Is sturgeon fishing worth my seemingly endless efforts this year in the cold and the wind and the waves? Absolutely! And some weeks are even more rewarding than others; this past week, for instance…
I knew that it was going to be another windy adventure on my beloved California Delta. It’s been windy, it is windy and it’ll be windy. That’s about as accurate a weather forecast as I need these days.
Lately, I couldn’t ask for better fishing results. Perhaps I’m collecting past due fish from my unrewarded efforts during the cold and misery of January and February fishing. Whatever the case, I’m as optimistic about sturgeon fishing just now as I’ve ever been. This week I would try for my fifth sturgeon of the season. Perhaps to those reel experts that catch sturgeon regularly, my four catches to date don’t add up to much. But for me, I consider myself to be having a pretty fair year. Finally. If I could hook into a fifth sturgeon, I’d consider this to be a pretty good year.
I launched into the rolling Sacramento River at Rio Vista Wednesday morning for sturgy #5. I headed for the area above the Rio Vista Bridge to fish an outgoing current. The current and wind worked against one another enough to keep the river rolling, most guys were smart enough to stay home. There were few fishermen out in the howling wind and waves. I dropped anchor about a half mile above the Rio Vista Bridge and took a few moments to see if the boat would settle down and be stable. I managed to stay in line with the flow well enough to sling my grass shrimp/pile worm combo out over the transom to the river bottom.
My very comfortable C-Dory which is a marvelous boat for Delta fishing. Whether calm or rough, this boat can handle it!
The sun was wonderful, the wind was warm and I sat back to await my sturgeon’s little bite. As I should have expected, I just thought I was sturgeon fishing, I was actually striper fishing. The little nippers kept me pretty busy freshening the bait and tossing them back. I hooked seven stripers to 19 inches during that time, releasing all but one that got off on his own. By 3:00 p.m. the current was incoming and it was time to seek some shelter from the wind and waves.
I motored down to the area near Lite 25 where I can usually find some shelter from the wind. By now the wind was whipping as bad as I’d seen all day. I gave a sporting try at that location, but all I caught was a snag on the bottom of the river. It took me half an hour of trying to break it loose. I finally just cut my line. By sundown I’d had enough of the wind and waves and the rotten luck. I reeled in for the last time and called it a day.
I decided to spend the night at anchor just above Vieira’s on the Old Sacramento River. I’d have the company of the egrets at that anchorage as well as pretty calm water. Also, I could easily pull up to Vieira’s dock early in the morning for fresh bait. I spent a quiet night among the egrets and woke to another windy day. Rats.
As I readied the boat for fishing I had to choose between Cache Slough or heading back to Lite 25 for the day. Both locations are somewhat sheltered in the wind. I’d fished Cache several times this year with no sturgeon to show for it. I’d caught two sturgeon at Lite 25. Not a hard choice; I was back at Lite 25 at 7:00 a.m. for another day of sturgeon fishing.
I deployed my big underwater drogue once again to maintain some directional stability in the blowing wind. As I sat there in the cockpit, rocking and rolling on the windy river, I settled back and reflected on my sturgeon efforts this sturgeon season. Earlier this season I’d invested many days of fishing only to come home empty handed, week after week. I spent many a night in the fog and the wind and the cold for nothing. I didn’t catch my first sturgeon until February, for crying out loud! December and January’s miserable fishing conditions didn’t produce a thing for me. Why was that? I think that the main cause was too much time spent in the cabin by the heater, watching my rod and reel. Sturgeon will usually drop the bait after a take down, they seldom swallow it or run with it. I believe they press the bait with their powerful crusher and then spit it; a fisherman usually has very little time to set the hook. Sitting in the cockpit, rod and reel in hand is a much more productive way to catch sturgeon.
I sat there near Lite 25 for two hours before a 19″ striper took my bait. I reeled him in and released him and continued my wait. My higher self was arguing with my redneck self about the virtues of fishing in the endless wind. Yep, that sounds like a mental health issue!
Few fishermen seem to put up with this, why me? I could be doing any number of other things and I could try this fishing another day. Ah, but this is sturgeon fishing. It takes days like this, patience like this, to actually catch a good keeper sturgeon. I chose to keep on trying, darn it.
Nearly two more hours crept by as I faithfully sat there holding the rod and reel, waiting, waiting. The ebb tide was well underway. My offerings continued to be pile worm/grass shrimp combos. It was nearly going on noon as — finally — I felt a nip-nip on the other end of my line; I guessed it was a catfish. Maybe not. Nip-nip again…SET! Nothing. I missed it. I continued to wait for another little nip. Soon enough I felt another bump or two and I pressed home another hard set. Humph! I hooked into something very, very solid! I set the hook again and again, then the huge something began to move. YES! I had #5 on my line and I knew she was a big one!
I fumbled with the rod as I retrieved the drogue, hand over hand. It would spell disaster if a sturgeon got near the boat with the drogue deployed! Finally I had it stowed in the motor well. I reeled in a bit of line, pulling her toward the boat. Off she sped, taking line with wild abandon; she was in charge for the moment, in time maybe I would be! I raised the outboard clear of the water as our battle of wills commenced. The fight was on!
This big fish made it very clear, very soon, that she was in charge of where this fight would take place. She continued to take line and I continued to let her — I was prepared for this kind of fish. I had plenty of line, she’d never take it all! After a few minutes she was willing to take a break. I would not let her; I reeled in every time she tried to rest. There would be no rest for her ’til I had her to the boat. Such is the task of reeling in a big fish. Power isn’t the issue; endurance is the issue!
Her might far outweighed her endurance. She fought for about twenty minutes with real gusto. Once she was to the boat, she was already belly-up exhausted. I was wide eyed in awe! This was some fish! I estimated her to be in the high 60 inch length, but I could only guess. She managed one more run as I tried to net her the first time, but it was a short run. She was back quickly, in submission and ready for the net. I tried capturing her a couple more times before I had her netted, the rod in one hand and the net in the other.
It was time to decide if she was indeed under the 72″ maximum. I decided that she was, though I couldn’t be sure. I administered a couple of proper whacks and prepared to get her into the boat.
Now it was my turn to go belly-up tired! I’d just finished a 20 minute fight that wasn’t too difficult at my end, but now I had to lift this monster the three feet from the water over my gunwale! I tried two or three times and couldn’t manage the lift! After my failed tries, my net frame was at a right angle to the net hoop, bent beyond repair! I finally had to grab the netting and hand over hand work her up and over the gunwale! It was a slow and difficult job, but finally she was aboard!
She was huge! What was I to do with this monster?! I measured her three times before I was convinced that she was indeed legal. I had to lay her diagonally in my cockpit to get her fully stretched out. I measured her three times; once at 72″, once at 67″ and once at 71″! No doubt I was too excited to measure her with much precision, but I did convince myself that she was legal.
She wouldn’t completely fit into my 124 quart ice chest, her huge tail had to hang out. I then cleaned up the boat, stowed my gear and headed to the ramp. What a heady experience this had been! At the ramp I was all alone, not a soul around to ask me how I’d done fishing. Darn. I’d do plenty of bragging later.
As I drove home I considered my options. First, I was just dog tired. I’m not used to manhandling a 100 pound fish. Secondly, the only reasonable way to unload this monster, it seemed to me, was to go to my store and use the forklift. Yes, the forklift! This was a huge fish and I’d handled her alone all I wanted to.
My friend Rich met me at my store. As I drove home I called him to ask for his help when I arrived. We managed to unload, wash down and photograph the monster with the help of the forklift. We laid her down for an official measure. She measured just a tad over 71 inches! She was legal. I had no scale to weigh her; I consulted an internet sturgeon chart to get some idea of her weight. The chart stated that she likely weighed 107 Lbs. She was very stout, I measured her girth at 30″. I settled for claiming her weight at 100 Lbs. I sure wish I could have had the exact weight.
I was done handling this huge fish. I offered her to Rich for him to smoke and to return some meat to me. He agreed. I didn’t have to clean her or wrestle her anymore! It was a great deal for me because I was toast. All I wanted was to head for home and a lounge chair and some cold beer.
Why do I put up with the cold and the wind and the waves and the frustration of sturgeon fishing? I have been righteously reminded! The great pleasure of catching a really big ‘un makes it all worthwhile! I hope my redneck self always wins the arguments.
Over the years I have posted many exciting fishing and boating stories here, but now in my seventies, it was time to sell the boat and find less demanding pastimes. All the fishing stories are still here! I will now post my travels aboard the motorhome and other activities. I hope y'all will still enjoy the fishing and boating adventures and perhaps peek in on my post-boating activities on occasion. Thanks for dropping in and I hope you enjoy your visit.