The hardest earned sturgeon ever!
May 19-20, 2004
I had actually canceled this season’s final sturgeon adventure early Tuesday morning due to windy conditions on Suisun Bay. I then nagged myself the rest of the day about making such a stupid decision about such an important trip. After shuffling some scheduled stuff around (this retired old graybeard doesn’t have too much to shuffle), I headed out on Wednesday morning for this very important sturgeon hunt.
I launched into the Sacramento River at the Rio Vista Muni Ramp with a couple of dozen ghost shrimp and a fair amount of optimism and good cheer. Windy conditions were still in the forecast, but I planned to play this two-day adventure by ear. I monitored the NOAA broadcast carefully, and upon hearing of predicted wind to 30 or 35 MPH on Suisun Bay Wednesday night, chose to stay put near Rio Vista for at least the first day.
I anchored at my usual sturgeon hole near Light 25, a short cruise down river from Rio Vista. While the day was a bit breezy, it was warm and clear and pleasant. I faithfully offered lively ghost shrimp on the clam bed below from mid morning ‘til dinnertime. For my efforts that first day I was rewarded with one 20-inch striper, which was released. As afternoon turned to evening, my thoughts turned to finding a safe haven for the night’s anchorage. As usual, when anchoring overnight around Rio Vista, I headed upriver toward Isleton and anchored on the calm waters near the egret roosting trees above Vieira’s Resort. I would rise early and head downriver to Suisun Bay if the morning was calm.
I was up and doing the usual morning boat rituals at 4:00 a.m. By 4:30 I was idling downriver, passing the lights of Vieira’s in the darkness. The wind was calm and the water was flat. I was finally on my way to Suisun Bay even though it was via GPS, radar and autopilot.
By the time I passed Broad Slough, dawn was breaking and the wind was kicking up. When I passed Simmons Point the wind was really blowing and the waves were already three footers. I very seriously considered turning back; I did not want to spend the day rockin’ and rollin’ in the blowing wind on Suisun Bay. But this was no usual Delta Adventure. This was the last sturgeon hunt of the season, and it was time to quit wimping out every time the wind blows!
I continued on, hammering across Suisun through the waves and the wind and the spray. It was a slow, unpleasant trip and I encouraged my wimpy self by thinking about how great it would be to hook into this season’s third sturgeon. It would be especially rewarding after slamming across Suisun to catch it. I soldiered on.
Nearly 2 ½ hours after leaving the egrets near Vieira’s, I dropped anchor at my honey hole on Suisun Bay. The wind was blowing across the bay from the fleet as the current was flowing toward it. Waves continually rocked the boat as I rigged up for sturgeon. I was no longer full of good cheer and my optimism had been reduced to a spark of hope. But I was faithful to the cause; I told the fishing gods that I deserved a sturgeon for making such an effort. So far as praying goes, I probably could have done better.
Sturgeon fishing and choppy, windy conditions don’t mix well. Even in calm conditions I like to hold the rod in hand to feel confident I won’t miss the mighty sturgeon’s tender bite. With the boat rocking and rolling, it’s hard to keep the line taut while holding the rod. Placing the rod on the balance beam is out of the question when it’s windy. Under such conditions, fishing is as close to work as fishing gets.
Nevertheless, I kept at it. I was constantly taking in and letting out line as the boat swung and rocked at anchor. Within about 15 minutes I had a small shaker striper on and released him. That was a good omen; at least I felt his nibbles and was able to set the hook. Maybe I would be able to set the hook into a light biting sturgeon.
For three hours I faithfully tended the reel, keeping the line taut and righteously awaiting that little sturgeon nibble. Eventually I felt a slight nip-nip, a bit softer than a striper peck, but figured that’s what it was. A moment later, a leisurely pull took about three or four inches of line off the reel. Click-click-click. That was the song I’d been waiting for! I set the hook fast and hard and I was hooked into something substantial! And I set the hook again, harder. I hooted and hollered like a school kid; all the effort of this crazy trip was paying off!
Well, the payoff wasn’t made quite yet. I still had to get the big fella into the boat. I let him run as he pleased, letting him tire as quickly as possible. He felt strong; I was guessing I had a fair sized sturgeon on, maybe something in the 50-inch range. He ran to and fro, wearing himself out pretty quickly.
When I had him to the boat and got my first look at him, I was surprised to see how small and slender he was. Gee whiz, I wondered if the little guy was even big enough to be legal! I let him run longer than necessary, trying to get him good and tired so that I could measure him. As he lay beside the boat, I took my little measuring device, a small bamboo handle with a 46” and a 72” green gardening tape attached, and tried to get a good idea of his length. Try as I might, I could not convince myself that this little guy was legal. I finally netted him and measured him on the cockpit sole. He was 47 inches and just 27 pounds! He was the smallest keeper sturgeon I’d ever caught. Into the fish box he went!
The pure rush of gratification as I slogged back across the bay with a sturgeon in the box was just indescribable. Having coaxed myself through a miserable trip across Suisun Bay to my honey hole added great satisfaction to an already grand adventure.
I didn’t see a single fishing boat on Suisun Bay the entire trip. Most folks were smart enough to stay put and wait for another day. But my plans to be traveling the next three weeks aboard the motorhome created this week’s now or never situation. I am very pleased to know that I can still get this old carcass moving against its stubborn will when the chips are down.
This season’s sturgeon recap is surprising. While I caught just three keepers, I made only about half as many fishing trips as last year, which also totaled just three. I guess that means that my success rate has greatly improved.
The Rio Vista area is and always has been good sturgeon fishing grounds for me. Yet, in six trips to the Rio Vista area this season, I caught no keepers. In contrast, I made five trips to Suisun Bay: On three of those trips I came home with a keeper sturgeon. On one of the trips I came home with a 17-pound striper limit. And on my least productive trip, I settled for just a schoolie striper. I didn’t have one skunk on Suisun Bay this season. And all those fish came from the exact same honey hole. Don’t ask!
The final trip of this season was such a heady and exciting affair that I may have to visit Suisun during the summer months. I haven’t been on Suisun Bay during the summer in years. Maybe it’s time to reassess my summertime fishing!