Stripers on the Bank

November 10, 2023   After receiving enthusiastic reports from Frank yesterday, in which he vividly described the spectacle of Striper boils scattered throughout the lake, accompanied by a frenzy of birds working large schools of bait while stripers relentlessly attacked write at the boat ramp. I simply couldn’t contain my excitement. My original plan to tie flies and pack for a week-long adventure to Christmas Island, starting this Monday, had to be momentarily set aside. I felt an irresistible urge to head out one more time before embarking on my Christmas Island journey. Coincidentally, Ken Oda and Mark Won, both eager to recreate their recent successful outings, were on the same wavelength. Thus, we all gathered at the Forebay early this morning, hoping to witness the Forebay teeming with fish in a boiling frenzy.

The day unfolded largely according to our expectations, except for the conspicuous absence of the lake covered in boiling stripers. Nevertheless, the day turned out to be quite remarkable, even though surface action was somewhat limited due to the reduced flow from the Mendota Canal. The three of us managed to land over 100 stripers, and most of them were substantial specimens, ranging from 4 to 8 pounds in weight. Mark, Ken, and I strategically spread out across the western end of the forebay, and it became evident that both sides of the flats consistently yielded numbers of stripers actively pursuing scattered prey. Mark and Ken, equipped with their float tubes, noted a consistent ebb and flow of fish in their vicinity. At one point, Ken landed a remarkable 18 fish from a single location fishing from his tube. Mark, on the other hand, stumbled upon that elusive school of large fish lurking in front of the campground, the same area where Dan and I had a memorable encounter a couple of days ago, with Dan managing to land two impressive 8-pounders.

As for me, I stumbled upon a massive congregation of fish huddled against the shoreline, seemingly fixated on the abundant bait pushed up against the reeds in just 4 feet of water. Employing a T11 line with a non-weighted fly, I was able to engage with fish feeding right at the water’s edge all day long. Interestingly, all the fish I managed to catch today were cruising at depths ranging from 4 to 6 feet. By the end of the day, my tally stood at 43 fish caught when the my SD cards filled up and stopped recording.

Frank teamed up with Mike Baisden for a day of striper fishing.  Frank took a scouting trip to the 152 Channel and reported seeing some schools of fish there though they were hard to feed.   He eventually returned to our location on the east side to join in the action with the actively feeding fish. It appears that the concentration of baitfish is primarily on the east side, near the sources of the current, including the area around 12 o’clock and the powerhouse.  In total, Frank and Mike had a commendable haul, landing 28 fish during their outing.

Frank excitedly recounted a thrilling encounter from the previous day when he witnessed a colossal bait ball with diving birds  inside the cable at the powerhouse. Unfortunately, they were beyond fly casting range, but he could unmistakably spot massive stripers amidst the unreachable commotion. Intrigued by his story, I ventured over to the powerhouse later in the afternoon, only to find that the water flow from the powerhouse had significantly diminished. Undeterred, I decided to fish in the tail end of the current and, surprisingly, my luck took a turn for the better when I received a call from an old friend from dental school whom I hadn’t spoken to in years. As we chatted, I managed to hook two nice stripers  blind casting the shoreline at  the end of the day.

Contrary to the prevailing notion that the lake and Forebay have been in a state of decline since the late 80s, marred by poachers and bait fishermen, I find myself in complete disagreement with that sentiment. I can’t help but harken back to the days when I used to fish alongside Len Bearden, which were far from the bleak image painted by these narratives. Moreover, I’ve noticed that the delta has yielded seemingly more  big fish in recent times. One only needs to peruse Bryce Tedford and Mike Costello’s Instagram accounts to witness the regular capture of large fish almost every week.

Steph sent me this pic he found of a sturgeon caught in the main lake that looks about 6 feet long which makes it about 25 years old.   It was most likely pumped into the lake before the screens were put up at the Jones Pumping Plant that supplies water from the Delta to San Luis.  The facility was constructed from 1947 to 1951, and is named after C.W. “Bill” Jones, who served as president of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority for 20 years.


In the past, I used to believe that the substantial big fish in the forebay and lake primarily originated from the delta. It seemed that when screening of salmon was improved in the 90s to better prevent salmon from being pumped into the water system, it had a detrimental impact on the populations of large fish in both the forebay and lake. However, over the last decade, fly fishermen have undeniably experienced an uptick in both the quantity and size of the fish caught on flies.   In comparison to the trends observed 10 to 20 years ago. Perhaps the reason we encounter fewer colossal fish is due to the over abundance of school size fish, typically ranging from 12 to 20 inches. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that trollers like Rodger George and Meng Xiong continue to troll catch and release sizable specimens. Additionally, I’m personally acquainted with numerous anglers who have been part of the fishing community for over 30 years, and they’ve achieved their personal best catches of stripers in the lake and Forebay within the last couple of years.

My personal theory revolves around the management of water resources and its significant impact on the system’s overall health. It appears that the flow rates and maintaining higher water levels in both the lake and Forebay for eight consecutive years have played a pivotal role. This management approach is closely intertwined with the effects of climate change, and it appears that the big fish in the system are now homegrown, as opposed to being introduced through external means. Growing a 20-pound striper, for instance, takes approximately eight years. Consequently, the state of the San Luis impoundments can be described as nothing short of exceptional.

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