When it comes to fishing for Sturgeon, Few anglers do it better that sturgeon fishing guides Columbia River fishing Adventures. Here are a few tips and tricks from our friends at CRFA that will help you catch the dinosaur.
Yes! It’s true, sturgeon have been roaming waterways of the Columbia River literally since the age of the dinosaurs. This 136 million year old species even survived the ice age. Even though the giant asteroid that crashed into Earth way back when couldn’t wipe them, we almost did in the late 1800s and early 1900s through overfishing, dams and degraded habitat. The Pacific Northwest Sturgeon has eliminated from many of their native waters.
Thankfully people have woke up and started to change the cycle. Since the late 1900s, sturgeon habitats have been slowly restored, commercial fisheries shut down, and conservative recreational harvest regulations implemented. Today, sturgeon populations have strongly rebounded in their native range, especially the lower Columbia River, which is largely due to the hatchery program and limited retention limits being allowed in certain sections of the Columbia.
The current sturgeon population in the Columbia River is estimated to be over 10,850 juvenile and adult fish, although these estimate seem low given how many fish are caught every year in the various sections of the Columbia river and Willamette River. Granted sturgeon are not all that smart and it’s not unusual to catch the same fish several times when practicing catch and release techniques.
Now when is comes to the tips and tricks used many sturgeon fishing guides it’s not rocket science. I’m sure you’ve seen the endless pictures and videos on facebook and Youtube of adrenalin pumped anglers fighting one of these beasts and in the end holding up that huge armor plated beauty for the whole world to see. If you’ve ever wondered hey how do I do that, never fear that could be you too and best of all it’s not that expensive.
As a long time sturgeon fishing guide on the Columbia river here in Oregon the information below is basically my own personal experience. Some fellow anglers and fishing guides however may not agree with these tactics, the equipment and techniques described blow can also be applied to other Pacific Northwest bodies of water where sturgeon tend to roam.
What You Need to Catch Sturgeon
If you ask most Sturgeon anglers in the Pacific Northwest, they’re likely to say they mostly fish for salmon during the summer months which required lighter gear. However when the salmon fishing is slow, these are the days they might switch to heavier gear and target the infamous sturgeon. That’s exactly what we do during both summer and fall salmon seasons.
Keep in mind when fishing for sturgeon using a quality reel is probably our most important recommendation. This is the one piece of equipment you should never skimp on. If you’re on a tight budget try saving your money on other equipment in your setup. You’ll also need a heavy rod, some heavy braid line, and a healthy pile of tackle like slides, weights, and hooks.
Best Sturgeon Fishing Rod
Granted whether your fishing from the bank or on a boat, your rod will spend most of it’s time in a rod holder. Sturgeon fishing rods tend to be shorter and stouter than the typical 9ft. – 10ft. bobber dogging rod used for catching salmon or steelhead. At a minimum you’ll need something rated in the 20lb. – 60lb. line range, medium heavy and rated for 2oz – 6oz weight. If it’s a spinning rod or casting is a matter of preference.
Sturgeon can be very lite biters, you’ll need to be able to see and feel the bites without spooking the fish. When fishing for sturgeon, I always use a rod with a soft tip. We like the Shimano Tallus Blue Water Series 8 ft. 40lbs. – 60lbs. rods.
Believe it or not, a lot of people use heavy salmon rods for keeper sturgeon fishing. In many cases they will work just fine, but if you just happen to hook into that big 8-footer you’ll wish you had something bigger. When fishing for sturgeon you need a rod with the power to get the job done quickly, without over-stressing the fish.
You also want something that can handle 6oz. to 16 oz. of lead and 50lbs. to 65lbs. line. Most of the Columbia River in the Portland area, the Willamette River and the lower section near Astoria can be fished for sturgeon with a medium weight 8-foot rod. Lamiglas has an 8ft. rod, the LIS8040C rated for 20-40 line and a 1oz. – 5oz. lure. that allot of Sturgeon fishing guides like, but shimano is my personal preference. If you looking to go on the cheap both Diawa and Ugly Stik make suitable rods for catching sturgeon.
When it’s time to fish for the big sturgeon you’ll be fishing the deep, fast water below Bonneville or the Dalles Dam, in these sections you’ll need to step up to a rod that can handle big bait and heavy lead – a rod that’s 6-1/2 to 7 feet that can handle leads up to 48 oz. and 80# J-Braid. We use the X-stream 6-1/2 foot 60 to 80#. Pair that with a good quality reel that has a strong drag and can hold lots of line. Most Oregon fishing guides in these areas use the Avet xl 2 speeds filled with 500 yards of 80# J-Braid.
Heavy Duty Reel
Probably the most important piece of equipment an angler will ever have is the reel. whether a Spinning reel or Baitcaster doesn’t really matter much it just has to be big enough to handle a large fish like sturgeon. When were fishing for the smaller sturgeon like keepers, we like the Shimano Tekota 700 which is also great for fishing the lower Columbia around the Portland area. On our sturgeon fishing trips, If we’re going after the big ones however, we break our the heavy artillery the Avet xl 2 speed.
When you hook into a 800 lbs. fish. There’s no skimping, the Avent will get the job done. Granted not everyone is up for using a baitcaster. If you prefer a spinning reel go big or go home. The Penn 7500, 8500 or 1050 can all get the job done. Remember. you’ll need something that can peel off 300 yards of line and not burn up when getting spooled.
Best Fishing Line for sturgeon
Granted the line you use is a matter of preference but we exclusively use J-Braid mainline. It’s strong, flexible, and abrasion-resistant. It’s ideal for either salmon or sturgeon fishing. The 65# is perfect for sturgeon fishing in the Portland area and the lower Columbia River around Astoria. When we head upriver to Bonneville or the Dalles Dam we break out the 80# J-Braid.
Most Oregon fishing guides use either 96# nylon sturgeon leader or 130# tuff line. We use 130# braid for leader in the lower river since it’s stronger and has a much smaller diameter; we use the 96# nylon up river because it’s much more abrasion resistant.
Rigging for Sturgeon
When rigging for Sturgeon, whatever bait you use, stick the hook through it’s head or lower extremities. Make sure the point is sticking out and is free of scales and wrap a few half hitches around the bait. If you have soft bait or are having trouble keeping your bait on the hook wrap in with 10 to 15 wraps of stretchy string.
When and Where to fish
Know when to fish. Good timing is often determined by water temperature since the main feeding time of sturgeon is when the water temperature is between 50 to 65 degrees F. Find where they feed. Once the sturgeon settle on a favorable location, they will hang out there to feed for a while – this is where you want to be. Like most bottom feeders, sturgeon stay at the river bottom in places like holes, weed edges, and shelves. So, you’ll want to place your bait close to the river bed.
Best Sturgeon Baits
Choose the best bait. Fresh is always best, if possible. Recommended bait includes shrimp, crawfish, salmon eggs, and snails. Sturgeon are attracted by strong fish scents, so adding sardine, shrimp or other fish oil to your bait will more likely get their attention. Consider the season and the area when you choose bait. Sturgeon will more likely go for bait that’s similar to what they naturally find in their river in that season. Sturgeon can be very aggressive feeders. However, that doesn’t mean that they’re willing to eat just anything, any time. When they want a particular bait, you’d better have it, or it might be a long day of watching your rods do absolutely nothing. There are some days when they will eat anything that hits the bottom. But, as an experienced sturgeon fishing guides, I know that this is not the norm. So, be sure to bring a variety of FRESH bait.
My Favorite Baits: In the lower river, around Portland, my favorite baits are sand shrimp, smelt and herring. If I had to use only one type of bait, it would be smelt. But with poor Smelt runs the last few years, they are nearly impossible to get.
When fishing the lower Columbia River, Near Astoria, the best baits are anchovies and Sand Shrimp. The sturgeon in this section of the river can be very aggressive biters. They can also be some of the toughest fish to catch if you don’t have good FRESH bait. As you move up the Columbia and start fishing below Bonneville and Dalles Dams for the BIG sturgeon, shad is the best bait every day – these BIG Sturgeon love Shad!
Recognize a sturgeon’s bite. Sturgeon are usually light biters. If they sense resistance in the line, they will drop the bait and move on. Wait for the fish to take a big enough bite to get hooked. Then, yank on the pole firmly and start reeling. Make sure you are well-anchored — sturgeon fight hard. If the bait is too heavily weighted, the sturgeon are less likely to bite it. However, in a fast-moving river, use a heavier weight to keep the line steady. Have patience. Once you find one of their feeding places, you will attract more of them with your bait. When a fish finds your bait, you’ll feel the line move a little.
Be mobile. If you’ve spent more than an hour in one location without a bite, move to a different location. Unlike other river species, sturgeon bite only in the area where they are holding up and feeding, so you can be confident that a slow spot will stay that way.
Setting the hook
When you’re fishing for sturgeon and you get a bite you don’t want to get to excited and whip the pole so hard that you basically pull the bait right out of the mouth of the fish rather than setting the hook. Remember Sturgeon can be soft biters. Once you get a bite, be sure to pick up your fishing pole slowly don’t just yank it out of the rod holder, hold your pole so that the tip of the rod is down low to the water, as you feel the fish bite 3 or 4 times in succession give your pole a nice firm pull straight back, after that wait a couple seconds to see if you feel that the fish is on, If not drop the tip of your pole back down so your set up is on the bottom again, most of the time if you failed to set the hook and the bait isn’t already gone that fish will come back and bite again.
When to fish
Although the sturgeon fishing is open year-round on the Columbia, the fishing tends to get pretty slow when the winter water starts to cool. Sturgeon fishing starts to heat up in the spring as the water melts off the Cascades. When the temperature falls gets above 45 degrees, that’s usually when we start filling up the boat and have to micromanage our schedule so we can get as many people on the water as much as possible. If you’d like to try your hand at catching one of the most amazing fish in existence today give sturgeon fishing guides Buddy Dupell of Columbia River fishing Adventures a call at 503-490-3099. We would be honored to be the ambassadors of your sturgeon fishing experience.
Columbia River Fishing Adventures
19580 S Kalal Ct
Oregon City, OR 97045