Fishing the California Delta transcends any regular angling experience. With more than 80,000 acres of water and 55 fish species under its belt, the Delta is nothing short of breathtaking. As the West Coast’s largest estuary, the Sacramento and San Joaquin Delta outshines any region with its lush nature, vibrant wildlife, and endless recreational possibilities.
Spanning five counties, it’s considered to be the lifeblood of the area. And how could it not be? With different bodies of water flowing through its veins, the Delta can only be the very heart of California. This means spectacular fishing, too!
Curious to see what awaits you in the Delta? Then read on and find out what the prominent fish species are, where they hide, and how you can catch them. We’ll also cover the rules and regulations and try to respond to some frequently asked questions. So without further ado, let’s see what this heaven has in store for you.
What fish are in the California Delta?
The Delta is world-renowned for its Bass population. This means that a Bass bonanza is guaranteed. But Bass aren’t the only famous residents here. Keep on scrolling and take a look at some of the most prized catches that call these waters home.
There’s no doubt about it – the Delta is by far the most prolific Bass fishery in Northern California. It only makes sense to kick off your Sacramento-San Joaquin experience with them. But why are Bass all the rage here? Well, they simply thrive in these waters. The place is loaded with Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass. So, the scenario of you ending up empty-handed is almost non-existent.
Besides abundance, Bass are top challengers – especially Smallmouth Bass. Smallies won’t go down without a fight. So, should you opt for “small but mighty” rivals, go for Smallmouth Bass. But if you want some heftier opponents, go for Largemouth varieties.
Both fish are available from spring to fall, but you’ll locate them in slightly different environments. You can find Largemouth anywhere around the Delta’s weedy shoreline, whereas Smallies mostly gather in clear waters near the Sacramento River.
As for your angling approach, Largemouths will fall for a wide range of baits and techniques. Be it baitcasting or fly fishing with sunfish, shad, jigs, or soft lures, Largemouth will grace the end of your line. Smallies are a bit pickier, but they won’t be able to resist crayfish at sundown.
No freshwater fish are as awe-inspiring as White Sturgeon. They’ve gained a reputation for being giants. While there are stories of 1,500-pound behemoths being caught in the Delta in the past, the reality today is that you may expect beasts between 25 and 100 pounds. But this is still quite impressive!
White Sturgeon adore estuaries. To reel them in, you’ll need heavy tackle and delicious baits. Crustaceans, baitfish, and worms are their kryptonite. But, you have to present your bait properly, too. Make sure you lower it to the very bottom and wait for Sturgeon to attack it.
Once you’ve grabbed their attention, expect a surge in vehement pulls, speedy runs, and occasional leaps. Bear in mind that even if you beat them in their own game, you might have to release them. White Sturgeon are sensitive to human impact and management measures are strict.
Speaking of massive species, the area can brag about its Catfish offer as well. There are several species, but Blue and Channel Catfish are the most common. Both are equally muscular, large, and stubborn. And this is exactly what you want them to be like. Their sporting value matches their strong-willed nature. But how to overpower them then?
With food! Catfish are primarily bottom feeders and their omnivorous taste buds will snatch anything your throw at them. They do have, however, a thing for stink bait. So, give them any smelly natural bait and you’ll be battling Catfish in no time. To increase your chances of landing a monster Catfish, hit the Delta in spring or summer.
No California Delta fishing list is complete without Chinook Salmon. Chinook Salmon – or King Salmon as they’re globally known – are on everyone’s radar. Luckily for you, they pass through the region on their way to spawn. So, you’ll most likely cross paths with Kings in the upstream stretch of the Sacramento River. Late summer and early fall mark the Salmon fishing frenzy in the Delta.
If you find yourself here in summer, try trolling the lower part of the Delta. Once the fall reaches its peak, Kings will be in the upward parts of the area. So, if you’re a passionate fly fisherman, then the Sacramento River is where you want to be. All in all, you can’t go wrong with the Delta as your go-to Salmon fishery.
… And More!
We shortlisted the species that are on everyone’s list when fishing the California Delta. However, the list doesn’t end with them. While they’re VIPs of the region, they aren’t the only brag-worthy catches in these waters. Striped Bass and Spotted Bass, for example, are as sought-after as Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass.
While they tend to be food for other bigger fish, American Shad deserve your attention, too. Fly fishing for them in particular can be quite entertaining. Apart from the fish, the area is famous for its Crawdads. These crustaceans are fun to catch and even better to eat. Be it a family fishing trip or professional angling on your own, the Delta will cater to your needs.
When can I fish in the California Delta?
The short answer is year-round. The California Delta’s fisheries are open for recreational angling throughout the year. The availability of some species, however, can differ depending on the season. You can pursue Stripers at any time of the year, but they won’t always be abundant. Align your visit with their spawning season and you’ll increase your odds of reeling in a keeper.
Catfish meander the bottoms in search of food every day of the year, but summer is when they thrive. Sturgeon also patrol these areas all year, but winter and spring tend to be more productive. So, if you haven’t set your mind on catching a particular species, you can hit the Delta at any moment during the year. But if you want a specific fish, don’t forget to check when its high season runs.
How to fish the California Delta?
The Delta’s size and diverse angling approaches go hand in hand. Depending on your preferences, you can explore its fisheries both on foot and by boat. We’ll give you a quick breakdown of the most effective ways to go about California Delta fishing below.
Angling with a licensed charter operator is probably one of the best ways to dive into the Delta’s world of fishing for the first time. Truth be told, even if you’ve fished here before, the chances are that you’ve only covered a tiny portion of the Delta’s vastness. So, guides born and raised in the area are your best bet at landing that trophy catch of yours!
The benefits of teaming up with a California Delta fishing charter are numerous. The two most obvious advantages are the boat and equipment. Your captain will provide you with a first-class charter vessel and top-notch gear that are crucial for moving around and battling some monsters.
Besides the bare necessities, your captain will ensure you have a memorable trip. Not only will they take you where the fish are biting, but they’ll also share their tips and tricks with you on how to reel that giant in successfully. What more could you ask for?
For those more adventurous among you, we recommend experiencing the Delta’s full potential via kayak. No other method will give you the mobility of a boat and the upper hand of wading than kayak fishing. A California Delta kayak ride is a spectacle on its own. But once the serenity is disrupted by jumping fish, you’ll be forever hooked on kayak fishing in the California Delta.
However, we can’t sugarcoat the truth – kayak fishing is demanding. While novices may give it a try, it’s usually reserved for seasoned kayakers. There are even Bass tournaments for avid kayak fishermen. For those still learning the ropes of this sport, the Big Break Regional Shoreline might be a good place to practice kayak fishing.
With over a thousand miles of waterways, fishing from the bank in the California Delta is divine. You can cast your line anywhere and you’ll return home with a decent dinner at least. But having so many holes at your disposal isn’t always helpful. We understand that finding the starting point can be overwhelming, so here are a couple of solid grounds for bank fishing.
If you want to wet your line in the San Joaquin River, check out Jersey Island’s coast. It’s home to deep holes where you can catch Sturgeon and Catfish. Move slightly to Bethel Island and the area will reward you at Taylor and Piper Sloughs. In some parts around these islands, you can also practice wading.
We didn’t lie when we said that angling approaches in the California Delta were numerous. For those who prefer staying dry at the dock but still want to catch a fish or two, pier fishing is the ideal activity. Luckily, the Delta counts more than a dozen of excellent fishing piers. Some are better equipped than others, but each offers noteworthy angling opportunities.
Antioch Fishing Pier seems to be the perfect place to fish with the little ones. Rio Vista features a well-maintained Striper spot, whereas Grizzly Island boasts as many as three decent fishing piers. You get the point – fishing piers are scattered all around the Delta. So, go ahead, pick one, and tell us all about it afterward!
Where can I fish in the California Delta?
Well, anywhere. It’s virtually impossible to name all the hotspots. You can fish in the Delta your entire life and discover a new angling corner each time. But we’ll try to at least give you several starting points. Take a look at our suggestions below.
- Big Break. Situated in Oakley, this tucked-away gem has a marina, a launching site, an amazing park, and easy access to the San Joaquin River. As such, it’s a match made in heaven for pier fishing enthusiasts, shore casting lovers, charter operators, and kayakers.
- Bethel Island. There are several marinas and shore fishing spots around the island, but Russos Marina might be interesting for experienced anglers who aren’t afraid of thick vegetation.
- Little Mandeville Island. Right next to the Holland Tract Road, you’ll come across the Holland Cut, the Old River, and Little Mandeville Island. This region is considered to be one of the best Bass fishing locations in the Delta.
- Rio Vista. There isn’t a better departure point than Rio Vista if you want to explore the Sacramento River. A variety of fish species swim in the river, but special attention goes to the Chinook Salmon that pass the Rio Vista on their migration route.
- The Barges. This jewel is located on Jersey Island between the San Joaquin and False Rivers. It’s home to 40 feet deep waters and Sturgeon and Catfish holes. The spot is a great bank fishing destination, too.
Anything else I should know?
Apart from the fact that California Delta fishing is a dream come true for every freshwater fisherman, you should be familiar with the rules and regulations as well. Firstly, you need to know that any angler who is 16 or older must purchase a valid freshwater fishing license. This goes for both anglers who are fishing with a certified charter operator and those who are venturing out there alone.
Besides obtaining permits, pay attention to season, size, and bag requirements for each species you intend to harvest. Please visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s official website for more information.
Frequently Asked Questions
California Delta Fishing: Freshwater Heaven
No matter how much we glorify the Delta, it’ll never be enough. Words can’t describe what you personally must witness. So, pack your things and hit the road (and waters). And then tell us all about your Sacramento and San Joaquin Delta adventures. Tight lines!
Have you ever been fishing in the California Delta? What did you catch? Any good fishing spots we should know about? Go to the comment section below and share your thoughts and experiences with us.