CALIFORNIA AQUEDUCT FEATURE -- bennett-ons 19apr05
By MIKE BENNETT, Outdoor News Service
TAFT -- The word was out. A crowd of 25 anglers had staked out fishing beats along a short stretch of the California Aqueduct near this small, southern San Joaquin valley town as three of us rolled up. Before the dust settled, I could see all of them were hooked up and fighting striped bass.
All of them.
Eddie Meyer, Chino, holds up a typical California Aqueduct striper caught near Taft while "worm walking," a new technique that can net diligent anglers up to 200 fish caught and released in a day.
One angler let a fish go, adjusted his nightcrawler, cast out again, and set hook on another fish before his bait hit the bottom. The sight set off a Chinese fire drill. The three of us were bumping into each other as we scrambled to get our fishing gear and rig up, rushing to get in on the action. But there was no need to hurry. The bite was good all day and has been good almost every day for a month.
Skilled anglers are catching and releasing 100 to 200 stripers from a pound to four pounds each trip, providing they have enough bait, and even the rank novice can show up here and catch 20 or more fish a day.
Not too many bites excite Clay Rutledge, owner of Bob's Bait Bucket in nearby Bakersfield, but this one gets his blood pumping.
"In the 30 years I've owned this shop, I have never seen a striper bite like this. They're in an absolute frenzy right now. I am ordering triple the number of bloodworms and lugworms," said Rutledge this week. And the action has spawned a whole new fishing technique.
Until last season most anglers used 20-pound line and four-ounce weights to get their bait to sit in the middle of the aqueduct. Since the aqueduct is cement lined and the current heavy, most weights will roll along the bottom and wash up the slanted side walls. It took a chunk of lead to keep the bait out there were the fish were cruising.
But over the past year, anglers fishing the aqueduct have come up with a new technique they call "Worm Walking."
The simple technique is to cast your bait up current and let it sink the 15 to 25 feet down to the bottom of the aqueduct with a only a quarter- to half-ounce split-shot or egg weight, depending on flow. If your bait does not reach the bottom by the time the bait is directly in front of you, add more weight until it does, but it shouldn't take more than a half-ounce. Once the bait is rolling along the bottom and is directly in front of you, start walking at the same pace the bait is moving down the aqueduct. Keeping pace with your bait and keeping the rod tip in a direct straight line with the bait will keep it perfectly in the center of the aqueduct or in line with where ever you cast.
Worm Walking allows for the use of lighter gear, and it gives the bait a deadly, natural presentation as you slowly walk the aqueduct.
The top bait on this rig has been a two-inch piece of bloodworm or lugworm (which looks just like a bloodworm, but costs half as much) threaded up the shank of a size No. 2 single hook. These worms are expensive (bloodworms are about 70 cents each) so only use an inch or two each time you bait up. With the bloodworm firmly threaded on the shank of the hook, take half a nightcrawler and impale it so the nightcrawler hangs straight off the back of the hook. This makes the combo bait look like a single worm, but the bloodworm piece can be reused for a few fish.
There are rumors that stripers will jump out of the aqueduct to get at a carton of bloodworms, but it is the bloodworm/lugworm scent that makes this rig so attractive. A nightcrawler alone, or one of the other popular baits -- anchovies, whole or chunked shad, or chicken liver -- simply aren't as effective.
The other hot method for catching stripers, and frequently bigger stripers, is ripping shad-patterned Rat-L-Traps or Lucky Craft lipless crankbaits, with the half-ounce models used most. A 3/4-ounce version is used in heavy current. Cast the lure upstream and as far across the aqueduct as you can. Let the lure sink all the way to the bottom. Once the lure has completely stopped sinking, rip the bait back to you at a high speed and pump the rod tip during the retrieval to give the bait an erratic movement.
The stripers entered the aqueduct system originally through the California delta from the ocean. Spawning successfully in the moving water, they now inhabit every mile of the aqueduct from the delta all the way to its end at Lake Silverwood. The striped bass limit throughout the aqueduct is now two fish over 18 inches long. In the past, there were varying regulations from Kern County south, sometimes no limit at all.
Four years ago, a central valley striper club petitioned the Department of Fish and Game have the limit changed so they were uniform throughout the aqueduct system.
"This is the third year of the two-fish, 18-inch limit, and we think that these are the first year's spawn. This could be the beginning of something phenomenal," said Rutledge.
There are over 30 miles of aqueduct from the Interstate 5-Highway 99 split west to Taft and then northeast back to the little town of Tupman. However, the best action in this region is near Taft on a two-mile stretch of aqueduct from the Buena Vista Lakes to a half-mile past the flood barrier, which is just west of Buena Vista golf course.
To reach this spot, take the Interstate 5 north past the split with Highway 99 and exit on state route 119 (Taft Highway). Travel west on 119 to Golf Course Road. Go south on Golf Course Road and continue past Buena Vista Lakes and past the golf course about a quarter mile. On the south side of the road is a big dirt parking lot with gated access to the aqueduct. There is a big, swirly pool right at the flood control station which attracts a lot of anglers, but there is good fishing down-current for at least a half-mile through two S-curves in the aqueduct.
"Last year the bite picked up in April and stayed hot through June," said aqueduct striper specialist Jim Anderson of Bakersfield "I don't see this striper bite slowing down for a long time, and I think in another two years the average fish in this stretch will be five to seven pounds."
CALIFORNIA AQUEDUCT -- JIM ANDERSON SIDEBAR -- bennett-ons 19apr05
By MIKE BENNETT Outdoor News Service TAFT --
Jim Anderson is a striper hunter.
The 54-year-old oil field technician has lived in the Bakersfield area for over 30 years, and he has hunted the big stripers in the California aqueduct for over two decades. Unlike other anglers who are happy with the plenitude of two pounders, he targets only big stripers from 10 to 50 pounds.
During a five-day span in February this year, Anderson landed nine fish from 20 pounds to 41-pounds, two-ounces. He lost a lot more.
"When the big fish move into an area, they will feed in that area every morning and at nightfall as long as the food source stays," said Anderson.
"This isn't like regular river fishing or largemouth fishing. There are very few if any spots that constantly hold big fish with any type of pattern or regularity, so I find the areas that constantly hold shad. Just because a spot produces three big fish in an evening, the only guarantee is that the fish won't be there tomorrow evening if the shad have moved or been pushed from an area."
As for his epic week-long assault on big fish, he says it was easy.
"I knew the big fish were looking to spawn soon and would be beefing up for the event. The rains had caused an area next to the aqueduct to flood and all the runoff was flowing into a channel and into the aqueduct in a spot that normally doesn't produce fish," said Anderson.
"The water was pouring in so I stopped and watched for a minute and what I saw amazed me. I don't know where they all came from, but the water rushing in was alive with some type of larvae less than a 1/4-inch long. There were literally millions of them, and American shad from one to three pounds had moved in to feast," said Anderson.
"I'm glad it rained for a week because that kept the shad right there, morning and night. Within a few days the big fish were cruising in packs and pushing shad literally out of the water once they had pinned them against the wall of the aqueduct. Every evening it looked like a war zone with cannonball splashes and fleeing shad. I would hook three to five big fish and would only land one or two. The rest of them shook off or broke me off in a second -- on 20-pound line," said Anderson.
Anderson said that the minute that water stopped pouring into the aqueduct at that spot, the shad scattered. So did the big stripers. He did land one more fish at the spot, but he found another big fish five miles away a week later.
"Those shad are always moving and so am I. In my last 15 trips I haven't fished the same place twice. There are tons of shad in the aqueduct, and they love to get in humongous schools up to a 1/8-mile long. When I find that school I will catch another 20 stripers over 20-0 in a day or two. Problem is finding that golden 1/8-mile stretch in over 100 miles of cement river takes time and practice. Lots of time and practice," said Anderson. "Oh yeah and about 25 pounds worth of one-ounce Rat-L-Traps. So far." Clay Rutledge, who owns Bob's Bait Bucket in Bakersfield, said that Anderson was simply amazing.
"The biggest striper I have seen from the aqueduct was a 49-pounder he landed just last year. He [Anderson] just kept bringing in pictures of big fish he'd caught and released from the day or evening before. That went on for three days straight," said Rutledge.
"I got to the point where I spent more time looking out the window near the end of the day waiting for him to pull up than anything else. I just expected him to stop his truck, reach in the back and grab two 60-pound class stripers. It didn't happen, but four stripers over 30 pounds in five days isn't that bad either.
"Shoot, if you ask him, he will tell you stories about all the stripers that were twice as big as that 40-pounder [caught in February]. All I know is this guy goes through over a mile of 20-pound line a week," said Rutledge. "The best days are when he comes in with an empty reel clutched in his still-shaking hands, and he has this confused, pale look on his face. I turn off the television because I know I'm about to hear one hell of a story."
Jeff "Jesse" James - Owner of Jesse's Hunting & Outdoors
You can always tell who's in 2nd place by who's whining and crying the most. - Old hockey coach.
Dum spiramus tuebimur
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I think im gonna have to head out that way. Also maybe stop by at Lake Isabella and do some crappie damage.
May the light shine upon you & the fog lie beneath your feet
its been awhile since i've caught anything out in the aqueducts. going out to three rocks to see if there is any action there.
usually, i hang out in the Lemoore aqueducts. havent had action there in the longest time.
Where is the best place to fish the aqueduct in S. Calif.?