mutilator.

For both techniques, the weight size was critical, according to Nourot. 

“For punching, I went with the lightest size I could get away with because it was cold and the fish didn’t want something moving fast,” he said. “On the drop-shot, I wanted a light weight to fish very slowly and methodically in that shallow water. Plus, the last few days were really calm, and I wanted something more subtle.”

6. Mark Lassagne called the Delta in its current state a “muddy mess,” and he used his extensive experience on the fishery to find cleaner water.

“About 98% of it right now is unfishable, and I had two flooded islands on the south end that had cleaner water,” he said. “The mud didn’t intrude as much way back in there. One was full of grass and was my limit spot and the other had a bunch of dead hyacinths that the big ones would move into when the tide was going out and they’d stay there through the top of the tide.”

He caught fish on a Yamamoto Senko on a wacky rig and spinnerbait at his limit spot. Those fish were crucial, but his big ones, including a tournament-best 10-10, came with the big rod and punching with a Missile Baits D Bomb in super bug and a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog. He also mixed in a Duo Realis 100SP.

7. One of the few who caught limits every day of the event, Hunter Schlander switched it up and adjusted with the fish depending on the conditions. He started with a ChatterBait, then moved to punching and throwing a wacky rig as the event wore on.

“The first day was cloudy and windy and you had to really cover water,” he said. “I was fishing a giant grass flat and the wind allowed me to fish big areas and focus on holes in the grass.”

Schlander fished the same general area when things got calmer but went shallower and slowed down.

“Those males were starting to get up near the tules and roaming around and looking for places to spawn,” he said. “I was fishing a wacky-rigged Yamamoto Senko around tules and punching the junk mats, which were dead tules, hyacinths and anything that made a canopy.”

His ChatterBait was a Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammer in green pumpkin red. Schlander fished the 5- and 6-inch Yamamoto Senko in black and blue on a wacky rig and punched a Yamamoto Cowboy in black and blue on a 4/O Owner 4X Jungle Flippin’ Hook with a 1 ½-ounce tungsten weight.

8. Of the 12 bass that Ish Monroe brought to the scales, they were equally divided between two baits. The two-time Delta Toyota Series champion fished the central to southern sections of the fishery and caught his fish with a spinnerbait and punching mats.

“Half came throwing a ½-ounce River2Sea Bling with Colorado and Indiana blades in lemonade twist with a red Missile Baits Spunk Shad as the trailer,” he said. “I was catching them near rock and the low to incoming tide was best for the spinnerbait.”

The other half of the fish came by punching a Missile Baits D Bomb in black and red.

“The lower the tide, the better it was for punching those hyacinth mats,” he said.

9. Two-time Western Division Angler of the Year David Valdivia had another excellent event, mainly thanks to a spinnerbait that he modified for the conditions.

“The spinnerbait did most of my damage,” he said. “I’m not even sure of the brand, but I added double Colorado blades and used a 3/8-ounce model to allow me to be able to fish it slower and keep it up in the water. It had a white skirt with a little chartreuse, and I added a 4.3-inch Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbait in sight flash as the trailer.”

Valdivia targeted areas near where he knew bass would eventually spawn. The other key was having a deeper channel nearby.

“I tried to stay close to those areas they use to winter in the southeast section of the Delta,” he said. “The water wasn’t clear, but it was not as silty and chalky looking as most other places. I stayed in the zone with the better water color and focused on sparse grass, tules, and the levee rocks.”

The spinnerbait was the main program, but he also mixed in a 6-inch Yamamoto Senko with a 1/8-ounce tungsten weight.

“Once I found a good concentration of fish in an area, I’d throw that around and pick apart areas slowly to pick up a few more fish,” he added.

10. Posting consistent 13-pound bags the first two days and adding a limit worth 10-5 on the final day, Kyle Grover scored yet another Western Division Top-10 finish. To do it, he stuck with a 7-inch Roboworm Straight Tail Worm in Margarita mutilator for the entire event.

“I was fishing clean water in the back of a dead-end slough with a drop-shot,” he said. “That’s all I did. It was a spawning flat with rock and the fish were coming and going. There were a lot of boats in there, but I was the only one that made it at the end, and I think that’s because I was fishing a lot slower than everyone else.”

Grover fished the worm on a 2/0 Roboworm ReBarb Hook with a light 1/8-ounce drop-shot weight since his critical depth range was less than 3 feet deep.