Hook a sturgeon, and you're in for one thrilling fight

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Really, there’s nothing to sturgeon fishing. But once you get one hooked, a sturgeon can provide the thrill of a tremendous fight on your hands.

There’s effective sturgeon fishing in local rivers, but the majority of these ancient fish are tallied in San Pablo and Suisun bays, upriver at places like Collinsville, just below Rio Vista, and in many surrounding sloughs and by-water.

Sturgeon meat is great, so mild, so favored by anglers. The great part is there is not one bone in a sturgeon’s body. Their bones are outside in the form of plates, from the tip of their tail to their snout. Their encased spine is a cord.

Their bony outer shell can cut your line if you allow them enough slack to roll or put them aboard your boat and they thrash. The latter can tear up your boat and cause you great physical damage.

Heavy all the way with rod, reel, leaders and line
First of all, you need a rod with a heavy backbone and a fairly light tip. Most anglers will have a large star-drag reel loaded with no less than 40-pound test line. Most commercial sturgeon set-ups are wire leaders, oftentimes with two hooks.

Sturgeon don’t have teeth to bite through the leader, and wire leader is more difficult to break should they roll on it. Two hooks can have the advantage of additional bait.

Successful sturgeon baits include mud, ghost and grass shrimp, along with eel and salmon roe, cured or fresh.

Sturgeon are bottom-feeders, their mouths constantly “vacuuming” anything tasty. Which means, the offering must be firmly anchored near the bottom for them to find it. That can mean a tremendous weight to begin with, generally a large pyramid weight, eight ounces or larger on a slide.

Sturgeon are a wary fish. If they suspect something isn’t right with the bait, they’ll move on.

Keep your eyes on the tip of the rod
Have your rod firmly planted but to where the tip can move to indicate a bite.
Sturgeon are large, but if you aren’t constantly watching your rod, you can easily miss the first sniff a sturgeon takes to your bait.

The first “bite” isn’t really a bite. They’ll generally pick it up just to see if it’s something they really want. Your rod tip will jiggle ever so slightly. Do not touch the rod – yet.

If a sturgeon finds your offering to their liking, it will pick it up for real. Your rod tip again will bobble, enough for you to know it’s more than the tide trying to move it.

Give the rod the ol’ heave-ho. Strike hard. If you hit the strike at the right time, there will be no question if you have it hooked. The fight will be immediate – and powerful.

To be successful in landing the fish, you need to totally tire it. Keep the pressure on and let him run. When he stops, start pumping and reeling him back. The back-and-forth runs often feel they’re like taking forever, but the fish eventually will get so tired, by now generally near the boat, it will go belly up. Of course, you’ll be just about as tired, too.

Now, the last thing you want to do is attempt to put that fish in the boat. If the fish gets its second wind and begins thrashing, you and the boat are in jeopardy. Have ropes aboard. Lash the head and tail and tie it to the side of the boat.

Are you going to catch a sturgeon every time you soak a line? No. But when you do, it’s something you’ll talk about for a long time, reliving the experience time and time again.

Where to launch
While many anglers launch in bay waters, there’s considerable water to cover and you can easily get away from other boats.

Launches are available at Black Rock off Highway 101, near the mouth of the Petaluma River; at Loch Lomond, easy access to the western end of San Pablo Bay; in Vallejo, across from the old Mare Island shipyards near the mouth of the Napa River for easy fishing at the eastern end of San Pablo Bay and the Napa River itself.

You can take the Martinez exit off Interstate 680 and launch with easy access to most of the lower end of Suisun Bay and all the access sloughs, such as Goodyear and Montezuma, and Mothball Fleet, a short run from the launch area.

Or, launch in Rio Vista or at the state park, take a boat run downriver to Collinsville, and you’ll be in prime sturgeon fishing water.

All the launch areas listed have bait shops nearby.

Bay waters generally are pretty calm. But on windy days, even these waters can get rough, so prudently choose the day you go, depending on the size of your boat. Besides, if the wind is blowing too strongly, you won’t effectively see a sturgeon bite anyway.

There are two species of sturgeon in California – green and white. Only the white sturgeon may be kept. The chance of hooking into a green sturgeon is rare due to its low population level.

Have a tape measure handy. A keeper must measure a minimum of 46 inches and no more than 60 inches.

Contact George deVilbiss at