After weeks of windy weekends, I finally made it to the Racks during a still day. Yesterdays report from Brian and Tim had me “pumped” for the racks. This time of year, the fish are big and fat and ready to spawn. When the racks are good, its non stop action and that’s what it was today. I caught over 30 fish in a couple hours and lost count. I dont think a single one was less than 18 inches. From the moment I arrived at 9:00, the bite was on and all you had to do was to get the fly to depth around the huge schools of American Shad that circle the racks this time of year. The Panoptix showed the fish from 35-15 feet. The bigger fish were below the schools of shad but there were lots of 5-10 lb fish in the sweet 20 ft zone–shorter counts for the impatient! The reservoir is dropping fast and the grates on the racks are only about 30 feet under the water. I had my best luck on the north tower over and around the grates. I think the fish like a fast fly this time of year or at least a very fast acceleration gets their attention. Most fish were hooked on sharp strips right after the fly decelerates although I did get a few on the drop. The hits on the drop are hard to discern from dropping through the Shad. A couple times I set up and lost the fish only to find a scale on the hook. I think the stripers at the racks hang out on the periphery of the schools of shad that circle the racks. One technique that I sometimes use is to drop the fly right in the middle of the shad and let it sink through the school aiming for the middle of the school. When it reaches the school, I can feel the fish swimming and hitting the line and leader. Once it reaches depth, I give a sharp strip and strike upwards. Sometimes I snag a shad but I think that the school of shad reacts to the fly and spook. I think stripers key in on the sudden movement of the school looking for bait. Most of the fish were caught on the edges of the shad schools but also if you wait long enough, below the schools is even better.
I lost of huge fish today letting my fly drop below the school of shad to 40 feet. I hooked it close to the cable right over the racks. Mark Baldwin lost a huge one here that wrapped him on the cable a couple years ago. I hooked the big striper two strips after the 40 foot drop. I couldn’t play the fish by hand because I didn’t have any line in the bucket. I feel like i have more control when I am hand stripping big fish. Even the best drags are unpredictable when fish surge. The beast tore line out of my reel as soon as it was hooked in the worst structure in the lake. For as split second I was contemplating loosening the drag and letting the fish go between the towers out the other side and chase it past the grate. As I was thinking that, it stopped its run and I turned the fish on the reel. I started to back the fish away from the cable and grate and at that moment, the fish took my line over the grate and abraded my nail knot off on the run with a tight line. Looking back at all the mistakes I might have made, maybe I could have had a slightly stronger knot. I think my lines would have been ok around the grate, but I believe the knot hit the edge of the sharp grate and the friction was too much for the 20 lb fluorocarbon. Im am never going to use loops or straight nail knots for stripers ever again- I dont trust them as much as I trust albright knots . After catching tons of diaper stripers over the last year, I was getting lazy about checking my gear occasionally in case I hooked a really big fish. Its been a couple years since I got one over 15 lbs -I didn’t check my knots and I paid the price. From here on, I’m going to be thinking about this lost opportunity and checking gear more carefully. Hopefully I will hook the next one in open water. I think the big fish game at San Luis is a numbers game. Also, they tend to be caught in relatively the same places every season. The water height is a key factor as well. Big fish that stay deep are forced to feed higher in the water column when the level is down. Also I think its a statistical game as well. Catch a large number of fish and eventually the big one comes. Plus as the great Santucci once said, “just dont quit”. There was nothing special about the fly or cast that I made when I hooked the big one. It was just like the 1000 other casts I’ve made to that spot. Brian caught an 18lbr last week because he is out there almost three days a week rain or shine like a clock.
Tomorrow, Im going back out and taking Steph. Stephs boat is out of commision due to an “accident” with a cement pillar.