If you’re new to fishing for sturgeon I have good news for you. Here is the Pacific Northwest catching sturgeon is actually fairly simple. Basically, pretty much like almost all the fish species, you drop some live bait down to the bottom of the river and give is a twitch every now and then. If you just happen to get it in front of them you’re pretty much guaranteed a bite. Sturgeon are no different, they are opportunistic feeders and find it hard to resist an easy meal especially if it’s something they like.
The key is knowing where the fish are and what they like to eat. After that it’s all about the gear required to haul one of these behemoths up to the boat. We focus our sturgeon fishing efforts primarily on the Columbia River and Columbia River sturgeon, in particular white sturgeon, can get up to 14 feet long and weight over 1000 pounds. When it comes to a fish of this size you had better have your gear down tight. There is no room for error.
This is why we utilize a systematic process for catching them. This can be the difference from catching a few sturgeon if any or none stop sturgeon fishing action with over fifty hook ups per trip. As far as what it takes here are a few tips to help you become a better sturgeon angler.
Your typical sturgeon outfit starts with a stout rod and a reel that can handle a beast. You’ll want a level-wind reel with an ample amount of braided line in the 80- to 100-pound test range. Next, thread the line through a bead then a heavy slip sinker and put another bead after that to serve as a bumper stop.
After that, just tie on a tie on a heavy barrel to keep the weight off the hook. Before you tie on the hook you’ll want about 12 to 18 inches of leader and use a 5/0 – 11/0 Gamakatsu octopus hook depending on the size for the fish your targeting. Be sure to use just enough weight to keep your bait on the bottom. Now you are set. Generally 6-8 oz will do the trip on the Columbia.
BEST STURGEON BAITS
Most Columbia River sturgeon guides fish shad for bait. Shrimp, clams, anchovies, smelt, herring, crawfish, salmon eggs and salmon carcasses, even nightcrawlers. I’ve even heard of people using rotten chicken but I wouldn’t recommend it. Fresh baits that are part of the natural diet of the fish species your targeting is always the best bait and in my experience will out catch anything else.
Yes, sturgeon will eat pretty much anything if it sits in front of them long enough but fresh baits will get the job done faster. When fresh bait isn’t available using herring oil, or sardine oil on your baits can help as well. It’s just a matter of do you want to catch 10 to 20 fish per day or just a couple?
STURGEON FISHING TECHNIQUES
First and foremost the most important aspect to catching sturgeon or any fish for that matter is being in the right place at the right time. If the fish aren’t there your guaranteed not to catch anything. However once you’ve located sturgeon holding spots it’s time to put your skill and the rod and reel the test. In the lower estuaries your be fishing in 8 to 15 feet of water but when targeting the larger fish you’ll find us fishing the deeper waters 60 feet or deeper. Deep water requires heavier weight. It takes a healthy 20-30 ounces of lead to get it down quick and hold it on the bottom in the fast current. The deep holes is generally where the monsters can be found. John Day Dam, Bonneville pool, all the way up to the snake river. The beauty of it is that once you find where sturgeon are stacked up it’s just a matter of getting the bait down in front of them and let nature take its course.
SETTING THE HOOK
Once you feel the bite slowly tighten up the slack in your line, once the slack is taken in give your rod a firm jerk while raising the tip of the pole. Once the hook is set get ready for a ride and hold on tight. You may find yourself fighting a fish for 20 minutes to an hour depending on how big the fish is. Remember Columbia River sturgeon can weight in excess of 1000 lbs. but those fish are far and few between nowadays. A heavy duty setup will allow you to land the fish faster and is less stress on the fish as well. Remember most sturgeon fishing on the columbia is catch and release. However there are some openings for keeper sturgeon fishing as well just depends on the time of the season.
WHERE TO CATCH STURGEON
There are almost endless places to catch sturgeon on the Columbia however, you’ll need to be aware of the sturgeon fishing regulations as not to end up fishing in closed waters. Some of our favorite places are around Astoria on the Multnomah Channel at Chapman Landing, or near the mouth of Scappoose Bay. Further up river on the Washington side the mouth of the Cowlitz can be a winner but the mouth of the Willamette River is one of our favorite sturgeon fishing spots that produces consistent catch rates but not a keeper sturgeon fishery.
If it’s keeper fish you’re looking for then without a doubt the Columbia River Gorge is the place to go after them. The gorge offers probably the best sturgeon fishing in the state with ample opportunities for both keeper fish and trophy class sturgeon as well. Catch rates of fifty fish or more per trip is far from unusual, we have great success fishing the Gorge and spend a significant part of the sturgeon fishing season here as it is one of the few places left on the Columbia where sturgeon retention is still allowed.
One thing to keep in mind is that keeper sturgeon are much smaller than an adult fish. Both the Washington and Oregon Department fish and wildlife only allow retention of immature sturgeon which reach about 3-5 feet in length. Surprisingly these immature fish are 20-30 years old. What many people don’t realize is that sturgeon are exceptionally long living fish. In some cases they live even longer than humans and can reach the ripe of age of 100 years old or longer. We’re fortunate to live here in the Pacific Northwest where the sturgeon population are still healthy enough to allow retention
We fish the Columbia for sturgeon from the mouth at Astoria all the way up to the John Day Dam and can be found consistently catching these amazing fish throughout the season. We are actually one of the few Columbia River sturgeon guides that offer sturgeon fishing trips all year long, even in the debt of winter. The action is rarely slow and there is nothing quite like the heart pounding thrill of landing a 600 pound fish and having your photo taken with a true modern day dinosaur. If your interested in catching one of these monsters for yourself give us a call at 503-490-3099.
We at Columbia River Fishing Adventures would be more that happy to serve you on your next fishing adventure. We can accommodate anywhere from a couple anglers to corporate groups. Trips book pretty fast so if your looking to get a spot on one of our book we recommend calling well in advance of your planned fishing trip.