Delta healthier than ever before

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — John Murray remembers when a 3-pound average would commonly win bass tournaments in the California Delta. It took a 4-pound-plus average to make the top 15 on Day 1 of the Sacramento Bassmaster Elite Tournament Thursday.

“Now it takes a 7-pound average some days,” said Murray, who started fishing The Delta in the early 1990s. “It’s not that it happens every day, but the possibility is out there. It wasn’t even out there back in the day.”

Chris Zaldain, of course, had the show-stoppers Thursday with a 12-pound bass anchoring a 30-pound, 7-ounce five-bass limit – in other words, a 6-pound average.

So why has this bass fishery improved so much over the past 25 years?

According to California native Ish Monroe, there are several factors working in this dynamic: 1) Florida strain largemouth bass, 2) improved water quality within the constantly moving tidal system, and 3) the increase in aquatic vegetation – of several varieties, but primarily hydrilla and hyacinths.

“The Delta is just a very healthy fishery,” said Monroe, who had a very healthy day with his 7th-place total of 22-2.

The tide, which varies normally about 3 to 4 feet from high to low, adds another unique characteristic to The Delta besides creating nearly constantly moving water.

“We don’t have those giant tides like they do on the Delaware River,” Monroe said. “When the tide is low, those eggs on a spawning bed are still covered with water.”

J Todd Tucker, who is 24th with 18-14, saw something Thursday that he’d never seen before in his travels across the country to fish bass tournaments – huge clouds of freshly hatched bass.

“I’ve never seen packs of bass fry as big as the ones here,” he said. “Some of them were as big as my boat.”
That’s now normal in The Delta, according to Justin Lucas, who grew up in this area of the state. Lucas is in 8th place with 21-13.

“They’ve had a tremendous spawn,” he said. “But it’s not unusual now because there is just so much cover where those fish can hide.”

Monroe pointed out another factor in favor of young bass survival. There are plenty of other menu choices other than bass fry for the predator fish in The Delta.

“There are tons of shad and various minnows, more crawfish than you can shake a stick at and bluegill like you’ve never seen before in your life,” he said.

Monroe is focusing on imitating bluegill at this particular time of year, when both bass and bluegill are spawning.

“Bluegill are eating eggs off the (bass) beds,” Monroe said. “And as soon as the bass come off the spawning beds, they’re chasing the bluegill that are on their spawning beds now. Bluegill are definitely the way to go right now.”