Fishing For Sturgeon
North America’s Largest Freshwater Fish
With all the focus on the millions of salmon and steelhead in the Northwest, it’s easy to overlook the tremendous white sturgeon’s rebound. Decimated by commercial overfishing at the turn of the last century, the white sturgeon fishery has been rebuilt, attracting anglers from all over the world to tussle with this amazing beast (a 10-foot fish can weigh 500 to 700 pounds) that are famous for airborne acrobatics during battle.
Variables like time of year, water temperature, and dam generation schedules all affect the activity level of the fish. Sturgeon generally favor baits abundant in the river, feeding most actively when dead fish are passing through the turbines of hydroelectric dams.
Prime Times To Fish
Peak feeding takes place when water temperature is between 50˚F and 65˚F. Large sturgeon seem to feed little when the water is cooler than 42˚F and also are less active in water over 65˚F, though small fish may bite any time.
May, June, October, and November are considered the best months to tackle trophy white sturgeon across most of their range. On the Columbia River, on the Washington-Oregon border, white sturgeon angling can be excellent year-round, but spring’s the most productive for big fish, when they concentrate then in the 10-mile stretch immediately below Bonneville Dam, about an hour upstream from Portland.
American shad, a favorite food source for huge sturgeon, run in spring, with up to 4,000,000 shad making their way upriver. A favorite strategy for anglers is to fish for shad in the morning near Ives Island, just below Bonneville Dam, and then use the fresh shad to catch huge sturgeon in the afternoon.
Lamprey and smelt are other excellent baits for sturgeon, which tend to move to the head of deeper holes and long deep runs to feed. Some anglers also use squid, sand shrimp, nightcrawlers, and various combinations of all of the above.
Because sturgeon feed in dark waters up to 100 feet deep, they’re particularly well adapted to feeding by scent. Anglers also use all sorts of scents to enhance the appeal of bait combinations, with a good dousing of WD-40, for example, being one common addition.
Modifications of basic tactics work for whites or other species of sturgeon in rivers of all sizes. Again, because the white sturgeon is the largest and perhaps most powerful freshwater fish in North America, it quickly exploits any weakness in your terminal tackle, rods, or reels.
Rods range from 5 ½- to 11-foot heavy-power casting rods and large-capacity baitcasting reel with a free-spool clicker is ideal. We recommend 40- to 100-pound-test braided or abrasion-resistant mono line.
The most popular rig consists of a three-way swivel with a 6-inch dropper line on one loop holding the sinker. Sinker weight depends on depth and current speed, as well as the style of sinker. Pyramid or bell sinkers, for example, rather than egg sinkers, hold better on the broken-rock bottoms sturgeon favor. The leader is an 18-inch length of heavy mono tied to an 8/0 to 10/0 hook. Attractors like Spin-N-Glows or Corkies often are added to the leader above the hook.
The incredible character and behemoth power of the huge white sturgeon of the Northwest continue to command attention from growing numbers of anglers year-after-year. Fishing for sturgeon should be on every angler’s bucket list.