Written by: Jason Cotta, Fishing Manager of Orvis Roseville
The sun peeked over the horizon as we slid the drift boat into the cool waters of the American River. While daytime temperatures were expected to reach a blazing 107 degrees, the morning air was refreshingly cool and crisp. The American River hosts phenomenal runs of steelhead, salmon, and shad, but we were after the elusive and hard-fighting striped bass that call the river home. It was almost exactly a year before that I had landed a behemoth striper right in the heart of Sacramento. Even though fishing had been fairly slow recently, I had high hopes we would be able to catch a few fish.
For me, this trip was more than just another day on the water. I had the good fortune of being able to fish with two of my very close friends. My buddy Pat was visiting from Rhode Island, where he is in graduate school. While the East Coast has some amazing striper fishing, it seemed to be eluding Pat. His house was a mere 200 yards from the surf, but after 34 trips out, “old line sides” had still evaded him. I was anxious to get Pat into a few West Coast stripers. On the bow of the boat sat another one of my close friends, Burnel, a. k. a. “Big Brother.” At 6-foot-4, Burnel towers over most people, earning him the very fitting nick name. However, he is without a doubt one of the nicest guys you would ever want to meet, and a great stick to boot.
We started the day ripping streamer patterns in eddies and along drop offs. Much to my surprise, the first hour or so of fishing yielded nothing but a single bump. By this time, I thought for sure we would have already hooked into a few fish. We continued making our way down a narrow channel, and I directed Pat to keep casting to the deeper water on our left. Pat had a different idea, and cast to a lone snag in shallow water on the right side of the boat. As soon as I began to open my mouth to comment on his fly placement, I saw Pat’s rod come to life as he hooked up with the first fish of the day.
This fish had some power as Pat’s reel screamed, and the striper ripped off line downstream. After a few oar strokes, we caught up with the fish as it continued to bulldog, and then it headed under the boat. It never ceases to amaze me how much of a bend a hot striper can put into a 9-weight fly rod. Pat nearly had the fish to the boat when it made its last ditch effort run, and to my horror wrapped around a huge snag. I urged pat to cork the rod, and really lay it to the fish. To all of our amazement, Pat managed to horse the fish out of the snag and up to the boat. Pat grinned ear to ear as he hoisted up his first American River striper for a few pictures.
As the sun rose higher the temperature increased accordingly. We continued the day catching a few smaller “schoolie” stripers, and when the thermometer hit 100 headed for the take out. We then loaded up the boat and headed off to Burnel’s secret pizza spot. There we enjoyed a few pitchers, ate pizza until our bellies could handle no more, and reminisced about the day.
American River Striper Fishing
About 25 minutes from the Orvis Store in Roseville, the American River is an extraordinarily versatile fishery that runs right through Sacramento. The river has runs of steelhead, salmon, shad, and striped bass. While there are always stripers in the river, the majority of the fish will generally start showing in the lower river April to May. More fish will move into the river throughout the summer and by August will be fairly spread out. August and September can be the best times to fish for stripers on the American.
While fishing from a boat is optimal for covering water, there are a number of walk-and-wade opportunities. The American River Parkway has over a dozen parking areas and a trail that runs the length of the river. Sunrise, Ancil Hoffman, Watt, and Paradise beach are all great areas to fish for stripers from shore. When heading to the river, be sure to check the flows. 1,500-3,000 cfs is optimal for fishing, and wading can be potentially dangerous when flows hit 4,000 cfs.
Fishing streamers on sinking lines is the best way to catch stripers on the American. Fishing a Depth Charge 250-300 grain line on an 8- or 9-weight rod is a good setup for making long casts and turning over big baitfish patterns. Fly selection is fairly simple, and a handful of Clousers, Deceivers, and Half & Halfs in a variety of colors is all you need for a day of fishing. For terminal tackle, use a 7.5- to 9-foot fluorocarbon leader tapered to 12- to 20-pound test. Be sure to use a loop knot when attaching your fly to give it the most movement possible. Fish can also be caught on topwater poppers early in the morning and late in the evening. When fishing topwater, look for boiling stripers chasing baitfish.
Whether you have a whole day, or an hour after work, the American River is a fantastic fishery right at the fingertips for those living within striking distance of the Sacramento area.
Jason Cotta is the Fishing Manager of Orvis Roseville
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