Sac River Striper Run Should Be Strong And Long

The following appears in the April issue of California Sportsman:

Sacramento River guide Dakota Townley (left, with a client) expects the spring striped bass run on the Sacramento and Feather Rivers to last well into June. (DAKOTA TOWNLEY’S GUIDE SERVICE)

By Mark Fong

Each spring brings one of the high points of the NorCal fishing year, the annual striped bass run, when huge schools of linesides flood through the California Delta on the journey to their upriver spawning grounds.

While there are always plenty of fish to be caught in the Delta, historically during big water years, the fishing upriver can be incredible for both numbers and quality of fish. Sacramento River guide Dakota Townley offered up his predictions on this year’s much-anticipated spring striper run.

“I think this will be a fantastic striper season,” says Townley, who has been fishing the Sacramento River for most of his life. In addition to stripers, he guides for wild rainbow trout and shad on the river. During the summer, he offers trips to Whiskeytown Lake for kokanee and for steelhead on the Feather River in the fall.

Townley comes from a fishing family. His grandfather guided on the same waters for over 30 years and Dakota started deckhanding for him when he was just 8 years old. Townley has been a full-time hunting and fishing guide since he got out of high school over a decade ago.

While the bulk of the spring stripers are around perfect eating size at 5 or 6 pounds, fish in the 15-pound range are common, and Townley says his 2023 trips saw 25 fish topping 20 or more. (DAKOTA TOWNLEY’S GUIDE SERVICE)


Townley thinks there will be plenty of fishing opportunities to catch Delta stripers this spring.

“It’s gonna go a little longer than normal; I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes all the way into June. Once we get into June, the fishing might get a little bit spotty, but there will still be plenty of fish in the river to chase,” he says.

“April and May are the prime months; they will be fantastic due to all the water we have from the rain this season. I expect to see a lot of quality stripers in the 5- to 6-pound range, with fish up to 15 pounds not uncommon. The bigger fish are hard to predict, but last year was good water too and we had 25 fish over 20 pounds.”

Townley specializes on the stretch of the Sacramento River from Tisdale upstream to Princeton. Depending on fluctuating water levels, Townley sometimes needs to run 45 minutes to an hour just to get to the fish.

“I have had days when we are catching them upriver, and all of a sudden the river drops 3 feet, and the

next thing I know, I am pointing the boat south and going 25 miles past where we launched,” he says.

Another happy striper angler with her catch. “I love it when my clients, whether they are kids, new fishermen or seasoned pros, just have a great experience fishing,” Townley says. (DAKOTA TOWNLEY’S GUIDE SERVICE)


If conditions on Sacramento are not optimal, Townley, like all good guides, has a backup plan. He has the option to reschedule his trips to the nearby Feather River. Because both rivers can fish differently, he will make his decision to optimize client success.

There are three primary methods that Townley likes to employ to target the bass. “We’ll either anchor up on the inside turns and bait fish if the water is really muddy, drift minnows, or we will throw swimbaits,” he explains.

“Over the years, a lot of people who have fished with me were initially kind of not sure about fishing bait, but then we’ll have a 50- or 60-fish catch- and-release day and everyone kinda changes their tune. When it’s muddy and we’re anchored up, we’ll use a lot of sardines and pile worms, but when the water starts to make the turn from that real chocolate mud into where we start to get some better visibility, then we’ll start to fish minnows. Sometimes when the fish are really schooled up, it’s easy to just drop the anchor and just let people start backing minnows into them. When the water clears up, that’s when we’ll add swimbaits to the mix.”


According to Townley, if you are a fan of fishing with artificials, this should be an excellent year for that specialty. He expects that with this season’s high river levels, the water clarity and temperature will be just about perfect for swimbaiting by the end of April and into May.

Townley loves to see his clients have success and catch fish, but to him, guiding is also about sharing knowledge and teaching people how to fish.

“I love it when my clients, whether they are kids, new fishermen or seasoned pros, just have a great experience fishing,” he says. “It really means a lot for me to be able to provide a good, fun, wholesome outdoor experience for people.” CS

Editor’s notes: Dakota Townley’s Guide Service runs a 23-foot Willie Legend jet sled powered by a Mercury 200-horsepower four-stroke engine. The boat accommodates up to six anglers. All fishing tackle and gear is provided. To learn more, you can follow on or contact him directly at (530) 680-3717.