The following appears in the December issue of California Sportsman:
By Mark Fong
Over the course of the last several months, I had been in contact with Chris Wegeleben about carving out some time on his calendar to join me for a few days of fishing in Northern California.
Wegeleben, the owner and proprietor of Prolite Rod Technology in Tumwater, Washington, was eager to experience some new fisheries, add a few new species to his list of catches and perform some on-the-water research and development. With this in mind, we decided to venture to the California Delta for a day of striped bass fishing.
SEARCHING FOR STRIPERS
On a beautiful, cold midfall morning, my friend Ian and I met Chris and his buddy Nick at the Antioch Public Marina. After making introductions and exchanging pleasantries, we quickly launched Ian’s big North River boat and headed west towards Pittsburg.
A few days earlier Ian had found several nice schools of fish and he wanted to check to see if they were still around. A quick pass through the area with the electronics showed little activity, so we were off in search of new water.
We made our way towards the mouth of Broad Slough on the San Joaquin River side. There were half a dozen or so boats working the east side of the slough, and our plan was to cover water by trolling deep-diving minnow plugs in 12 to 20 feet of water, or up shallow with rattle baits. The water, however, was littered with floating tules, hyacinth, witch’s hair and other debris, which made trolling a nearly impossible task.
Debris can be common on the Delta this time of year, but every experienced fisherman has a backup plan. Ours was to drift fish with live bait. Ian and I made a quick stop at the bait shop, where we picked up several dozen live jumbo minnows.
As we motored down the slough, we began to see scattered fish on Ian’s fish finder. The further west we graphed, the more activity we saw. When Ian stopped the boat along the edge of a dropoff, we pulled out the live bait rods.
TAKING DOWN LINESIDES
Chris brought a Prolite 9-foot, 6-inch (12-30 line rating) Takedown rod to test out on Delta stripers. He was eager to see how it would fish. The Takedown line of rods was designed for the needs of the Pacific Northwest salmon angler. The blanks are a composite of fiberglass and graphite, which results in a moderate action with plenty of power, also making them well suited for striped bass. Chris paired the rod with a Daiwa Lexa 300 LC reel spooled with 40-pound braid.
A live bait rig is simple to construct: Attach a three-way swivel to the end of the mainline. To one end of the swivel add an 18- to 24-inch length of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a 1/0 octopus-style hook via a perfection loop knot. On the remaining loop of the swivel, attach a short 8-inch dropper of light monofilament affixed to a 2-ounce cannonball-style weight.
After baiting up with a lively minnow, I carefully free-spooled my rig to the bottom and placed my rod in the rod holder for our first drift. We made several passes through the area without a bite. As the outgoing tide began to slow, I was hopeful that our luck would change.
On our next pass, Ian adjusted the position of the boat, and it wasn’t long before he was hooked up with the first fish of the day. Unfortunately, the fish was an undersized shaker, which we quickly released. Not more than a few minutes later, I was hooked up with my first striper, but this fish too was a shaker.
It did not take long for me to get bit again on the next drift. As I was fighting the small fish back to the boat, Chris’s rod began to load up. In an instant he was hooked up with a nice striper. The fish made a powerful run, and it was apparent that this one was a different grade of striper.
I tried my best to keep our lines from crossing, and with a little bit of skillful over-and-under rod exchange, we were able to avert disaster. I quickly landed and released the small fish just in time to take in the action as Chris battled a nice Delta striper. After several strongly sustained runs, Chris had the fish to the side of the boat, where Ian skillfully slipped the net underneath the fish and lifted it into the boat. The Takedown made easy work of the bass, and we celebrated with grins and high fives all around. The striper pulled down the needle on the scale to a bit over 13 pounds.
SHAKING OFF THE SHAKERS
The bite window this morning was quite short – as quickly as it got going, it ended.
Once the tide turned and started to come back in, we got into some sporadic shaker action, but nothing more. Ian ran a bunch of spots looking for active fish, but we did not find much activity. Still, at the end of the day it was mission accomplished, since Chris was able to check off all of his objectives and experience some Delta striper excitement. CS
Editor’s note: For more on Chris Wegeleben’s custom-made Prolite Rods, check out his website (proliterods.com) and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.