Funky Cold Stripers


December 2, 2023 Saturday  -It’s been five days since I last fished at the Forebay, and I was eagerly looking forward to another exciting and challenging day on the water. The reports from the lake were promising, with Vaughn, Steph, and Brian all showing enthusiasm for the big water.    On the contrary, I was hoping to turn around a challenging day like the one I had last week into an epic one at the Forebay. All it takes on the Forebay to trigger a hot bite is a bit of current coming in from check 12, and that can happen at any moment.

I arrived at the launch area as the 14th boat, and once again, there were fish actively feeding around the launch site. I struck up a conversation with a father and son whom I had met a couple of years earlier. They were busy catching minnows off the dock and using spinning gear to cast them out. I watched in amazement as the father reeled in a 20-incher off the ramp, and they graciously allowed me to take some pictures of their bait.

The minnows in their bucket were threadfin shad, slightly smaller than the ones I saw last week, and they also had some larger American Shad. I hung around the launch, observing them casting at boils, and scanned the horizon for any signs of working birds, but unfortunately, there were no birds in sight on the Forebay today.

Eventually, I decided to revisit the spots where I had success last week. I found some good-sized fish in small schools, but they seemed content sitting on the bottom without much movement. After trying various flies and different sink rate lines with no success, it became clear that they were simply ignoring my offerings. So, I made the decision to head over to the Big Lake and join Steph and Vaughn.

I launched my boat around noon at Dino Point and made my way straight to the Bay of Pigs, where Steph had already caught seven fish in the morning. With the water levels much  lower,  I opted to fish the West side of the Bay of Pigs. At the current water level, there was plenty of structure and contour along the shoreline, which proved to be a fruitful choice. I managed to hook into some impressive fish while working the shoreline and casting toward the bank.

I noticed that the fish were unusually lethargic today. None of the strikes were aggressive, and it required slow retrieves and a patient approach near the bottom to entice them. I kept two nice fish for dinner and decided to examine their stomach contents. To my surprise, I found a large crayfish, some one-inch smelt, and some one-inch grass shrimp – no large threadfin shad as I had expected. It appeared that the minnows were becoming scarce, and the fish I caught were looking for easy, opportunistic meals. I was using a three-inch fly that didn’t resemble anything in their stomachs, but they must have struck it because it represented an easy meal in a dwindling minnow environment.

In water temperatures in the low 50s, stripers tend to stay close to the bottom and won’t actively chase bait unless it’s presented right in front of them and retrieved slowly. This observation held true in the Bay of Pigs, where I found all my fish today. I also tried fishing near the Guardrail with no success or sonar readings. I concluded my day around 3:30 by Livescoping around the Trash Racks, where there were plenty of fish, albeit 70-150 feet down around the racks.

I also have a suspicion that water is being pumped out of the lake at a fairly brisk rate. Although I checked the 152 channel in the forebay for current today, surprisingly, there wasn’t any noticeable current. It’s possible they might be pumping water out from the other end of the lake or during nighttime hours. In contrast, Calero Reservoir, which is fed by San Luis, is currently at peak capacity.

The presence of deep fish around the racks also suggests that the Stripers are hunkering down and reducing their metabolism. In previous years, I’ve observed them congregating in large schools in the deepest parts of the forebay, but that phenomenon hasn’t occurred yet this season. Traditionally, I’ve had success in the cold by fishing slowly and stripping the fly right off the bottom along the dam, so I may go back to that technique next time I’m out.

After yesterday’s heartbreaking defeat of the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-10 Championship game, I found myself in a persistently low mood that I couldn’t shake last night. It’s a scenario that’s repeated itself many times in the past – Oregon reaches championship games only to lose, even when they are favored. Oregon just can’t seem to clinch a National Championship victory. Thankfully, the fishing provided a welcome distraction and was both enjoyable and productive. I managed to end the day with eight very impressive fish in the lake, all caught between noon and 3:00 pm. Despite finding fish in the forebay in the morning, I came up empty-handed there.

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