Exploring the Delta

John Sherman holds a quality Delta bass.

John Sherman holds a quality Delta bass.

Take a Trip with Simms’ John Sherman and See What the Sacramento Delta is All About.

Spring is here and while many of us wait for runoff to settle out, California based anglers take advantage of one of the best bass fisheries in the country. With over 1,200 navigable miles of water, the Delta is a giant tidal estuary upstream and inland of San Francisco Bay offering outstanding opportunities for largemouth, smallmouth and striped bass. With so much water to explore and the puzzling science of tides to contend with, the Delta can be a challenge to say the least. Since 2002, John Sherman of Simms has called the Delta his home water. Here, he shares a few tips and a bit of intel he’s gained since moving to Discovery Bay right on the banks of the South Delta.

According to Sherman, historically, the Delta was a giant marshland peppered with grizzly bears hunting Tule elk, steelhead and salmon. After the gold rush in the late 1800s, the Delta was channelized for flood protection which in turn exposed some of the most fertile farmland on the planet. Take a look at an aerial image of the Delta today and you’ll see a maze of sloughs, rivers, flooded orchards, lakes and marshes. “There is a steep learning curve to the Delta.” says Sherman. “I’ve heard other anglers compare it to the Big Leagues in Baseball and Augusta in golf circles. It isn’t easy, but it’s highly rewarding. There is no substitute for experience which is why hiring a guide can change everything.” The labyrinth-like layout of the Delta is definitely intimidating but in Sherman’s mind, there are four key elements to consider when it comes to a successful day on the Delta.

  1. Become One with the Tides: New anglers to the Delta really struggle with the concept of tidal fishing and one of the big misses that many anglers make is picking one tide station to monitor the entire Delta. Delta tides vary greatly. For example, from one spot in the West Delta to another spot in the South Delta, tides can differentiate by over four hours. So, working off of the right tide station really becomes important. Once you understand what the tide is doing, you then need to understand the elevation of the tide. Not all tides are created equal. I use an iPhone App called FishHead to help dial me in.
  2. Get Shallow: Many Delta fly anglers target water depths of eight feet and over as their starting depth and work deeper from there. The Delta is home to so much shallow water and many of the largest fish can be found in less than four feet of water.
  3. Explore: it’s easy to find a few “hot spots” and consistently hit them but because the Delta has a virtually endless amount of water, make a point of going outside your comfort zone and try new places and techniques.
  4. Cast with Purpose: Work on your casting with integrated shooting head fly lines. In a lot of trout environments you can be an amazing angler and never cast more than 30 feet. That’s not the case in the Delta. Being proficient at distance is one of the keys to fishing out here and hopefully it goes without saying, accurate presentations are a must.

It’s really hard to compare the Delta to other great bass fisheries because it really is so unique. “The size of the estuary, tides and the size of fish really make it unique.” says Sherman. “The Delta grows giant bass and while there are places that have larger top end fish, Delta based tournaments often take a bag of over 30 pounds to win and bags of 40+ pounds are not uncommon.”

While Sherman explores the Delta with fly gear most often, he has become aquainted with plenty of gear anglers from whom he’s adopted a few techniques. “I’ve learned a ton from gear guys. For example, Simms pro, Bobby Barrack has really expanded my view of the Delta. Understanding how a lure move and why fish eat them has led to the evolution of some Delta specific fly patterns. Charlie’s Bisharat’s Pole Dancer and BishaRat flies have given fly anglers the ability to “walk-the-dog” like many topwater lures. To my knowledge, up until these patterns were developed, that side-to-side walking motion was not attainable with a fly. There’s also Kevin Doran’s KDM Rat which slithers over Delta matts like a lure called a Snag Proof Frog. That’s just another example of taking a popular Delta bass lure and figuring out a way to get that same imitation in the form of a fly.”

In addition to getting the gears of fly design turning, Sherman has also admired and implemented how gear anglers minimize rigging time on the water. “I’ve had the privilege to fish with a number of top gear anglers on the Delta have come to the conclusion there is no better boat for the Delta than a bass boat. The speed, range and fishing platform is second to none and now that I own one, I have up to 13 fly rods rigged and ready at a moments notice.”

If you’ve ever fished the Delta, you already know how special and diverse this fishery truly is. If you haven’t, it’s definitely one that’s worth checking out for a few days. The quality of fish in the Delta and the challenge associated with catching them provides a perfect location for bass tournaments. In fact, according to Sherman, there are more bass tournaments on the Delta than any other body of water on the globe. For that reason, the Delta does receive a good amount of pressure — however, because it’s such a giant fishery, it never feels crowded and you can always find solitude if you’re willing to explore.

Stay tuned to facebook.com/simmsfishing for the release of a 3 part series featuring John Sherman and the work of Beattie Outdoor Productions.