The Last Legal Monster…
March 8, 2006
Having ranted about the coming reduced sturgeon slot last week, it was time to head out for another Delta adventure and do what seemed my duty: Catch one last, monster sturgeon and imagine that I was getting some sort of revenge. If I could get lucky with one last hawg, it would likely be the last monster from the Delta I’d be allowed to take. I just had a hunch that there wouldn’t be another 72” limit during my lifetime. And, after all, it wouldn’t be like taking one of the last big ones; those who actually spend time fishing the delta for sturgeon have good reason that there are good numbers of them out there.
I loaded provisions on the boat for a couple of days on the river and headed for Brannan Island State Park’s launch ramp. I planned to spend the night on the river somewhere near Suisun Bay – probably in Montezuma Slough if the weather was rough. The weather forecast wasn’t exactly favorable. Winds were predicted to 15 MPH and that usually meant higher gusts. And a lumpy Suisun Bay.
I headed downriver towards Suisun Bay on a choppy river. It wasn’t too bad, but the chop was enough to slow my progress as I hammered through it. Some of my most rewarding adventures included sloppy weather and it was time I quit being such a wimp. Few other boats were on the river that day; it was not a day for fair weather cruises in small boats – especially on Suisun Bay.
I arrived at my sturgeon hole near Garnet Point after a 90 minute boat ride. The breeze was blowing out of the Carquinez Strait at about 15 MPH, as predicted, and it was lumpy. An outgoing current was just getting underway. Responding to the wind and the current, the boat settled broadside to the rolling waves. Even so, it maintained a reasonably stable position as it rocked side to side. I tossed a couple of chunks of lamprey out over the transom and waited for that little nibble. Here fishy-fishy…
I love fishing Suisun Bay more than any place on the Delta. Maybe more than any place on earth. But I don’t love it so much when the wind blows. Nevertheless I stayed faithful to the cause, fishing the most productive hole I know of while hoping and praying for one final hawg sturgeon.
When sturgeon fishing in a rocking boat, it isn’t easy to keep the line taut. As the boat swings at anchor, line ticks off the reel and as the boat moves back the line must be reeled in to keep things tight. The tender bite of a mighty sturgeon can only be felt on a taut line, so I spent nearly all my time with rod in hand, tending the line. One hour passed, then an hour and a half, then…
Something bumped the line and pulled a few inches off my reel. I set the hook with all my might and then… I set it again! And again! Something huge was on! It stripped line from the reel with wild abandon, streaking away from the boat before turning and then breaching. I saw just a portion of her – enough to confirm that I had my hawg on!
Her power was simply awesome! For over thirty minutes we waged our battle of wills as she took line when she pleased and I took line when she tried to rest. I slowly worked her toward the boat and finally caught a good glimpse of the beast I had hooked. She was big enough for me to wonder if she was oversized. The battle continued.
I had her to the boat several times before I thought she might be ready to net. The moving current and her bulk made it very difficult for this old man to pull her toward the net with the rod in one hand and the net in the other. But I managed to get her into the net – about half way. She then bolted, clearing the net and peeling line as she streaked away.
Again I worked her back to the net and managed to get her about three quarters in when – dang it all! – the sliding sinker got wrapped in the net and I couldn’t free it. I managed to grab a knife, cut away the netting and unhook the weight. And she took off again!
The fight was not going my way and I knew I had to get her into the net and put an end to the long fight. Finally, over half an hour into the fight, on the third try – and the fifth or sixth time to the boat – I got her fully into the net!
She was huge! Was she over the 72 inch limit? I decided that she wasn’t. I administered a couple of righteous whacks and tried to lift her.
My C-Dory has a high freeboard for a small boat, and I struggled mightily to get her up and into the boat. My first couple of attempts failed; I simply wasn’t strong enough. Finally I pulled on the netting, hand over hand, ‘til I had the fish and the net high enough to clear the gunwale.
I was completely exhausted. I had to rest a few moments to regain some strength. Such exertion is not prescribed for old heart patients like me and I realized that I was beginning to feel the familiar pain of angina. Or was it simply sternum pain from the long fight? I hoped for the best and continued with the task at hand. After all, I’ve always said that when they carry me away feet first, I’d just as soon they carry me off my boat. But not yet!
I managed to measure her and was surprised how very nearly I had mistaken her huge size. She measured just half an inch below the limit! That was too close for comfort. She was too big to fit into the fish box, so I soaked a couple of towels and placed them over her for the trip back upriver to Brannan Island.
After a bit more rest, I cleaned up the messy cockpit and stowed the fishing tackle. I popped the top off another cold brew, raised anchor and headed back upriver.
Only someone with a similar experience, having caught a mighty fish while all alone on some remote body of water, could possibly know the heady jubilation I felt as I cruised home that afternoon. That was likely the last Delta adventure for me to take a monster sturgeon before the regulations lowered the limit. And, by gosh, I did it! The timing was unbelievable and the whole afternoon seemed surreal. But yes, it was all very real!
On the drive home I stopped at a friend’s business where a forklift was available for a photo op. Before lifting her from the cockpit, I asked my friend to measure the fish so I’d have independent confirmation that she was, indeed, a legal take. He measured her at 71½ inches, just as I had done. Whew.
I now have another grand Delta adventure to remember for the rest of my days. All the effort and reward proved once again that it just takes a lot of time and patience to reel in a truly memorable fish.