I was excited to get our first chance to talk to someone about the famous California Delta. Charles Cornelison is an accomplished tournament and recreational angler who fishes the Delta regularly for bass. Here is what Charles had to say about how he approaches catching bass on the Delta.
How long have you been fishing the California Delta?
I have been fishing the California Delta since I was about 16 years old. Currently I have fished out there off and on for 16 years. I have tournaments on other surrounding lakes in my area on the regular also. However when I am not practicing elsewhere, I like to get out there at least once a week
Describe the California Delta from a bass fishing perspective for someone that has never been there. What makes it special?
The Delta is a vast fishery! 1000’s of miles of waterways and there is a place out there for every bass fishing technique known to work. The reason is there are rockpiles, ledges, many types of vegetation from hydrilla to floating types like Pennywart and Hyacynth, Tule’s line the edges in most areas for miles, points, flats…you name it. There is something literally for everyone if you take the time to find it.
However, it can test your ability as everything looks fantastic to fish. It takes a lot of time on the water here to pick out the cover that best holds these tidal fish.
Everything looks fishable, but these fish are different. They constantly adapt to the fluctuating water levels of the tide pulling in and out daily. A rule of thumb here is tide out fish out and tide in fish in. However knowing when to make an adjustment to this rule can reward you with some catches of a lifetime.
Over the time you have been fishing it, how has the Delta changed?
The one issue we are having with the Delta is that our government is spraying to kill invasive species of weeds, which kills fish, bass included. Tournament weights have gone down considerably over the years. In the past, it used to take 5 black bass for 30 pounds to win. Most tournaments over the past few years take 21 to 25 pounds to win in a 100 boat field. But only one angler will normally find that size of sack.
Patterns haven’t changed much here. These fish will eat most anything they can get their mouth on if presented at the correct time. Meaning tides influence their feeding patterns considerably. Birds, frogs, river rats, craws, it’s all fair game to these giant tidal bass. And they can be caught throwing some huge baits.
Some guys will be rewarded chucking 12″ wake rats even. And others can be rewarded punchin heavy cover with 1.5 to 2 ounce tunsten wieghts and a creature bait on 50 plus pound braid.
What do you consider a good 5 fish limit on the Delta?
30 pounds is a great bag here although rarely seen any longer. Currently I have had many personal bags over 25 but my best was 27 pounds for 5. The best part was it was using my favorite technique, punchin’.
The Delta is a big area. Do you run and gun on the Delta or do you stick to certain areas and pick them a part?
Correct, the Delta is huge! You can usually get on a pattern and run it in different areas. If the tide is outgoing I will strategize my timing in each spot and keep my mind on where these fish will position. Normally when you find a large fish like lets say a 5 pounder, they like to hang out with other 5 pounders here. There will usually be a few of them in a 100 yard stretch or in some cases you could find 10 of them in one Floating mat 10 feet by 20 feet in size.
I will start at lets say Franks Tract for example and run within 1 hour tide increments down river to catch the same tide level farther from the main Sacramento river that feeds the Ocean. This helps me stay on the fish because most of the time they will position themselves in an easy to catch zone at the same tide in another area.
The thing to remember is if the tide is almost out at Franks Tract and if you want to stay on moving water you can run 25 miles either down Old River or down the San Joaquin River and still have 2 hours of out going tide and moving water. So if I get on a good punch mat, I will stay there and break it down, If they are on weedy points I will run weedy points and stay on a certain tide.
The disadvantage to tide running is if someone is already on a spot that fits your pattern, you will have to know of another area within the current tide and adjust. Advantage is if it works out you will be rewarded with the fish you are looking for.
How much do the tides affect the fish on the Delta?
The Tides are a huge influence on these bass. All tide levels are good if you figure out how these fish move and think. If I have to choose a perfect tide scenario for my technique, I would say the outgoing tide gives me the biggest advantage. Same goes for most of the sticks out here though
Are there boating safety issues on the Delta?
Great question. Have a graph with Navionics or a Humminbird with Lake Master. These chips will give you a good guideline of safe places to run, but because the river changes so often do not think their charts are always correct.
The Delta is very dangerous when it comes to boating, and I suggest you take it slow your first few times out or go with a guy whom knows it well. You do have to know where it is safe to cross when the tide goes out and the river is constantly changing. Tide out brings you closer to unknown rock piles, sand bars, sunken logs, tractors, sunken boats, ships, cars, etc. Some areas even have submerged orchards from before the delta was made many years ago to be aware of like Mildred and Mandeville Islands.
If you are in a shallow area at high tide you can bet when the tide goes out you will be stuck there till the tide returns. You need to know when to move out. Tide-in can take a 40 foot tree laying on the bank adrift down the river channel when the tide shifts out so don’t be to hasty traveling from spot to spot, especially in the winter months.
I have hit my share of trees, and debris floating down river in the winter months and luckily received no boat or bodily damage. But I have lost 2 lower units.
The last variable is the wildlife in the river. A Sea lion can be an odd thing to have to dodge in a bass boat but if hit they can do some damage. Some that are well over 400 pounds have been seen.
What are your 3 favorite baits to fish on the Delta?
1) I love throwing a River2Sea Ish’s Phat Mat Daddy Frog in White or Black. It will bring up big fish if presented correctly. I will throw them under trees or at tide out on the outside edge of weedlines. I have a detailed write up on this frog and other River2Sea frogs at RBbassfishing.net.
2) A Punch setup using a River2Sea Trash Bomb Weight 1.5 ounce or smaller if the vegetation isn’t as thick, A Punch Skirt from Canopy Grenades and Punch stop for the sinker to stay in place, a Trokar 6/0 Flippn hook and a Missile Baits D Bomb make up my punch setup.
I will literally punch through everything out here. On outgoing tide I will hit hydrilla edges of the nearest ledge and floating canopies. Incoming tide, I punch the trees that hang into the water from the bank and inside edges of hydrilla near rocky banks with tules.
3) Drop Shot would be the third. Out here I rig it with straight 15 to 20 pound Fins Braid. I Texas Rig the bait and keep a short leader to the Tunsten Drop Shot wieght, 3 to 5 inches. I use the Black Tunsten Drop shot wieghts from Swagger Tackle and a Owner Twist lock worm hook. Texas Rigging it you can get it into the tules, holes in the hydrilla and just about anywhere with out worrying about snagging up. With the braid I don’t have any issues driving the hook home when that big one bites and gaining control of the fish.
How much does color choices play into Delta fishing?
Color has a lot to do with a few things here. Are there red winged black birds out? What color are the crawdads currently? Are the redear sunfish, bluegill or shad on the menu? These are all variables here like anywhere else. You can’t go wrong with the basics. Green pumpkin and browns match most things swimming in there and for topwaters black seems to be a great producer.
As for the water color, the tide affects the clarity. It stays pretty stained or muddy in most areas with about a foot of visibility. Certain types of vegetation filter the water, and you can find clear water areas in the water around this vegetation with a stained water line on the outside edge. The fish like these spots because the weeds make the water slightly cooler where it is clear and that stained water on the edge absorbs more sunlight and is warmer.
Overall, what are 5 pieces of advice that you have for anglers to be successful on the Delta?
- Don’t get discouraged if you are not catching. It can be a very tricky and overwhelming place for a lot of anglers that are not used to fishing a fishery like this.
- Stick to the “tide in fish in”, “tide out fish out” rule to get a feel for it. This is a great Rule to help you learn it and stay on fish
- Even though the place is known for large fish don’t be afraid to bring out the drop shot. Many tournaments have been won here on it.
- Don’t be afraid to adjust to the conditions. It is always changing and you will need to retie often if you don’t have at least 5 Rods ready. Drop shot, punch setup, frog, jig and a reaction style bait are my recommendations.
- Always find the cleanest weeds possible near deeper water. I have found my best results this way.
Who are your current pro staff and sponsor companies?
Currently I am on with Denali Rods, River2Sea, RBbass, Calcoast fishing, Canopy Grenades, Swagger tackle, Trigger Happy Comfort Grips, Rod Glove, Tricked out marine, Peregrine250, Amphibia Eyegear, Big Ol Pig, Ardent Tackle, NPS, and Nautic Sport
Working with these companies has been great! They have solid products that have helped get me results! Some are like a big family with get together’s and staff tournaments. I have gotten to meet some great people and connections, give product ideas, test new products and most of all it is about having fun and professionally representing the companies that put there faith in you!
Thank you Charles. Will be following on Instagram @punchdatbass.