A Tale of Four Fishermen…

This is a tale of four seasoned striper fishermen fishing  the O’Neill Forebay on 4 separate days in a week.  Their outcomes varied dramatically, reflecting the impact of social media and our extensive network of fishing reports which allowed us to gather a wealth of up-to-date information about fishing conditions at San Luis Reservoir and O’Neill Forebay.  Successfully predicting favorable fishing days in these waters requires a multifaceted skill set, encompassing factors like weather, water levels, current data, pumping information, and knowledge of Striped Bass Biology.

I recently attended a continuing education seminar centered on the role of AI in healthcare diagnosis and treatment. The conference underscored the idea that as more data is collected, AI becomes increasingly adept at identifying patterns and outperforming the average doctor. This burgeoning field is known as Medical Informatics, dedicated to harnessing biomedical data, information, and knowledge to enhance scientific inquiry, problem-solving, and decision-making, all aimed at improving human health. Imagine applying a similar data-driven approach to optimize fishing experiences at the lake and forebay, utilizing readily accessible information from the internet and angler contacts.

Throughout my many years of fishing at the forebay, I’ve witnessed fluctuations in fishing conditions, ranging from sudden changes to slower, more predictable trends influenced by lunar phases and wind conditions. However, the events of these four days were exceptionally unpredictable, despite my consistent fishing location within the Forebay.  It is possible to go from Zero to Hero in only one day which changes my expectations fishing these water from here on.

On Friday, it seemed impossible to get a single bite. Yet, the following day, Ken Oda reeled in his personal best forebay striper and eight more fish in the same area. Then, on Sunday, Mark Won landed over 20 fish in just half a day, with fish actively chasing bait throughout. Today, three days after Mark’s triumphant outing, my fishing companion Dan and I managed to catch 25 fish while observing large stripers feasting on bait when the winds subsided.

Today’s fishing experience was particularly remarkable, primarily due to the thrill of watching birds diving to catch bait and schools of fish aggressively pursuing their prey. In the calm waters of the morning, I spotted schools of stripers creating wakes as they hunted for bait. In addition to the occasional bird blitz, there were numerous subtle signs of fish activity that I might have disregarded had I not been on an elevated platform searching for the telltale boil. Several times today, I hurried to spots just 100 feet away, only to discover that the birds had moved on, but the fish remained beneath the surface. It proved challenging to target these boils effectively with two anglers onboard.

The key to success in these situations is to land hooked fish as quickly as possible and return the fly to the frenzy promptly, minimizing false casts and delivering long, accurate casts to the periphery of the boil. When fish are aggressively attacking flies, the catch rate is directly proportional to the time the fly spends in the water.

Although the fish were on the move today, they seemed to congregate in the flats around check 12. Numerous boats worked these flats in the morning, all enjoying fruitful catches before departing as the wind picked up around noon. We persevered until 2:00, hoping for a lull and the return of boiling fish in the flats, and our patience was rewarded as we found ourselves alone in the area, with fish breaking the surface around us.

Throughout the day, Dan relied on a substantial 4-inch fly, resulting in the capture of the largest pair of fish—two hefty 25-inch specimens. I cleaned them, revealing a bounty of three-inch Threadfin Shad, a pair of Delta Smelts, and a four-inch fingerling Striped Bass within their stomachs. The presence of this fingerling reinforces the idea that stripers are indeed spawning in the Mendota Canal and O’Neill Forebay with evidence vs speculation. You don’t catch four-inch stripers on flies, and this particular one, discovered inside an eight-pound striper, is the smallest striper I’ve ever encountered in the Forebay. I’ve always believed they were spawning locally in the forebay and lake although many have argued otherwise based on hunches.

I usually associate ample current at check 12 with boiling stripers, but today, our search along the channel’s edges for fish in water deeper than eight feet proved fruitless. Despite the light rain the previous night, there was minimal current, and the fish were congregating in the flats, corralling bait into weedbeds and pushing them to the surface, where they were mercilessly attacked. We concluded the day by drifting across the flats and blind casting, which yielded half a dozen more impressive catches before we departed the lake at 4:30.

Next on the agenda is an adventure targeting bonefish and GTs in Christmas Island for the next couple of weeks. It will be intriguing to see whether the two years of reduced fishing activity due to Covid have had a positive impact on the fishing conditions. I’m aware that Frank and others will be out tomorrow, and perhaps I’ll have the opportunity for one more outing before the upcoming Monday.

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