Eight Times to the Boat!
March 16, 2004
Sturgeon fishing is as unpredictable as fishing gets. One can spend weeks chasing the mighty sturgeon only to come home empty handed every time. And so it has been this year for my efforts. But one week can make all the frustration worth the effort. It was just my turn for a payday, I reckon.
I launched at Rio Vista with a couple dozen lively and angry ghost shrimp. My “desperation plan” was in place this week, which meant that I would head down river to Suisun Bay. I make that 24-mile cruise when I’m really serious about catching a sturgeon – when the weather permits.
My repaired GPS/Chartplotter/Fishfinder was bolted back to the helm and working properly. Suisun Bay is no place to be without proper instruments. While a good skipper can usually keep out of trouble there with just a depth finder and a paper chart, nothing helps navigate the shallows of Suisun Bay like a GPS/Chartplotter. With proper charts, in chip format such as my C-Map, a skipper can see his position clearly on the screen relative to the actual NOAA chart. The depth markings and contours are shown clearly, and avoiding the many shallows is simply a matter of keeping an eye on the display. The magic electronic boxes that are available these days, and have been for several years now, still amaze me.
As I cruised downriver towards Suisun Bay, a somewhat choppy river gave way to flat calm conditions and a very warm sun. My cruise was a wonderful boat ride past the now green, rolling hills that frame much of the West Delta. Weather such as we’ve been blessed with recently sure makes up for all the cold, grey days of winter. There really is nothing quite like springtime on the Delta. Springtime? We’ve been having near summertime conditions.
As I neared my fishing hole, I idled slowly across some shallows to get above my “honey hole” without advertising my presence too loudly. I then dropped anchor, the chain rattling through the gypsy loud enough to be heard a hundred yards. I set about rigging up for a big sturgeon with high hopes and good cheer. I baited up with a couple of fat, wiggly ghost shrimp and cast them out over the transom into a slow, incoming current. As time went by, the current slackened and turned. I was soon fishing the very top of an outgoing current that would lead to a minus tide. With a little luck, I might hook into a monster during the ebb tide.
I stripped down to shorts as I laid back in my deck chair, absorbing the warm sunshine and a few brews. My sturgeon hole is far removed from most boat traffic and wakes and noisy motors. Very few distractions can disturb my solitude while anchored there. The only sounds usually heard are the songs of birds, a distant plaintive train whistle and the drone of an occasional airplane passing overhead. On my boat, the sounds of Merle, Willie and Dolly also add to the ambiance. If there is much more to life than fishing, cheap beer and country music, all mixed together and served up on a boat, I don’t know what it would be.
For three hours I awaited the visit of a mighty sturgeon. I freshened the bait on rare occasion; nothing seemed to disturbed it. Not nipping, little stripers or abominable mitten crabs or sturgeon. Nothing. But things would soon be greatly disturbed.
I was standing near the balance beam that held my rod and reel when the clicker ticked off a few inches of line. Such is the typical sturgeon bite and I grabbed the rod at once and set the hook with all my might into something that did not budge! Oh yes… I know that feeling and it had been a long time. I set again and then again, doing my best to be sure that the hook was set deeply. My sturgeon began to move away from that strange pull in his mouth. He took a leisurely stroll, not particularly alarmed that something was not right. As he moved, I knew I had hooked into a big, strong sturgeon. I was soon to discover how tough he actually was.
He was in charge from the start, continuing his leisurely strolls first this way, then that. Back and forth he swam, going where he pleased, seemingly not too concerned about his plight. Still, he refused to come to the boat. He was strong enough to keep his distance for an unusually long time and seemingly smart enough to save his energy. Perhaps I had hooked into a sturgeon too large to keep.
After about twenty minutes or so, I worked him near enough to the boat that he saw it and quickly dashed away, again peeling off line that I had struggled to reel in. For the first time, he had indicated a bit of displeasure at his predicament. Twenty minutes!? Most sturgeon I’ve caught are to the boat and in submission by that time; this big, bad boy was just getting started.
I saw him pretty clearly as he came briefly to the boat. He certainly was not oversize, but he was big and thick and heavy. Many sturgeon of his length and power are males, although they are usually slimmer. I had hooked into a tough, old veteran of many trips to the spawning grounds.
As the battle of wills wore on, his power diminished. I had him to the boat another time or two, but he was not anywhere near ready for the net. He continued to fight for distance, but not aggressively. He seemed content to move away in a very leisurely manner. After the third visit to the boat, I prepared to net him. By then, I was getting him to the boat about every five to ten minutes. I tried to net him several times, but each time his bulk was too much to net using just my one free hand. I could not see the hook; he never came to the boat belly up so that the hook was visible. I very well may not have had a good hook set, and my chances of losing him or fouling the second hook in the netting were very good. He had been to the boat five, six, seven times and I had failed to net him each time. He was, in fact, winning the war of attrition. One thing for sure, the hook was not getting set any firmer as the long fight continued.
Finally, on his eighth visit to the boat, after 45 minutes of a very smart fight on his part, I got his big, thick, long body in the net! He was finally — finally — captured!
And I was toast! I administered a couple of proper whacks to his big, broad head and tied a line through his gill and mouth. I lowered him back into the water and bled him for a spell while I recovered. It had been a long, well fought battle.
After a rest, I brought him aboard. He measured 64 inches and weighed in at 60 pounds! While that is not a huge sturgeon, he was very likely a huge male sturgeon. He was heavy set for a male, more so than other males that I have caught in the past. He was no doubt very experienced and successful; an old hand at fighting for his share of the action. He was a fine specimen.
After just four hours of fishing, I had my limit of sturgeon. Now what? There was little reason to continue sturgeon fishing while enjoying the pleasures of a calm, sunny day on Suisun Bay. I had my limit! I put my big sturgeon in the fish box, cleaned up the mess the battle had created and set the pointy end of my boat towards the Rio Vista ramp and home.
That trip was one of the highlights of 2004’s Delta adventures. It is yet another great Delta memory and I am anxious to make more. Life is good!