Midnight brawl on Suisun Bay

A Big Brawl for the First Sturgeon of 2005!

February 10-11, 2005

A troublesome back and a couple of doctor visits nearly axed this week’s Delta adventure. While I wasn’t fit for much physical activity, I figured that I was up to a couple of days on the Delta. After all, sturgeon fishing is mostly taking it nice and easy, sitting in the cockpit and tipping a few brews while enjoying Merle and Dolly and the gang. Unless, of course, I might actually hook into a big ol’ river monster that wanted to brawl. Considering my recent luck, how the heck was I to know I’d actually catch a sturgeon this week!?

Before launching at Rio Vista, I bought some shad, a few ghost shrimp and, for the first time in a couple of years, a lamprey. When I used lamprey in the past I wasn’t all that impressed with it. While it’s a tough, theft resistant bait when nippers are around, it didn’t seem to attract much sturgeon activity. But with all the recent reports about sturgeon being caught with the stuff, I decided to give it another try. Since it’s neither live nor fresh and can’t be nipped away, it’s a very long lasting bait. I’d say that it’s about the cheapest sturgeon bait one can buy because of its durability.

I began by fishing near Light 25, then moved down river and gave Decker Island a try. After six hours of soaking ghost shrimp and shad the fish continued to ignore my offerings. It was becoming apparent that a cruise downriver to Suisun Bay might be my best chance to hook into a sturgeon. Suisun Bay is, in my opinion, the best bet on the Delta for sturgeon. But Suisun can also be the most hazardous water on the Delta. I generally avoid Suisun unless weather conditions are calm. Wednesday turned out to be a very calm day and the weather folks promised about the same for Thursday. I finally gave up at Decker Island and headed downriver for Suisun Bay.

About 4:30 in the afternoon I dropped anchor at my favorite sturgeon hole near Garnet Point, rigged up some lamprey for the first time in ages and slung a lamprey/shad combo out over the transom. And waited.

Suisun Bay, when calm and flat, is a splendid place to anchor – especially over night. The quietness of the place is interrupted only by an occasional distant train whistle and a seemingly endless procession of airplanes droning overhead. I happened upon a perfect time to be fishing Suisun Bay. The water was flat as a mirror and the warm sunshine was nothing short of delicious. It has been a long, gray, cold winter and I really needed a good dose of sunshine. And the beer was cold, the music was honky-tonk and I was as happy as an old river rat can be. Life is good!

As the afternoon turned to evening I fired up the cockpit heater to keep warm. A sliver of a moon set sometime after 9 O’clock. It was a short time later that I caught and released a shaker sturgeon of about three feet. That was a good omen; I had confirmation that sturgeon were in the area. And I learned, too, that offered lamprey on one hook and shad on the other, he chose the lamprey. I was encouraged.

The tough strip of lamprey survived the fight with the little sturgeon just fine. I threaded a fat ghost shrimp onto the other hook and tossed my offerings back out over the transom. And waited some more.

An hour or so later I felt a very subtle bump – just enough to alert me but not quite enough to set the hook. I waited just a few moments more… and the reel clicked off a few inches of line again. Humph! I set the hook with all my might, set it again, then muttered to myself “This is what I’ve been waiting for!” I knew by that hook set that I was, finally, hooked into this season’s first keeper sturgeon!

The big fella began the fight by breaching. I did not see his jump in the darkness, but I heard the water splash and felt the line slacken as he jumped. I took up the slack at once and the fight was on.

Now, I’ve had my fair share of sturgeon on and I like to think I can guess the size of fish I’m fighting. But I sure was fooled by the tough fella I was brawling with that night. He fought like a seventy pounder, making me work for every inch of line. My Penn lever drag is set at the stop to give up line very grudgingly. I’ve never had to go past the stop to a heavier drag setting while fighting a sturgeon, but this bad boy sure had me thinking about doing so.

For fifteen minutes he refused to be reeled near the boat. He was very strong – not unusual for a sturgeon – but he was also very durable. He fought against that heavy drag for much of the quarter hour, giving up very little line during the struggle.

And there I was, struggling with a hellion of a sturgeon with a sore back. He was exacting a high toll of pain from me in return for his hard won submission. My aching back became so sore that I actually spent some of the fight sitting on the gunwale in an attempt to ease the stress on my back. That is no way to fight a sturgeon!

Finally, after nearly twenty minutes, I had the tough guy in the net. I was amazed by his small size! He measured just 58 inches and weighed in at only 43 pounds. That’s not a small sturgeon, certainly, but it sure wasn’t a huge one, either. But he was a slim, gnarly, experienced old grandpa of a sturgeon and he went down very hard. Pound for pound, I think he was as tough as any fish I’ve ever reeled in.

I was about whipped. I was hurting. The boat was a mess. The sturgeon was on a line in the water, bleeding into the outgoing current. But first things first: I grabbed some pain pills for my aching back. Had I known that I was going tie into a brawler like this guy, I’d likely have listened to my wife and stayed home with my sore back. Yeah, right! Sore back or not, it was a grand and glorious way to spend an evening under a moonless sky on Suisun Bay.

It was midnight by the time I crawled into the V-berth for a well earned sleep. The water remained flat, the winds never kicked up and Suisun Bay was as lovely a place that night as it ever could be. I slept well. After  breakfast the next morning, and placing a few phone calls to brag on my fish, I stowed the gear and headed for the ramp. This sturgeon trip was my fifth this season and I was due for a keeper. This is the time of year I really look forward to heading out for the next big sturgeon adventure and if this old back can handle it, I’ll be back out there next week!



About FishWisher

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.
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