Al’s Big Sturgeon!
April 20-21, 2005
This past week my old high school buddy, Al (Class of ’58 – yeah, I mean
old!), drove down from Oregon to go fishing with me. Our plans included
a visit to the Delta for a couple of days to get him onto a big ol’
sturgeon. We towed the boat with the motorhome and spent the night at
Brannan Island. The motorhome adds a very comfortable dimension for us
old graybeards and I may have to start using it more often. There’s
nothing quite like having all the conveniences of home available when
the day’s fishing is done. A hot shower and a soft couch is quite an
improvement over the V-berth after a long day of fishing.
FishWisher the boat behind Ol’ Rex the motorhome at Brannan Island. This is my idea of roughing it!
We launched at Brannan Island State Park near Rio Vista on Wednesday
morning, then headed directly to nearby Decker Island and anchored near
the edge of the ship channel. I have caught several sturgeon at that
spot over the years, but haven’t had much luck recently. I very
seriously considered cruising down to Suisun Bay, but since we planned
to stay at Brannan Island that night, it seemed a waste of fishing time
to do so much cruising to and from the bay.
We began fishing a bit before noon as an incoming tide was well underway.
The tide would begin to turn about 3 O’clock and we planned to fish
‘til nearly dark if necessary. We tossed a couple of lines out over the
transom in hopes of catching Al’s first ever striper or sturgeon. My
hope was to get him onto a mighty sturgeon for a fishing memory he’d
never forget. One line had my usual lamprey chunks on both hooks as our
best offering for attracting a sturgeon. The other line was baited with
shad. This was Al’s first sturgeon trip and while the odds of getting
someone onto a sturgeon in one trip were pretty slim, we had high hopes.
Predictably, the shad were high maintenance as the little nippers kept stealing them. The lamprey attracted only a few nips but the thieving little
nippers couldn’t steal it. Occasionally I added small bits of lamprey
to the hooks to keep the scent fresh and strong. Al managed to snag one
very small striper with the shad and we tossed it back. He was pleased
to have actually reeled it in. He’d “caught” his first striper. I had
much higher aspirations for him.
Finally, about 1600, after the outgoing current became just strong enough to turn the boat, there was a gentle sturgeon nibble on the lamprey. And… we were hooked into something of substance! At first the fish seemed to swim toward the boat as the hook was set and we thought we had just a small, shaker sturgeon on. But soon it was apparent that it was no small fish.
I reeled in the other line and commenced shouting instructions to Al as he began the fight:
“Don’t give him any slack, man!” I hollered. “Don’t let him rest! If he isn’t taking line, pull up, reel down!”
“Whatever you do, do NOT get the rod tangled into those raised motors! Reach way out over them if you have to!”
“If the line suddenly feels slack, reel like heck – he might be running toward the boat!”
“Aw, shut up, Dale”, I said to myself. And no doubt Al had the same thought.
But Lord knows it’s hard to remain calm and collected in the middle of
Al’s face showed his disbelief at the power of the fish he was suddenly
battling – he’d never fought such a mighty fish before. He was
completely awed by the fish’s ability to peel off line against a strong
drag. The Penn’s lever drag was pressed forward to the stop and yet the
fish ran at will, taking line with wild abandon. Al has fought his
share of steelhead and salmon and knows how to fight fish, but nothing
could have prepared him for the raw power of the mighty sturgeon. He
traded the rod from one hand to the other and back again, his muscles
aching from the stress of the battle.
Al’s sturgeon was unusually strong! He refused to come to the boat and
remained unseen for nearly twenty minutes. Al was beside himself as he
fought the fish of a lifetime! For twenty minutes the battle wore on,
taking its toll on both fighters. Eventually the big fish began to tire
and came nearer the boat. When the monster first surfaced, Al nearly
dropped in disbelief; he had just reeled in the biggest fish he had
I had the net in hand and as the tired beast lay in submission by the
boat I gave him a poke with the handle to see if he had any more fight
in him. It was about this time that things got dicey…
The big sturgeon did not react to the poke, and I attempted to net him. In
the process, I snagged the second hook in the netting when the big
sturgeon was only about half netted. It was about this time that I
gouged myself with the hook and ripped my finger open. %*$#@&!!!
So there we were having the time of our lives, one hook firmly attached to
the net, the other firmly attached to the fish, the fish out of the net
and me bleeding like a stuck hog. The only things in our favor were the
very firm hookup we had and the fact that he had nearly given up the
fight. We were living a Keystone Kop movie! Somehow, while bleeding all
over the net and the fish, I managed to get the sturgeon stuffed back
into the net. I then grabbed the fish knocker and administered a few
righteous whacks to the fish’s broad head – and I bled all over the
fish knocker. I heaved the net and the fish over the gunwale and onto
the deck. I bled on the gunwale. I bled on the deck. I was ecstatic! Al
was wide-eyed in amazement at his huge catch. I bled on Al. I splattered blood everywhere. We were having a ball!
I grabbed a smelly old fishing rag and wrapped my finger, trying to stem
the flow of blood. I then grabbed the tape measure from a cabin drawer
and bled on it. We had to turn the fish diagonally on the cockpit sole
to get him flat and straight for an accurate measurement. He was an
unusually large male, tough and lean and long. He measured 68 inches,
the largest male sturgeon I’ve ever seen. Ol’ Al and I together
struggled to weigh the big guy with my fish scale. With a small portion
of his tail still lying on the sole, the scale read 65 pounds.
We nearly doubled the fish over to get him into the big ice chest that
served as my fishbox. The monster was so big that we had to tie a line
around the fishbox to keep the lid closed.
After securing our big catch in the fishbox, Al and I sat heavily on the
gunwales and took a break from all the excitement. I grabbed a beer and
drank deeply and I don’t recall a more refreshing brew! If the
afterglow of such a thrilling, rowdy fish fight as we’d just had wasn’t
Miller Time, nothing would be!
When we weary, old graybeards recuperated, we cleaned up the mess in the
boat, weighed anchor and headed for the ramp at Brannan Island. It had
been an amazing day and we still had a big fish to clean.
I called Audie at Hap’s bait in Rio Vista, hoping that he’d be willing to clean our
big catch for us. Sure! He would get the fish cleaned for us by the
next morning. We drove over to Hap’s Bait where Audie cranked the
monster up onto his scales and weighed him properly. He weighed in at
67½ pounds. Having been bled in the water, we decided he would have
easily weighed 68 pounds when he was caught. 68 inches by 68 pounds! Al
had over 30 pounds of sturgeon meat to take home to Oregon along with
what certainly had to be his best fishing story ever. He was a happy
fella. Last year’s fishing adventure for Al and I was three days of trolling Lake
Almanor in the wind and cold for one little trout. It was not a
memorable trip but Al has never let me forget it. This year’s Delta
adventure turned out to be our most memorable fishing trip ever. Al
experienced the excitement of a great fight with a big, tough sturgeon
– the fish fight of a lifetime. Now the tables are turned on ol’ buddy
Al and I’ll never let him forget!