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In the last five years I have taught myself how to fly fish the California Delta from various human powered craft. The delta is such an amazing fishery, that I feel it would be selfish of me not to share, so I decided that I would write up a multi-part series how to on fly fishing the delta, so that hopefully others will come to appreciate just how awesome the California Delta is. In this first installment, I will talk about rod, reel and line choices geared toward the average fly fisherman, who is most likely transitioning from fly fishing from trout to fly fishing for bass.

The first part of this equation is finding a suitable rod. My personal favorite rod for learning to fly fish for warm water species, as well as being a flat out fun rod to catch warm water species on is the Gloomis 8 foot 5 weight Shorestalker. I chose this rod for several reasons, and there were several rods tested before I found this one. The prime reason for my love of this particular rod is castability, or more plainly put, ease of casting. Because it is a 5wt, there is plenty of flex in the blank and because the vast majority of fly fisherman chase trout as their primary targets, they are used to the blank flexing during the cast, so having a blank that does this makes transitioning to a new type of fly fishing easier, and in this article you will see me use the word easier a lot, because let’s face it, if something is easier to do it’s more fun and we are more likely to continue doing it. The other reason this is one of my favorite rods is it has a very wide grain window so it is easier to find a line that will properly work with this rod, compared to competitors bass fly rods. Anything from 190 up to 290 grains (yes that is not a typo, 290 grains on a 5 weight is a lot) will work well with this rod (more on this later in the article). Finally, due to the fact that the blank of this rod is fairly flexible for a warmwater rod, it makes catching small fish more fun. Let’s face it, if you are learning a new fishery there are a ton more small fish out there than there are big fish, so if you want to learn about a new fishery, targeting small fish makes sense. The only con of of this rod is the price. At $350, it is a big initial investment, but I have a solution to this problem. At the Headwaters Fly Shop I keep demo rods of everything I sell, and I keep extra demos of this particular rod, so I would be happy to let a prospective buyer rent one of these and try it out on the water. As an alternative, The Headwaters Fly Shop has a guide service operating on the California Delta and I can show you how great this rod is.

The Shorestalker easily manages fish up to a couple pounds and is light enough to make small fish fun too.

The second decision you need to make is choosing a reel. I will be upfront and honest, in this category there really isn’t one right choice, literally any kind of reel will work, from click and pawl to the most high tech reels out there. My choice for reel really comes down to personal preference and experience. The reel on my shorestalker is a Galvan Rush Light R-6. I chose to go with Galvan because they are a small, local business, that makes a top notch quality product and I know from personal experience you don’t start a small local business to get rich or become famous, you do it out of love of what you do and you want to share your passion with others. I chose the Rush Light Series because it is the least expensive reel they offer with a one way clutch bearing, so you can adjust tension of the reel as you are pulling line off the reel, without affecting tension on the reel while you are reeling up. Not to mention with colors other than just black and clear metal finish, these reels look awesome in photos!

The Galvan R-6 spooled with Airflo Bass 8wt line. A great combo for the delta.

The third part of this puzzle is choosing fly line. I could do an entire article just about fly line, and I probably will in a future part of this series, but since we are talking about getting started I will keep my selection simple. The line on your delta fly rod should carry as much grain weight as the rod blank will handle without breaking. As you further master fly fishing the the delta, you will want to throw bigger flies, and more grain weight will turn over bigger flies easier than less grain weight will. The fish inhabiting the delta are far from spooky and a strong splash down on the water will more likely draw a strike than spook a fish. My personal preference thus far is an airflo Bass/Muskie weight forward floating fly line in 8 weight. This line has a 40 foot head and the entire head weighs 290 grains. If I were throwing the entire 40 foot head, 290 grains would completely overload 5 weight shorestalker. In my application, which is usually kneeling in my ultralight canoe, I am only getting 15 to 25 feet of the head up in the air and piling a bunch of line into a line management device and then shooting the line to complete my cast, so I am really only carrying between 108 and 181 grains . Also because this is an 8 weight line, it is very large diameter, which bigger or wind resistant flies easier, which is a lot of what is thrown on the delta. I know that this setup sounds outlandish, but you don’t have to take my word for it, come out to the shop and try it, it works.

To this line there are two options for leaders: a furled leader or a poly leader mated to 3-5 feet of 20lb high quality fluorocarbon, such as Airflo G5 or Seaguar. The goal of this setup is to make turning over bigger flies easier and furled leaders or poly leaders along with large diameter tippet accomplish this task. The advantage of the furled leader is you can get it with a swivel which keeps flies like gurglers from twisting up your line. The advantages of the poly leader is it will last you several season and you can also get it in various sink rates, turning your floating fly line into a sink tip, creating a less expensive system for covering the water column compared to keeping three full setups (a floating, intermediate, and full sink), and will cover the majority of fishing conditions you will encounter in the delta. I use the bass/pike 4ft polyleaders from Airflo. The reasons for my choice of fluorocarbon line in 20lb test are it is large enough to turn over the largest flies you will throw on this setup, but slightly smaller than 20 lb test mono, so it will sink more easily than 20lb test mono, and then I only need to carry one tippet spool and if there are less items I need to remember to pack for a trip, it it easier for me to get out and fish, not to mention the downsides of using a human powered craft is there is less space and your speed is greatly affected by how much weight you are trying to move.

The final and probably most important part of this whole setup is the flies you will be using. Now as you progress you will have many, many flies in your delta box ( I know from experience, I currently have three fairly large boxes full), but right now we are just trying to a catch fish, any fish, and build your confidence, so you should keep it simple. I recommend 2 flies: 1 topwater and 1 subsurface. My personal recommendations would be: A Pultz bluegill special size 8 (topwater) in chartreuse and an umpqua perch darter (subsurface) also in size 8. I have caught everything that swims in the delta on these 2 flies.

A few examples or delta fish that fell for the size 8 perch colored darter.

So there you have it folks, the nuts and bolts of getting started fly fishing the California Delta. If you wish to discuss this topic further, or to book a guided trip on the delta, call The Headwaters Kayak Shop at 209-224-8367 and ask for Bill. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of the series, where I discuss choosing a craft for fly fishing the delta, and recommendations for spots on the delta to catch your first fish.

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