Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sturgeon Fishing 101

Thanks for the invitation for a guest post on this subject.
To be totally honest I am no kind of expert by any stretch of the imagination.
I know several guys who have sturgeon fished their whole lives and were kind enough to take me out a few times and teach me the basics.

Sturgeon are the largest fresh water fish in North America yet few people even know they exist. They can be found in the Northern hemisphere only, from Eurasia to North America on both coasts and in the Great Lakes region.
Most people are only dimly aware of sturgeon as their eggs are harvested when caught to make caviar in Russia and other places. This is probably for the better because sturgeon stocks world wide are all teetering on the edge of annihilation due to over fishing and environmental degradations.

There are many different types of sturgeon but here on the West Coast there are mainly two, the Green and the White. It is illegal to retain Green sturgeon.

Sturgeon are often referred to as living fossils as they have been around for over two hundred million years with little change. They are slow growing and can live to be over a hundred years old and do not reach sexual maturity until about twenty years of age.
They can also grow to immense size.

I can only relate my experience fishing for White sturgeon in the Columbia river on the borders of Washington and Oregon but I would imagine as they are all similar that the techniques would be also.

Sturgeon fishing is classified as sport fishing but it is a very serious undertaking. These things get big enough to yank you right off your feet or out of your seat in a boat.
I saw a reproduction of an old newspaper article in the Oregonian telling of a guy back in the late 1800's fishing for sturgeon near Oregon city using a rope, a meat hook and an entire rabbit for bait. He hooked into a monster and after twelve hours of people trying to land it, they hooked a team of horses to the rope to drag the fish in and it instead, drug the horses into the river and drowned them.
The minimum length of a sturgeon legal to keep is , I believe, 38 inches and you can't keep any over 54. That is measuring from the tip of the snout to the middle of the fork in the tail.
You are only allowed to keep ONE per year now. Sturgeon this small are only a few years old and are not sexually mature yet.
You can fish for them only in certain areas during certain times, check your local regulations as they are subject to frequent changes.
Sublegal fish are referred to as "shakers" as you usually just have to shake the hook out of their mouths to release them.

It is not uncommon to see large sturgeon breach out of the water like whales do, I have seen them jump six feet out of the water before.

Guided tours are popular and people come from all over the world to catch them, especially the huge ones that weigh in near a half ton or better.

Sturgeon are bottom feeders and have no teeth. They use their snout to stir up the bottom and they have four barbels like a catfish that they use to sense edible goodies like fresh water mussels, craw dads and small fish.
Most everyone I know uses elastic thread to wrap either a big shrimp or piece of octopus around the hook for bait. They also like earthworms or a combination of all the above. Sometimes the guides who fish for huge oversized sturgeon will wrap a whole shad on. They call it a fish taco.

Bank fishing requires a very long and very stout pole to use as a catapult to cast three to five ounces of lead weight over two hundred feet trying to get to deep water where they live and feed. These poles are usually ten to eleven feet long with an open faced reel and 60 to 80 pound test line. It is quite common to see stainless steel wire leaders also. You can only use a single barbless hook.
Boat fishing for sturgeon is very similar to deep sea bottom fishing regarding poles and equipment.

Even though sturgeon have no teeth, they have rows of razor sharp spots on their backs and down both sides called " scutes" officially. Unofficially, we usually call them "you little fuckers".
Like I said, they are like several rows of razor blades standing on edge so handling them is difficult. Any resulting cuts invariably become infected unless aggressively treated immediately.
When hooked, the sturgeon tends to roll over and over, wrapping themselves up in the line and those scutes will fray and cut a line rather quickly.

When sturgeon bite, you will first notice the tip of your pole jump once or twice and then go still. You want to give them time to get the hook in their mouth and then pick up the pole gently and set the hook with a hard pull.

You have to remember you are using barbless hooks so a steady and unrelenting pressure is required to keep them on the line. The following short video will give you an idea of what you will be dealing with:

Once you actually land one of these monsters that is legal to keep you are now faced with a new dilemma. They do not have scales and it is EXTREMELY CRITICAL that you clean and fillet them in a certain manner.
If you just try and fillet one and cook it without doing it right, you will take one bite, spit it out and swear you will never touch another. There are two layers under the skin and you have to completely remove the outer red layer .
However, done right, this will make the best tasting deep fried fish and chips you have ever eaten. You can also broil or bake it. Sturgeon has a firm, white flesh and is delicious when prepared properly. Broiled with butter spread on top is often called a poor mans lobster.

If you ever get the chance to catch a sturgeon it is something I guarantee you will never forget as long as you live.

I hope this has been somewhat informative and I would urge you to view the myriad Youtube videos and use the internet to explore articles on sturgeon fishing to see more about this subject.


Hey, thanks for this informative post. I know a couple guys at work that take a yearly trip up to the Columbia for the sturgeon fishing. There's sturgeon here in the Delta, but nothing in the class that you mention.
Yeah man, I'm pretty sure this is one of those fish that I mentioned not being able to take on an ultralight rod and 2 pound test line.


drjim said...

Never caught (or went fishing for) a sturgeon, but I've caught some good-sized walleyes and muskies.

Anonymous said...

Florida sturgeon fight back. Do a search on jumping sturgeon Florida.

Great write up.


Anonymous said...

Shasta Lake has a sturgeon population. Or did when I lived there in the 70's. The Pit River is the arm of the lake they are in. When the dam went in they were landlocked and in that part of the lake the trees were just left. Lot of cover. I remember seeing huge fish in the backs of pickups cruzing through Redding. As show offs tend to do.
The bate of choice was rotted chicken.
On the Sacramento River there was a resturant called the Virgin Stugeon. And again---years ago you could get that served. Was a very tasty fish.

Paul, Dammit! said...

I caught an Armored sturgeon once- only about 2 ft long, but tangled by the scutes in my net. 30 years of handling literally a hundred thousand tons or so of fish, and that's the only time I've ever had blood poisoning. Little fuckers. I won't touch one now.