I'm from Oklahoma, which some people would consider "West." But when you come out to California and fish someplace like the California Delta, you realize that western bass fishing is really a lot different from fishing in the East or in the middle of the country.
The California Delta is where Dee Thomas invented the Flippin' technique back in the late 1960s and early '70s. It evolved from a long pole/no reel technique called tule dipping, and it's probably won more tournaments in the last 40s years than any other method. It's certainly been a key component of several of my wins.
When you come out here to the Delta, you can easily see why Flippin' was developed. You need it to penetrate some of the dense cover here, like tules, cattails, hydrilla and hyacinths. But that only begins to describe the bass fishing scenery.
When I think of the Delta, I think of canals. It's not a delta with lots of natural features like the one in Louisiana. Everything out here is man-made, and the California Delta is 1,000 miles of waterways — canals — coming off the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers (among others).
Before you say that you've fished canals before, know that you haven't fished canals like these. When you're fishing a California Delta canal you're actually above the surrounding terrain, looking down on trees and houses. The surface of the canals is above them, held in place by big levees that have occasionally broken, causing plenty of flooding and destruction.
The first time you come here, it takes a while to get used to fishing above everything else.
Most of the canals are between 10 and 20 feet deep, so that's a lot of water to contain and control. They need every drop because it rarely rains out here and the surrounding farmland is some of the most productive in the entire world. Without irrigation — supplied by the Delta — it would produce almost nothing.
There's also a tremendous amount of riprap here. If I had a commission to get 10 percent of what has been spent on riprap on the Delta, neither I nor anyone else in my family would ever need to work again. There are miles and miles and miles of riprap here, all used to prevent erosion and a levee collapse.
The width of these canals is usually around the width of a four-lane highway. That's not very wide, and the canal straightaway stretches aren't very long, so it can take quite a while to get from Point A to Point B. In fact, from our Elite Series launch site in Sacramento it's going to take at least 90 minutes (one-way) to get to water where you could reasonably catch a winning bag of fish.
The problem is not just the size of the canals. There are also lots of no-wake zones to pass through. Some are marked by official-looking signs that were probably posted by the state, and some look like somebody made them on the kitchen table with some notebook paper and a Sharpie.
Twice a day, a huge fish feeder goes off here. It's called the tide, and it blows in and out to create a 2 or 3 foot swing. When it happens, things usually turn on.
I caught the biggest bass of my life in practice during one of those tide swings. I didn't have a scale and didn't take a picture, but I'm guessing it weighed 13 pounds or more.
I'd sure like to have that one during the tournament.
If I had to guess, I’d say it's going to take catches in the mid-20s each day to be competitive here. That means it could take over 100 pounds to win. That's what I'll be gunning for, anyway.
All I know for sure is that the California Delta is like no place else on the face of the Earth that I've ever fished.