My name is Mike Kaplan and I am the Product Development Manager here at Hatch Outdoors. Working at Hatch we get some pretty cool opportunities to get out of the office and on the water with some remarkable anglers. Recently, Adam Ashcraft (Hatch's President / COO) and I took the quick trip up to Northern California to fish with Hatch Prostaff Member, Captain Chuck Ragan. Let me just tell you off the bat, if there is one thing you should get to know about Chuck, Chuck works his ass off! Chuck tours the country as a traveling musician
, maintains his guide business
at home, donates days off to non-profit organizations like CastHope
and is a devoted Husband and Father. Needless to say, catching Chuck with a couple of days that are not booked up is a rare occasion.
Chuck lives in the small town of Grass Valley just about an hour outside of Sacramento, so the trip to make it up from our office in San Diego is pretty easy for us to do. From Grass Valley, you can drive in pretty much any direction and have access to countless different fisheries, each with their own personalities, species, and programs that Chuck and his fellow guides have dialed in over the years. The opportunities are pretty much endless. There are steelhead, salmon, striped bass, trout, and countless other species in the bays, delta, and rivers. In the foothill lakes you can get bent to the cork on a world class spotted bass. If the timing is right, you can even run into some dry fly fishing that rivals some of the most famous western rivers.
FISHING FOR BIG STRIPER
For our trip, Chuck's plan was to give us the best shot at hooking a big striper. Adam and I didn't quite know what we were getting into - neither of us had ever been striper fishing!
Chuck runs a simple system for chasing these fall fish. Here is his standard checklist:
The leaders are usually about 7 feet long and are made up of 30lb, 25lb, and 20lb fluorocarbon
. You can see an example of this in this video
Chuck put together for us.
From there, Chuck will tie off the fly with a non-slip mono loop which allows the fly to have great action in the water. The flies imitate wounded or dying baitfish, which is a prime food source for the predatory stripers. Mixing in a sporadic retrieve while you're stripping your fly in makes this technique extremely effective.
Our first morning, we made a quick pit stop at the gas station, stopped at the boat ramp to rig up our rods, launched the boat, and were on our way. We motored up river in search of some spots Chuck had in his mind. The day before we arrived, one of Chuck's clients landed a 23lb fish, which meant the thought of a monster upwards of 30lbs was not far fetched. We were all fired up! Adam and I quickly had our first few fish in the boat. They were nothing to write home about but getting them in the boat was definitely a moral booster!
A few hours and what seemed 1,000 casts later, my line finally went tight. A quick strip set and the fight was on! The fish dug deep, pulling line and taking me around the bow of the boat, but something felt strange. I got the fish to the side of the boat with its head up, ready to get in the net and my rod exploded and broke into 3 pieces! I froze in disbelief, Adam looked puzzled and Chuck was scratching his head. For a second we all forgot what the heck had just happened, then Chuck, almost falling out of the boat grabbed the line and roped the fish in. Come to find out, the fish that snapped my 9wt like a twig was only a damn 5 pounder!
I guess with the current of the river and the adrenaline, I thought that fish was about 3 times the size. The day went on after that - we caught more fish but nothing like we were looking for. Towards the end of the first day on an unexpected cast, I saw a flash on my fly. Just like that I hooked into a 12-13lb fish. It was a great way to end the first day!
Day two started out the same.
We made a quick gas station run, re-rigged our rods, and off on the river we went. We hit a different stretch of river on the second day than our first, again looking for a giant! Pretty much right away we started getting into some bass
. We had a few smallmouth, a couple of spotties, and some small stripers to hand in the first couple of hours.
Fishing in the river, there are all sorts of trees and different obstacles for your fly to get stuck on. When you feel a bump you might as well set the hook - any cast has the chance of hooking into the fish of a lifetime.
I made the mistake of not setting the hook a few times, saying to myself "Oh yeah, that's a tree!" My line went tight again and I shrugged it off the same way, "Yup, another tree."
I looked back at Chuck for confirmation. "Yeah, that was a big girl..." he said. My line quickly went slack, and just like that it was gone.
Chuck said when the big fish bite, often they don't realize they are hooked until you punch the hook with a good hookset... which I had forgotten to do. The big stripers have extremely hard mouths and you have to really drive your hookset to get properly hooked up. Good to know!
As the day went on, more of the same. We were catching fish, just not THE fish.
I sent a cast over this log jam, stripped my fly just clear of the log and let it sink with the current. There was the bite. I punched my hookset and was ready for the ride. I started battling the fish and Adam and Chuck both got a look at the fish for a split second. Chuck guessed somewhere around the 30lb mark. The fish took off downstream and in a panic I applied a little too much pressure, my 20lb tippet was done. A number of things could have happened, but we all guessed that there was a small abrasion to my line since I had hooked up on a couple of trees without checking my line every time. Another thing you should always do - of course now in hindsight.
Day three started out the same. We had gotten our asses kicked the first two days. Without a doubt, those giant fish were in there... somewhere. We were all determined to get one to hand after the previous heartbreak. Day goes on - more fish, just not the right fish.
Finally, Adam's line goes tight. It's a good sized fish. Adam had a good hookset, but the striper had a strong tail! The fish took off down river then turned around and ran straight back towards the boat. There wasn't much Adam could do. Just a little bit of pressure came off of the fish and like that the moment was over. We never saw how big that one was. Bummer.
As the sun was beginning to set on our third and final day, the three of us were looking for that fish. We were hitting key spots that Chuck had marked earlier in the day. Unfortunately, there was not much happening. We dumped out casts left and right trying our best to cover as much water as possible, looking for a fish in the 11th hour. One of the last opportunities that we had I finally came tight to a fish. It steered me around to the back of the boat and we got it in the net - about a 10lb fish. I'll take it! It wasn't the giant that we were looking for but hey, a fish is a fish!
Chuck worked hard to put us on those fish and we covered a lot of water.
We weren't able to put a big fish in the boat, but that's what keeps us coming back! Now we just know what to expect! We are already planning a trip back to make it happen.
Although the striper season is winding down for Chuck, the fishing in Northern California is still red hot! During the winter months, when the water temps drop, Chuck turns his concentration to the foothill lakes for the spotted bass on the Float-N-Fly
. The Float-N-Fly is a deadly tactic that Chuck has been fine tuning for years. This tactic allows you to entice lethargic winter bass to rise up and crush a suspended baitfish pattern. It's pretty damn effective and it keeps you fishing all winter!
Neither Adam nor myself could thank Chuck enough for the time and knowledge he gave us for the couple of days that we spent with him.
Go over and check out his website
! If you're lucky enough he MIGHT have a day or two that he can squeeze in to get you on the water. Just remember, hook sets are free! And check your leader and hook after every tree branch.
Until next time...
- Mike Kaplan