Another Mighty Suisun Bay Sturgeon!

A Cold December Adventure on Suisun Bay

December 6-7, 2011  

My big sturgeon!

In the report of my last Delta adventure, I wrote that it would likely be my last for the year because it’s just so dang cold out there on the Delta! But having come home from that trip with two remaining sturgeon tags intact, I was still itchin’ for another big ol’ sturgy. The conditions for the week were predicted to be perfect; a huge outgoing tide during the day and a forecast of “light winds”. It doesn’t get any better than that!

So… having overcome my natural inclination to sit by the fireplace this time of year, I loaded up FishWisher the boat for a cold, December raid on Suisun Bay for one last sturgeon of the year! As I hitched the boat to the pickup that miserably cold Tuesday morning, I paused for a moment to be sure I was doing the right thing. It was so cold that being outside just wasn’t any fun. But I chose to soldier on, and pulled the boat up to the house where I loaded up the tackle and stores for two days on the Delta. I made a point to check the little propane tank that feeds my cabin’s catalytic heater. There was plenty – and I would need it.

It was a flat calm and gorgeous, cool day on Suisun Bay!

Shortly after noon I dropped anchor on my Suisun Bay honey hole. The outgoing current had just begun, and after carving up some new frozen lamprey eel into steaks, I weaved them onto the two hooks of my leader and tossed them out to the bottom of the bay. The water was like a mirror, the wind was calm and the sun was bright. But it certainly was not T-shirt weather as was the prior trip! The air was frigid and I was well layered with long johns top and bottom plus two sweat shirts. Brrrrrrr.

The thought of home and hearth crossed my mind often that afternoon as I waited for a hungry sturgy. I was nuts to be out there in December, especially for the night, and I knew it. But those two sturgeon tags were also on my mind, and I just had to use at least one of them. I wouldn’t mind closing out the year with one tag remaining, after all, when the last one is gone sturgeon fishing is done. But to close the year with two tags just wouldn’t do!

The little two-footer that was released to fight another day when he’s twice as long and much bigger.

About two hours into my wait, I had a visitor that I thought was simply a lethargic striper. Whatever it was, it grabbed my bait with more gusto than most sturgeon, and I swung and missed. A few moments later he tried to take my bait again, and I set the hook into something solid! I had on a small but scrappy fish that resisted mightily for a while, but a little two foot sturgy was soon belly up by the boat. I raised him up for a photo, and then released him to grow a few more feet. He was a cutie as sturgeon go, and I’m glad that those small ones are protected. The slot limit for sturgeon is 46 to 66 inches and the annual limit is three.

It was good to know that sturgeon were in the area as I freshened the bait a bit and continued fishing. I was hoping that a keeper would come along before evening so that I would have the thrill of fighting a big sturgeon, use my tag, and still be able to head back upriver before dark – and avoid spending the night on the cold, cold bay. But that was not to be.

It was another gorgeous sunset on Suisun Bay but it was… COLD!

Sunset was early of course; it was December. The cold afternoon air was soon even colder night air. I had the little Heater Buddy tucked between my feet well before sundown, and by dark I huddled against it even closer. It was not particularly pleasant fishing in that darkness and cold, but sunset on Suisun Bay and the shore line lights were as beautiful as ever.

Another view of the golden sunset on Suisun Bay.

A few minutes before 1800 I was sitting there in the cold, encouraging myself to stay faithful to the cause. I reminded myself how many times I’ve sat all day waiting for a sturgeon nibble that seemed to never come, then finally, in the dark of night, on a quiet and lonely river, hearing the wonderful tick-tick-tick sound of a few inches of line being pulled from the reel, signaling a gentle sturgeon bite. And, really, this is absolutely true… just as I was thinking of those times, tick-tick-tick went my reel! I swung hard and fast and – missed. Oh, boy! This was it… this was my sturgeon… and he would certainly be back. One or two minutes went by as I sat there on pins and needles waiting for that return visit… and then once again… tick-tick-tick – WHAM! I set the hook into something huge!

As I jumped to my feet, the rod bent hard against my big fish and I heard the giant fish breach and splash in the darkness. The fight was on as I worked against his power, having to let him run wild when he wanted and not allowing him any rest when he tired by pumping the rod up and reeling down. There was no doubt that I had a keeper on; he was strong and fought mightily for his freedom.

Sorry… I didn’t get a photo of the big fight, but it felt like this!

For ten minutes the war of wills raged there in the darkness of Suisun Bay. I turned on the bright cockpit lights when I had him near the boat, but he stayed deep for as long as he could, pulling hard the entire time. He was a great fighter with lots of stamina, but after about ten minutes he was exhausted, and his fight slowed. Finally I had him at the boat in submission, but he never came belly-up as many lesser fighters have.

When I was able to maneuver him forward against the current with little resistance, I grabbed the net and scooped him in! The fight was over and he lay still in the net. I knew he was a keeper; he was not too long and not too short. I administered a few whacks, then cut his gills, tied him to a line, and let him bleed out into the bay. I had my big sturgeon, and filled my second of three tags for the year!

And I, too, was whipped. This old man is not that durable and fights with big sturgeon take their toll like never before. (My left shoulder, used to pull that rod against the big sturgeon, ached all night long and the entire next day.) After several minutes, I pulled my big fish aboard, measured him at 54 inches and, struggling to lift him with the scale, weighed him in at 34 pounds. He was not a huge fish as sturgeon go, but his heart was huge! And as I referred to his gender as male, I hoped I was right, but there is no way to be sure with a sturgeon. When he was cleaned I’d know for sure. Though it is legal to take females, as you cannot sex them accurately, I prefer to leave the females to their trip upriver to spawn. I can say for a certainty that he fought like a male! Generally, by my experience, males are the tougher fighters.

After securing my catch in the fish box, I retreated to the relative comfort of the cabin. The little catalytic heater burned on high the entire evening and night, and in fact, clear up to my arrival back at the dock in Rio Vista on the morning of Day 2. With temperatures in the 30s overnight, the best it could do was keep the cabin in the high 50s, but that was tolerable.

In the small cabin after the excitement of the catch, I relaxed for a couple of hours with a few of my Cockpit Collins cocktails*. I sent photos of my fish to a couple friends and my dear Wifey via my smartphone, taking full advantage of the bragging rights that come with catching a big sturgeon.

After a couple of hours enjoying the afterglow of all the excitement, I climbed into the little V-berth for the night. While I slept just so-so, the cabin was damp and clammy due to the little heater.

A bit after midnight I had to raise anchor and move behind Freeman Island due to a light breeze that built small waves across Suisun Bay, just big enough to toss me about. I slept well at my new anchorage, and was heading back upriver to the ramp at first light.

After the long, cold adventure, it was good to be back in the warm comfort of my pickup en route home. Frankly, this was one adventure that was more fun writing about than actually living it!

December is a good month to sit at home by the fireplace. And I believe I’ll be staying home ’til the few warming days of February beckon me back to my honey hole on Suisun Bay!

Merry Christmas and good fishing to all.


* A Cockpit Collins is one shot of Fresca, a shot of cheap vodka, about ¼ or so shot of lemon juice. A cherry and wedge of lime is good. A sturgeon in the box makes it twice as good! (But forget those straws – we’re talking fisherMEN here!)

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.
This entry was posted in Fishing Overnight on the Water, Fishing Sturgeon. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Another Mighty Suisun Bay Sturgeon!

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great post, great pictures, great fish. Only you could be that organized !


  2. Anonymous says:

    I love your reports and have learned a lot. Two weeks ago I had my daughters hook into a big sturgeon using many of the things I learned from your site including using eel for bait. Here is a video of them whooping it up.

  3. FishWisher says:

    Anonymous – Good catch – the girls really had a ball and screamed and hooted just like I do! Congratulations. I assume that’s the Delta – ? You might check regs about that gaff. As I understand the regs, they’re allowed only on the “main stem” of the Sacramento River below Anderson to (I guess) Suisun Bay and only to 3′ long. I’m not sure where you’re video was taken, but you might check that out. Thanks for the entertaining video!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the information. I have only used a gaff before just to lip the fish to avoid taking it out of the water. In fact, I never thought of netting larger sturgeon until I saw your site. I actually ended up netting that fish as it wouldn’t be lipped. I assumed the no gaff rule was to actually stick the fish.
    The spot was probably pretty close to your “honey hole”
    I need to pinpoint it a little more but I think I was within a mile or two from it. 🙂

  5. FishWisher says:

    The no gaff rule is here:
    “2.06. Use of Gaffs.
    No person shall possess or use a gaff in inland waters, except that a gaff three feet or less in length may be used to land legal-sized fish only by anglers fishing from a boat in the Sacramento River main stem below Deschutes Road Bridge.”
    “Sec 5.80(d) Methods of take:
    The sturgeon must voluntarily take the bait or lure in its mouth. No sturgeon may be taken by trolling, snagging or by the use of firearms. Sturgeon may not be gaffed, nor shall any person use any type of firearm to assist in landing or killing any sturgeon.”

    So… I guess just be sure that the gaff is less than 3′ and don’t use it on a sturgeon!

  6. Phil says:

    Good For you

  7. Pingback: Salmon suisun | Easytm

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