Swimbaits For NorCal Stripers

By Mark Fong 

For striped bass aficionados, spring cannot come quickly enough. In time the California Delta and its tributary rivers will be teeming with striped bass.

“Spring is when our fish will come up from the bays through the Delta and head up either the American, Feather or Sacramento (Rivers) to spawn,” explains Capt. Manuel Saldana Jr. of MSJ Guide Service (530-301-7455). “Last year we had a wet winter, and this year it looks like we are gonna have an even wetter winter.” 

“Every time we get a good flush of water, it brings in new fish from the bay. These fish are triggered by the fresh water coming in, so I am expecting to have another outstanding striped bass season, just like we did last year. It was lights out and I think we are gonna have a repeat of that this year. If we have water, we have fish.”

There are many ways to fish for stripers, from trolling minnow plugs to soaking cut bait and drifting with live minnows. All are effective strategies that account for their share of fish. While Saldana is well versed in all of the aforementioned techniques, he enjoys putting his clients on a hot swimbait bite.

Swimbaits like Big Bad Bubba Shad plastics have the kind of rolling action when fished attract stripers. Adding some scent to the bait will also help attract hungry fish. (MSJ GUIDE SERVICE)


“One of my most productive and consistent ways to fish stripers is with a swimbait,” says Saldana. “I use the AA Bad Bubba Shad. The two sizes I particularly like to use are the 4-inch and the 5-inch. The plastic is very soft and the tail puts out a lot of vibration in the water, so you don’t have to crank them fast. The tail has a strong kick and the body has a nice rolling motion. They are very realistic, have a great profile and a textured scale pattern. I like to use Pro-Cure Super Gel Scent (shad, garlic, crawfish) and the texture holds the scent better than a smooth surface.”

Like many striped bass anglers, Saldana likes pearl white for his swimbaits, but he also has a more extensive list of colors that he relies on as well. Pearl with a chartreuse tail, shad, sexy shad, gumba shad, sexy gumba, ghost shad, ghost minnow and sardine are staples in his tackle box.

Saldana rigs the Bad Bubba Shad with a homemade shad-style jighead that he pours himself. This allows him the flexibility to create the hook and weight combinations that he needs to match different conditions. Saldana’s standard is a ½-ounce head with a 5/0 heavy-wire hook, but he always has plenty of different heads on hand ranging from ¼ to ¾ ounce. To achieve the proper swimming action it is very important to rig the swimbait so that the hook comes out right in the center of the back.

Saldana’s gear choices are simple and can easily be researched on site like reelchase.com. He offers his clients the choice between spinning and conventional tackle, equipping them with heavy-action 7-foot, 3-inch to 7-foot, 9-inch Cousins Tackle Raze Series rod fished in combination with 30-pound Yo-Zuri Super Braid connected to a 3-foot length of 15-pound fluorocarbon Yo-Zuri Top Knot leader.



Striped bass are very current- and temperature-sensitive. 

“Once they (striped bass) find water temperatures in the low- to mid-60s they will spawn. With the more water released, it’s going to keep the temps cooler, which not only can extend the run but also will also determine where the fish will be,” Saldana says.

“If these fish find the right temperature right around downtown Sacramento, that’s where you are gonna have most of your action. In normal water years Colusa is such a good area because that is usually where that magic temperature happens.” 

Further west and closer to the ocean, the daily tidal movements impact the Delta. 

“You have to remember that stripers are lazy,” says Saldana. “They want to hang out where it is nice and easy, where the bait will come to them. I like openings to flooded islands where the water can come in and out. On the incoming tide the bait will be pushed inside of that pocket so you go to the backside and cast the swimbait into the mouth, because the stripers are waiting for the tide to push the bait inside. On the outgoing tide you fish the opposite side.”

The longtime guide adds that on the river the bass prefer to push the bait right up against the bank, sandbar or weed line. 

“This is especially true during the early morning or evening. As the sun gets higher, the fish will retreat from the very edge to the bottom of the river,” he says. “When this happens I tell my clients to count the swimbait down so that it runs closer to the bottom. Putting the bait in the strike zone is very important.”

Saldana is anticipating another strong season of striper fishing. So if you are a striped bass fanatic, it’s not too soon to start planning. It’s time to respool your reels with fresh line, sharpen your hooks and take inventory of your tackle. If you have never fished with swimbaits, perhaps it’s time you give it a try. CS

Editor’s note: Like MSJ Guide Service at facebook.com/MSJfishingguideservice. To learn more about the AA Bad Bubba Shad swimbait, please visit optimumbaits.com. This story was written and published prior to the Oroville Dam Spillway incident.