Fellow sturgeon fishermen Bill Phillips, Don Littell and Ed Cox struggle to hold the monster as they pose for this incredible photo! The three veteran fishermen fought with this beast for over an hour – including a tug-of-war with a furbag! The story is even more exciting than the photo!
While my luck wasn’t so good on my first day of this three day adventure on the delta, fishing near Decker Island on the Sacramento River below Rio Vista, California, three fellas aboard another boat about 150 yards away had a record day! I noticed that they had a big ‘un on shortly after I anchored, and watched them crank up the anchor to drift with their catch. I watched these same fellas do the same thing – twice! – during a recent trip with my fishing buddy, John.
Their drift this week was different, however, in that they didn’t return for over an hour! I watched them drift upriver, past Three Mile Slough Bridge, about a mile or so away.
Here’s the story direct from Don Littell in his own words:
“We set out to do a little striper and sturgeon fishing off Decker Island and the weather was perfect. The bite was a little slow and we had been out for a couple of hours. We were nearing the middle of the outgoing tide when all of a sudden Ed reached for his rod and set the hook. As we looked up we could see the big bend in the rod and knew we had a big hook up.”Ed turned to us and said “Get ready boys, it’s about to begin.” Sure enough, and before we could pull up the anchor, the sturgeon wrapped the line around the anchor rode. Bill had to make his way out on the bow and take the rod and unwrap it. We were scared we would lose our sturgeon for sure, but luck was on our side – at least for the moment.
Don asked Ed “How big do you think it is?”
Ed replied “Too big to keep.”
Ed passed the rod to Bill after ten minutes and said “You take him for a while.”
Bill quickly said “He’s a six-footer!” and after ten minutes passed the rod to Don.
Don was shocked and yelled “Holy cow!” as the line peeled off the reel! The three of us passed the rod around among us a second time before Ed began to bring the sturgeon up.
What a fight we had for almost an hour to get him close to the boat! All was going well until Ed said “There he goes again!” as the reel was singing. “He’s running and he’s going to jump!” he exclaimed. We all watched the line as the sturgeon began to come up.
Then to our surprise a big sea lion surfaced, pulling the sturgeon by the tail. We were totally shocked and now the tug of war was on. Ed told us to watch out for the sinker, because if the leader broke it would come back at us like a bullet. He wasn’t sure what was going to break first – the line or the rod. He had never had that much pressure on any of his gear before. After about ten minutes and three dives, the sea lion’s grip slipped. We were lucky enough to get the sturgeon next to the boat – but then what?! We knew we needed to release the big boy, but how could we do so with the sea lion hanging around? We decided to bring him in the boat and run him back up river about three quarters of a mile where we first hooked him up. It was the only way for the sturgeon to get away from the sea lion and get safely back down to the bottom. (One can keep a sturgeon only if it is between 46 inches and 66 inches.) This big monster measured 96 inches, or perhaps an even eight feet long. He was almost three feet around his girth.”
– Don Littell
The furbag pulls from one end of the sturgeon as the fishermen reel from the other!
When they finally returned to their anchorage, I waved to them to come tell me what they caught, and they idled over to my boat. Their incredible story was enough to make my day as exciting as if I’d caught a sturgeon myself!
They proudly announced to me that they had the monster in their boat! I was incredulous at their story and asked them to hold it up so I could take a photo. The sight of that huge sturgeon was a lifetime moment! He was huge! Those three husky fellas strained to lift him for the photo, which I snapped, and they then released him back to the river. I imagined that poor sturgeon’s story when he got home that evening… “Hon – you wouldn’t believe the day I had – everybody wanted a piece of me!” It was a tough day on the river for him, indeed!
I have a feeling that the photo will become famous around our delta – and even beyond. Their story was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!
After all that excitement, we all continued fishing ’til dark, but there was no more sturgeon action – as if any was needed! I cruised upriver in the dark to Delta Marina’s dock, and walked to the coach for the night.
Day 2 would likely find me cruising downriver to Suisun Bay and my favorite honey hole. I was down to one sturgeon tag and I wanted to use it before it expired at the end of the year.
Tuesday, Dec 1, Day 2
Day 1 was a skunk, and I don’t like skunks. I chose to head downriver to Suisun Bay and – hopefully – improve my chances for a hookup with a big ol’ sturgeon. I left the dock at 0820 and cruised down an incredibly calm river to Suisun Bay. I arrived at my honey hole at 0920 and began seriously fishing for a sturgeon. Seriously? Well, I was serious. For 6½ hours I gave it my best, but nothing – nothing at all – took me as seriously as I took myself. It was a beautiful day on my beloved Suisun Bay; there was no wind – it was perfectly calm the entire time I was there. But I wasn’t there for calm, I was there to catch a sturgeon – perhaps my last of the season.
I enjoyed the calm, the quiet, and the beauty, but I had to give up at about 1600 as I didn’t want to cruise home in the dark. Even so, by the time I arrived back at Delta Marina’s dock, the sun had set and it was dark. After securing the boat I headed to the coach and settled in for the night. I had been skunked for two days in a row, and in light of the grand season I’d been having, I was due for a big ol’ sturgeon on my last day of the trip! Fishermen always have high hopes.
The sun set behind the hills as I was heading for the Delta Marina and the coach. This is one of many reasons I am so in love with the beautiful delta.
Wednesday, Dec 2, Day 3
My last sturgeon trip of the season had come down to the final day. I wanted to give it my best shot, so I prepared to hit the river around 0700 and cruise downriver to Suisun Bay for my best chance of scoring a sturgeon. But I didn’t plan on the fog that settled on the river shortly after daybreak. It got so foggy that I could hardly see my boat from the coach – a distance of about 250 ft. I’ve spent enough days on a foggy river during my C-Dory days when I had radar and autopilot, but as a wiser, older, more cautious boater, I don’t boat in the fog. So I sat in the coach ’til about 0800 and left the dock about 0830.
It was still pretty foggy on the river – worse than at Delta Marina. I followed the river bank along the west side ’til I got down to Decker Island, and by then could see both sides of the river. I crossed over to my honey-hole, re-baited my hooks with the last of my ‘lil eel and cast them into the river at about 0900. While I wasn’t anywhere near my honey-hole on Suisun Bay, I was at least fishing for sturgeon. And I waited. The tide change took place around 1000 or so, and with the breeze blowing slightly, it took some time before the boat straightened out with the river’s incoming flow.
It was a cold morning, and my little Mr. Heater was running on high. It kept the canvas cabin warm and cozy, but the air was cold and I was not having a particularly good time. Even so, I stayed faithful to the cause this last day of my sturgeon season of 2009.
At about 1045 I felt a distinct thump on the line, jumped up and kept a keen awareness for any other movement from the depths. A slight pull of line followed and I set the hook with a hearty huuuumph! And something was on! It wasn’t anything huge, I didn’t think, but it was substantial. I was pretty sure it was a small sturgeon – and in about five minutes I had him reeled to the boat. As soon as I brought him to the surface near the boat, he figured things were a bit askew for him – and he breached within a couple of feet of me, splashing cold river water on me as he took off for the deep! I let him run ’til he tired, then reeled him in again. He soon laid alongside the boat, belly-up in submission. I measured him with my little plastic tape thingy, and he was near the bottom of the slot, probably 46″. Even though he was possibly a keeper, I chose not to bring him aboard for a more accurate measure as I wanted a larger sturgy to keep for the end of my season. I popped the hook out of his leathery mouth and he drifted slowly away, still alive and kicking but completely exhausted.
The little guy I released to fight another day.
I recorded my 9th released sturgeon of the year on my report card. With the two I have kept, my score totaled 11 to the boat, all keeper size or bigger. Including those sturgeon caught on my boat by two of my friends, Doug and Willie, and my son, Dean, a total of 14 sturgeon were caught aboard FishWisher III in 2009 – my best sturgeon year ever!
I had high hopes of fooling yet another bigger sturgeon, but as morning became afternoon and the flood tide became an ebb, I could not seem to attract another bite. As sundown approached, I reeled in my line for what was likely the last time this year. I then peeled the last steaks of my eel from the hooks and tossed them into the river. My season was over. I stowed the gear, raised anchor and headed for Delta Marina’s dock.
An old friend from my C-Dory days had fished the day aboard his nearby Sea Ray, and just before he headed upriver for his berth at Delta Marina he idled over by me and we agreed to meet at The Point Restaurant for a couple of drinks. He had a friend along with him, and we all enjoyed a time of river chit-chat in the comfortable bar of The Point. We talked of old times – back when salmon were plentiful – and bragged to one another about our recent fishing exploits. I don’t know how much of my friends’ river stories I can take as gospel – and I doubt they buy many of mine – but that’s part of the good life on the delta. It sure is a grand way to while away our golden years!
I’m looking forward to February when we’ll likely see some warmer days once again, and I’ll be back on my beloved delta, chasing those mighty sturgeon for fun and bragging rights!
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.