Sacramento River Bass Fishing tips

The Sacramento River is an important river of Northern and Central California in the United States. The state’s largest river by discharge, it rises in the Klamath Mountains and flows south for over 400 miles (640 km) before reaching Suisun Bay, an arm of San Francisco Bay, and thence the Pacific Ocean. The Sacramento drains an area of about 27,500 square miles (71,000 km2) in the northern half of the state, mostly within a region bounded by the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada known as the Sacramento Valley.

This a huge stretch of river nearly untapped for bass fishing. The Sacramento River has Largemouth Bass,  Smallmouth Bass and Spotted Bass.  With all this river to fish where do you start you may ask? Keep it pretty simple narrow down the section of the river that is accessible from Sacramento to Walnut grove.  There are many launch ramps to choose from in this area.

Next lets narrow it down to what type of Bass do you want to target?  For Largemouth Bass think to stay away from the main current, any slough or river that is a bayou to the Sacramento river will hold Largemouth Bass such as the lower American River, Elk slough and the Sutter bypass.  Don’t forget to check marinas up and down the river as they will be good areas to find Largemouth Bass.  The Sacramento River and its tributaries provide three main types of cover for Largemouth Bass wood, rocks and grass.  Docks and Boats would be other forms of cover. Crawfish are the main food source along with shad and other small fishes. Fish the cover accordingly flip the wood and the grass, crank the rocks and use topwater lures such as Buzzbaits and smaller spook type baits during warmer months. Largemouth Bass average 1.25lbs and can be found up to 5lbs in these areas.

Show below is Elk Slough south of Freeport this area is away from the main river and offers grass,wood and other forms of cover for Largemouth Bass.

Shown above is Sutter slough and the Sacramento river these are great areas for Smallmouth Bass.

Next would be Smallmouth Bass. This is the abundant species that  dominates the Sacramento River.  Un like the Largemouth the Smallmouth Bass like current. These fish live every where on the Sacramento river and in its tributaries. Some good areas would be, Minor Slough, Sutter Slough, Georgiana slough, Steamboat slough and the Sacramento river points that enter these tributaries.  Crawfish and small fish are the main forage for these Smallmouth Bass. Use small crank baits,rattle traps, spinner baits, and small plastics or jigs for your best success. The Smallmouth bass like to hang around the rocks, ledges and wood that line the river so key in on these areas. “tip” many Smallmouth especially the bigger ones will be in front of cover facing the current rather than hiding from it.”tip” Smallmouth like baits moving fast!  Key areas would be irregularities in the rock walls including smaller or bigger rocks, any old docks or wood posts in or around current, and any points leading to other tributaries.  Smallmouth Bass average half a pound, but many 2-3lb fish can be taken.

Finally Spotted Bass would be the third species of Bass that live in the Sacramento river and its tributaries. These are the nomadic species of Bass they roam up and down the Sacramento river and chase shad and other small fishes. The Spotted Bass can be found from Walnut Grove north. They tend to stay in the cooler water. The American river holds some Spotted Bass  as well.   Small crank baits ,top water and plastics are your best bet for Spotted Bass. Spotted Bass average 1lb to 1.5lbs in these areas.



Tackle Warehouse Spring Pros Picks


Drop-Shotting Spawning Bass With Hank Parker

New techniques come along every year, but most of them turn out to be fads, and we wind up discarding them for tried-and-true traditional methods. I’m here to tell you that drop-shotting is here to stay.

Anglers are still learning the many advantages of this deadly finesse technique and just how versatile it is. The tactic was initially introduced as a method for taking bass holding on structure in deeper water. However, I’ve found it can be equally deadly in shallow water and on finicky spawners.


Previously, I had to cast a 1/2oz tube bait. A heavier jig was required to get the lure on the bed and hold it there. However, if a bass didn’t eat it aggressively, it would jump and throw the bait because of that heavy lead inside.

Drop-shotting eliminates those problems. I can put as heavy of lead as I need on the end of the line and keep it in the bed. With a bait rigged about a foot above it, the bass will come up and eat it nearly every time. I also have fewer problems landing them because the weight is away from the hook.

Lure Selection:

I prefer rigging my bait with a Mustad nose hook right through the tip of the lure, which is usually a Berkley Gulp! Baits. Those baits are fabulous for bedding bass, and the Gulp! Leech is tough to beat. It is a small bait that looks more realistic than any artificial bait I’ve used.

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Fishing a Jig in the Cold of winter by Dan Wells

Fishing the Jig in the cold of winter by Dan Wells.



Jigs will catch fish 12 months out of the year however the cold water period is when a jig can really shine! When the water temps are at their lowest during the winter many bass only eat once every few days and they prefer a meal they don’t have to work hard for and provides a large amount of protein, what better then a slow moving crawdad. A jig mimics a crawdad better than any other lure!

Winter fishing with jigs will take place from 5’ to 50’ of water so you need to be prepared with a few different weights. 3/8, ½, and 1 oz will do fine. As a rule and to keep it simple use the 3/8oz jig from 1’ to 20’, 1/2 oz 20’ to 40’, and the 1oz from 40’ and deeper. Having the right tools for the job are critical. In clear lakes I use 12lb fluorocarbon line and in extremely clear water I will go to 10lb fluoro. When fishing Clear Lake I use 15lb fluoro because the water is usually more off colored and there is heavy cover present. A high speed 7;1 gear ratio reel is critical so you can pick up slack line fast and keep pressure on big fish that are hooked in deep water. The right rod is just as important as the line and reel. For my 3/8oz jigs fished to 20’ of water I use a Dobyns 734C Champion casting rod and for the 1/2oz and larger jigs fished in deep water I use a Dobyns DX 784C ML casting rod. The DX 784C ML rod is 5” longer then the 734C rod and this will help move more line on a deep water hook set, both rods have a fast action which allows the rod to react very quickly for hook sets and working the jig.

There are a million different colored jigs out there and they all catch fish but again I try to keep it simple with my colors. Brown, Brown/Purple, Green Pumpkin and Black Blue are about the only colors I use and they cover almost every situation you will come across. My number one go to jig is a 1/2oz Brown/Purple football jig, this jig is very versatile and will catch fish on every body of water there is!

There are 3 types of retrieves I will use in the winter. Dragging (slow movements with the rod tip in a downward angle, or using the trolling motor to drag the jig in a certain depth), small hops or shaking (using the rod tip in short popping movements and letting the jig rest back on the bottom) and stroking ( fast sharp hops similar to a hook set then letting the jig rest back to the bottom). You will have to experiment with all three retrieves daily to find what the fish have keyed in on or what mood they are in. There will often be a certain cadence that fish will key on and respond to better then another.

Use your electronics to find what depth the bass are holding at best and concentrate on that depth. Once you have a determined depth then try different types of banks and cover( mud, small rock, boulders, 45 degree banks, etc) soon you will have a pattern developed to start targeting larger bass.

In winter I really focus my search for bass on deep main lake features such as points, ledges, humps and creek channels. Start fishing your jig shallow and work your way deeper till you begin to get bit. When a little warming trend moves in and settles for a few days I will start fishing creek channels that go from main lake areas into pockets and deeper flats that the fish will move on to and feed.

Jig Tips. Use scent! I have been using the BIOEDGE crawdad potion and I have noticed my number of bites go up. In Cold water apply scent often to help attract sluggish bass. If you are fishing a lake with little cover in it you can thin a few strands out of the weed guard and spread it with your fingers to help with hook ups and if your jig ever feels funny or a little heavier than normal, SET THE HOOK! Colors can be confusing and if you are not sure exactly sure what the fish are keyed on and what the crayfish look like, just match the bottom color the best you can, this will give a good starting point. One more thing to remember when fishing a jig in the winter is to experiment with different trailers on your jig and if the water gets real cold, say in the 48 degree and lower range try a pork trailer. You can’t fish a jig to slow and often large bass are caught on jigs while barely moving them or even dead sticking them.

Good Luck out there and stay warm!

Dan Wells


BPS Bass in the Grass Tips on Fishing Aquatic Vegetation (Kevin Van Dam)

BPS Bass in the Grass Tips on Fishing Aquatic Vegetation (Kevin Van Dam)

Swimming Bass Jigs with Kevin VanDam – Bass pro shop

Swimming Bass Jigs with Kevin VanDam

Mike Iaconelli-Catch More Smallmouth Bass with Berkley Gulp


Elite Series Pro, Mike Iaconelli discusses why Berkley Gulp can help you catch more Smallmouth Bass.

Smallmouth Bass in depth

What kind of rivers, lakes and reservoirs are best for smallmouths? Research has repeatedly shown that bass are sight feeders, and they need certain depths, water temperatures, forage and bottom content to thrive. These fish will survive in a fairly wide range of conditions, but there are optimal habitats in which smallmouth are found. An ideal smallmouth lake should be cool. In one experiment, bass from Lake Erie were observed in a laboratory and given a number of temperature choices. Their preferred temperatures for the spring, summer and fall ranged from the mid 60s to the mid 80s. In the winter, they chose cooler water, as low as the mid 50s. In another report, the preferred midsummer temperature proved to be about 83 degrees. Observations made in the field, however, revealed that more bass seemed to reside in the 68 to 70 degree temperature zone. Good smallmouth lakes should be fairly large, clear and deeper than 30 feet. They should also be thermally stratified (where warmer water lies above successively cooler layers of water) so that the bass can segregate themselves from potentially competitive species such as walleyes and northern pike. Some vegetation should be present, but it should be “scanty” as one researcher puts it. A final characteristic of a good smallmouth lake is bottom content. Biologists working with fish in aquariums have discovered that they prefer bottoms with lots of broken up rocks, as opposed to solid, smooth rocks or sand. The same goes for stream bass, which also adapt readily to artificial shelters. A river should have sufficient width (more than 30 feet) and depth (10 feet or better) combined with a good flow of water.

Where and when should we look for big bass? To find big smallmouths, growth rate figures are invaluable. Research accumulated over the years can help narrow down our search tremendously. There are four important clues:

  • Lake bass tend to grow faster and attain larger sizes than do river fish. In one report, stock from a lake in Minnesota grew faster than stock from a river in Missouri when both were transferred to a second lake, thus suggesting a genetic difference between the two populations. A notable exception is the South, where fishing in larger rivers may be better than that in lakes because of more favorable water temperatures.
  • Local conditions and latitude may correlate with bass size. For instance, smallmouths in Center Hill Lake in southern Tennessee were found to grow faster than those in Dale Hollow Lake, farther north in the state. The difference was attributed to greater overall fertility and warmer water in Center Hill Lake. Thus, as one would expect, bass generally grow faster the farther south you go. But the differences are always across the board. For example, though a longer growing season produced larger bass in southern Wisconsin lakes than those in farther north, the same was not true in Arkansas, where a 10 to 20 day difference in the growing season north and south showed little effect in selected lakes.
  • Bigger bass often result where they are newly introduced. This is supported by a wealth of research done on a number of lakes, reservoirs and ponds, from South Africa to Oregon. Also, reclaimed rivers, as demonstrated on the Winnebago River in Iowa, can grow big bass fast.
  • Manipulating the forage base or introducing a new predator can aid bass growth significantly. In Massachusetts, the introduction of smelt stimulated smallmouth growth in Quabbin Reservoir. The same occurred on a different body of water when lake chub suckers were added to the population. And in a Wisconsin lake, smallmouth size increased when muskies were stocked.

When are bass most active? Smallmouths, unlike their largemouth relatives, tend to be inactive at night, according to one study completed on several Ontario lakes. Shortly after sunset, smallmouths were found to move to deeper water and “rest on the bottom,” where they were approached by divers. During the day, however, smallmouths were difficult to get close to underwater. Scientists say that bass feed opportunistically, as the opportunity resents itself during the daylight hours. Peak activity periods, however, are similar to those of walleyes: at dawn and dusk. Temperature definitely affects bass activity. Water temperatures below 50 degrees put smallmouth into neutral gear. And in years with cool summers, slower growth rates as evidenced in the annuli, or growth rings of the fish’s scales have been discovered.

Which depths do smallmouth bass prefer? According to many studies, bass seem to adapt well to great variations in water depth. The fish were repeatedly observed sunning themselves in quiet, shallow water, but were also radio-tracked as deep as 80 feet in the same or similar water bodies. The reason for such diversity is usually related to forage-base availability. For instance, bass taken out of 55 to 80 foot depths from Cayuga lake in New York had alewives in their stomachs, while most shallow water fish had a higher proportion of crayfish present. Smallmouths are not classified as true schooling fish, but they do aggregate (form loose associations at certain depths for specific periods of time). Schools have been observed in deep water along limestone ridges and other rock bluffs in early September, when surface temperature began to drop. Tag returns from lakes Michigan, Erie, Ontario and Huron indicate very little smallmouth migration, especially when compared with similar studies done on other species. The same hold true for bass on inland waters and for neutral populations in most streams. But hatchery-reared fish definitely moved considerable distances, up to 205 miles, according to an Ohio report. Also, native populations in rivers have been known to abandon their home range when dredging operations were undertaken upstream. On the whole, tagging studies, like radio-tracking studies (which are usually compiled to determine specific fish locations), revealed a wide range of smallmouth movements. But native fish in a relatively stable environment do not move great distances; researchers consider the smallmouth to be a homebody rather than a busybody.

What do smallmouths like to eat? Smallies eat a lot of things, and yeas, research has shown that the fish really key on crayfish when given the opportunity. In six separate studies on a variety of waters nationwide, crayfish comprised more than two-thirds of the fish’s diet. But the studies discovered another smallmouth delicacy: tadpoles. One report revealed that smallmouths prefer tadpoles over more common foods such as bluegills and golden shiners. Another study found tadpoles in the bellies of the fish “out of proportion to their availability”; this indicates that smallies may hunt for tadpole treats. Seasonal changes in smallmouth diet were found to be minimal compared with those of other fish species. The progression of preferred food sources, learned from one experiment conducted on Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas, was typical: mayflies in the spring, young shad in the summer, and crayfish in the late fall and winter. In the winter, under-ice bass may not feed at all, according to one biologist in an Ontario report. He examined the stomach contents of many fish in mid April and found the belly cavities shrunken and full of mucus, with no digested food particles present.

So, what does science have to do with bass fishing? Plenty. To be sure, there’s lots of food for thought here. But once you digest all the information, you’ll be able to conduct a few field tests close to home with some positive results.

Randy Walker and a Trinity Lake Smallmouth!

Smallmouth Bass Tips


The smallmouth bass is a large robust fish which belongs to the “sunfish” family. This family also includes bluegill, sunfish and crappie, and, of course, the large-mouth and spotted bass. Smallmouth bass are identified by vertical dark bronze bars on the side. This color pattern is quite distinct in fish taken from clear weedy water. It is often indistinct in young, and in fish from dingy or turbid water. The smallmouth’s gold-bronze sides become dark at the back, appearing mostly greenish-brown. The belly is mottled white with black spotting or speckling. The head often has three dark gold bars radiating downward and backward from each eye. To distinguish a smallmouth from other bass: the upper jaw, with the mouth closed, extends backward only to below the rear edge of the eye, usually not beyond. The spiny and soft dorsal (back) fins are broadly connected, unlike the largemouth. Spotted bass also have connected fins but their coloration is similar to largemouth. Smallmouth bass average 8-15 inches, but reach lengths to 24 inches, and weights to over 8 lbs. These specimens are extremely rare. Any smallmouth over 4 lbs. should be considered a trophy.
Distribution: Smallmouth bass are widely distributed throughout the northern U.S. and southern Canada. They are common to clear, coolwater lakes, streams and rivers. Smallmouth range extends generally southward to Georgia; west to Oklahoma and North Dakota; and north into the lower tiers of Canada.
Biology: Smallmouth bass spawn in the late spring and early summer. Nest building and spawning begin at water temperatures of 55-60°F., but egg-laying takes place at 61-65°F. This is usually in May, June or July (in the extreme north). Circular nests, 2-4 feet across, are built by the males in 2-20 feet of water. Nests are usually built on sand, gravel or rock. Nests are almost always built near the protection of a rock, log or submerged branch, or occasionally near vegetation. Smallmouth may travel considerable distances to spawn, but they select specific areas of lakes or streams. Smallmouth will use the same spawning areas year after year. Females lay between 2,000 and 15,000 eggs, which adhere to the stones in the center of the nest. After spawning the female leaves the nest. In lakes, she will often return immediately to the nearest deepwater breakline. In streams she will return to a nearby deep pool. The male guards the nest, protects the eggs and guards the young after hatching. Hatching of eggs occurs in 1-2 weeks. Males will protect the young for the next couple weeks before moving to their summertime areas. It is common for as many as 50% of all nests to fail. In some years, in some waters, 99% of all nests may fail. Cold fronts and downward shifts in water temperature may drive male bass from the nests, leaving the eggs and young vulnerable to predation. Predation by rock bass and other sunfish can be high. Fishing pressure can cause shallow nesting males to desert their nests, and even temporarily removing the male, as in catch and release fishing, can cause nest predation until the male bass returns. Once the eggs hatch, growth is rapid. Smallmouth bass one year old reach 2-5 inches in length. Sexual maturity comes slowly and is reached in three to six years. This is a prime reason many states impose length limit restrictions. Length limits are designed to allow the bass to reach spawning age, and perhaps spawn once or twice, before being caught and kept. Smallmouth bass may live 15 years, although this is not common. Trophy bass are usually five years and older.
Habits and Habitat: Smallmouth bass live in a variety of habitats. They prefer clear waters and are relatively intolerant of silt. In the spring, bass concentrate in key spawning areas. Smallmouth remain in deeper or weedy waters throughout most of the summer. Often they will hold on breaklines or rocky structure, bars, humps, shoals, etc. Stream and river smallmouth inhabit large pools and mild current areas that have cover. They often lie almost motionless near submerged cover during daylight hours, or slowly cruise their home pool. They remain in one area and rarely move as far as a half mile. Bank overhangs and downstream edges of rocks and boulders are excellent hiding areas for the smallmouth. In the summertime, lake smallmouth will often hold in deeper water and move shallow at night to feed. In the fall, lake smallmouth concentrate along drop-offs, frequently suspending above bottom. They often feed ravenously, seeming to store up for winter months. The food of adult smallmouth consists of insects, crayfish and fish. Crayfish are a favorite food and constitute about 50-75% of their diets. Fish make up the remaining majority. They also eat frogs, salamanders and, of course (thank you, thank you), they eat many artificial baits. In turn, young smallmouth are food for larger fish, including their own kind.
Fishing Techniques That Work: Smallmouth bass will attack a variety of lures and baits. They may be taken surface to bottom, but larger fish seek deeper or more protective water and are taken with deeper presentations. Smallmouth thrive best when competition from large-mouth is absent. Best natural baits are crayfish, minnows, nightcrawlers, leeches and hellgrammites. Many a casual worm fisherman has been surprised by hooking a smallmouth while fishing for panfish. Using medium to light tackle makes small-mouth bass one of the most sporting fish. Older smallmouth easily become educated and “angler-wise.” They become tough to catch and only the most natural appearing presentation will fool them. Smallmouth readily take artificial lures. Jigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits are old-time favorites, but a smallmouth will hit any bait it can see, and some it can’t. A rather unique characterisic of smallmouth is that they will rise from depths of 20 feet or so to hit a noisy surface lure, such as a small buzzbait. Be sure to use smaller lures than for largemouth. Lures 1/8 to 1/2-ounce in size are good, 1/4-ounce is a good primary size. Colors that imitate crayfish, reds and oranges, perform well. Smallmouth are excellent game for fly fishing enthusiasts and readily take dry flies, poppers and streamers. Smallmouth have well developed senses, great vision and great smell capability. They are admirably adapted to their environment. One weakness is their curiosity. Small-mouth are more curious than largemouth. In underwater studies I conducted, it was common for trophy smallmouth (4-6 lbs.) to swim up to me and peer into my mask from only 1-2 feet away. I’ve even had them follow me about (under water) as I did my research. This may stem from another interesting smallmouth habit. Smallmouth will often follow a turtle or a sucker as it digs or roots in the bottom. They strike and capture insects or crayfish as they scurry to escape. Smallmouth also learn to follow below and close behind slow-moving boats. They feed on minnows and baitfish disrupted by the motor wake. “Wake trolling” a crankbait in the wake, frequently yields surprising midsummer smallmouth catches. Strikes from this technique are arm-wrenching. Smallmouth commonly aggregate along deep water drop-offs, rock piles, bars, humps, and in reservoirs at bends in old creek channels. In olden days it was possible to anchor and cast to a deep water rock pile and catch 10-20 small-mouth on consecutive casts. Fishing pressure has eliminated most of this, except in remote and unfished areas of Canada or hidden midlake structures which many fishermen fail to find.