Lower Columbia river Sturgeon
STURGEON INFORMATION: There is one website dedicated to sturgeon, which gives history, pictures, & a message board for those interested. The message board is mainly used by fishermen on the lower Columbia River. Salmon-Sturgeon -Steelhead website
SHARED JURISDICTION :
Washington & Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife have an agreement on fishing the Columbia River where it acts as the border between the two states. This is called shared jurisdiction. What this means is that a person who is a resident of either state, & has a fishing license for that state can launch his/her boat on either shore, legally fish & take the catch back the place of launch, with not violating laws of either state. You can NOT take two limits even if you hold a resident license from one state & a non-resident license from the other. This however does not allow a Washington angler to BANK FISH in Oregon however. You will not find this on at least the WDFW fishing pamphlet. I e-mailed both the Oregon & Washington departments & received this information back.
GENERAL INFORMATION :
COMMERCIAL VESSEL TRAFFIC-- One thing to keep in mind is that this whole river is a means of commercial water travel for many different types of vessels, including ocean going ships & tugs. The normal shipping lane depths may be dredged & kept at a minimum of 40 ft. The one thing here is that the ships will be coming in many times at a high tide & upriver & downriver traffic can increase during the high tide. It may be very advisable to NOT anchor in their shipping lanes. These shipping lanes are just like a hiway with upriver designated for the Oregon side, & downriver designated for the Washington side of the lane.
If you plan on fishing & anchoring near these shipping lanes, it may be a good idea to become familiar with the "Rules of the Road" as far as who has right of way & the whistles connected to them.
In the lower river, expect to find commercial traffic on VHF channel 13. In the Bonneville Dam area, expect to hear traffic on VHF channel 14. The tugs communicate with the dams on 14, and you will have at least a one hour notice that a towboat is headed your way.
photo by RiverRun Guide Service
The Coast Guard Auxiliary was going to be doing special safety
patrols on the Columbia River in the spring of 2001 when the mighty spring
Chinook season was going strong. The Make Way Program was stressed. The patrols
warned anchored boaters that when ship and barge traffic is headed your way,
that you are advised to move.
As of now, You can anchor in the shipping channel but can be fined for violating Rule 9 of the Navigation Rules.
Rule 9 is the Narrow Channels rule and section B states: "A vessel of less than 20 meters in length or a sailing vessel shall not impede the passage of any other vessel that can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway" section C states: "A vessel engaged in fishing shall not impede the passage of any other vessel navigating within a narrow channel or fairway." The fine for violating rule 9 can be $5000.00, but is usually $550.00.
When the Auxiliary comes along side of you, be courteous, They are there for YOUR education and safety and not law enforcement. There are other resources that will be doing that.
It may not be critical most times if you are on the edge of the lane, except at a time that when 2 ships pass each other at your exact spot. If you see 2 vessels approaching you from opposite directions & the possibility of them passing at you exact location is possible, it will behoove you to pull anchor & move, -- well in advance of them reaching you. If you waited too long, then get loose from your anchor, leave it, & get out of the way ASAP.
Also you should read & understand the marine whistle system. These commercial vessels will give you a blast on their whistle that you are expected to answer. The number of blasts indicate whether they intend to pass on your starboard or port side. Two blast indicate they intend to pass on your starboard, one blast means the port side. If you agree then you are required to return the same blasts.
The simple thing here is to check the charts, and try to pick an area to fish that is outside of the lanes, even 100 ft may be enough, but if you are that close, expect waves when they pass. If you have a smaller boat, it may be best to, even if at anchor when they pass, to start the motor up, put it in gear so that you can ride the wave bow first instead of sitting there & take the wave sideways.
WHERE TO FISH-- If you are one who doesn't care for a crowd, & unless you have your favorite spot, it may be best to set your depth-finder to bottom track, (which should give more detail of the bottom) and move around searching for fish on the screen. Drop anchor & if nothing happens within a 1/2 hr, move & try again. Sometimes moving 50 ft will make a great difference, if you are not in a migration route. Just finding a hole & fishing it may not be the most productive, however fishing the upstream end of the hole and where it tapers up to a shallower area may be better, as the fish tend to feed more on the slight up slope, & the current will dictate that they swim into it. This will also be the area where the most feed will concentrate first.
Another thought is to look for ledges off deeper water and fish the ledge. One old time successful fisherman's idea was to find a hole, pick the upstream side, and anchor above the hole so that your bait was in the area of the angled bottom leading into the hole. He would then let his line out close to the boat, use a sinker just heavy enough to hold the bait down with line tension on it, letting the line out at intervals, allowing the bait to move down into the hole. In this manner he could cover more of the bottom that possibly held fish. His thoughts were that the sturgeon would lay in this area & feed on whatever was washed down with the current.
These fish seem to concentrate indifferent areas of the river depending on the smelt, shad runs, river flows etc. Therefore it may be best if you plan on fishing for them year around to learn many parts of the river. Also the lower river can be subject to heavy wind, and 20 miles upriver can be more protected. Different areas of the river will vary and additional info on this will be covered later pertaining to a more particular area.
Sturgeon seem to run somewhat in schools of the same size
fish, this will equate to you catching a lot of undersize (shakers) if you
happen to be in their area. If you consistently are catching small fish, it may
be best to move, even a few hundred feet may do it. I am sure there is a pecking
order in fish the same as it is in all other species. If enough food is there a
school of larger fish may move in, and the smaller ones will leave. If this
happens it is not uncommon to have more than one legal fish on at once.
Sturgeon that you will find here will also be in 2 different configurations. There seem to be resident fish & migrating fish. The resident fish tend to be slimmer, while the migrating fish will be fatter. Possibly the reason for this is that the migrating (ocean going) will have more of a chance to feed on more food.
WHEN TO FISH-- These fish tend to follow the bait, much like all other fish. They seem to follow the smelt in the late winter/early spring (Feb.-April). Then next will be the shad run in May/June. The eel migration also has it's effect. In the lower estuary will be effected by the herring & anchovies in the late summer. Then in the fall when the salmon have spawned & died, sturgeon feed on the salmon carcasses.
However the lower river from the mouth (Astoria/Chinook) up to about Cathlamet, you will experience more wind in the late fall & spring. This wind combined with the tide, makes it rather hard to tell when a fish is biting, as the boat is bobbing with the waves or swaying with the wind. Therefore not a lot of successful sturgeon fishing is done here from Nov. to April. The other thing is when the smelt are running, it is rather hard to compete with one bait on the bottom when there are millions of these critters in the water.
Farther up the river around Kalama these fish tend to not move in & out of the river or estuary like the lower fish do. So if you intend to fish late winter/early spring, then this location all the way up to the Portland area might be a better choice.
Another observation by some fishermen is that sturgeon don't seem to bite as well on a falling barometer, (raining).
ANCHORING -- The main thing to remember here is that this river can have a very strong current at times of mid tide if fishing in the lower reaches, and all the time in parts of the river above where it is really affected by the tides. It may be best to NOT permanently attach the non-anchor end of the anchor rope to the boat. Also consider attaching a small float to this non-anchor end if your rope does not float, or use a tag line of nylon which will float, this may help in recovery, if for whatever reason you become separated from the anchor rope. The reason here is that at times there can be logs in the water, if the river is really ripping & one of these happens get hung on your anchor rope or bow, it could be disastrous. It may also be wise to have the ability to get loose from the rope quickly, and/or have a sharp knife handy.
NEVER anchor off the stern, your boat has less buoyancy this way, and may be sucked under easily.
Be careful when anchoring on a slack tide in the lower river, as then when the tide starts really running your anchor can get drug and or hung on the bottom in some debris.
Two types of anchors will be found being used. The number one for large rivers will be the Columbia River galvanized anchor made by EZ Marine www.ezmarine.com that has double flukes, and a the chain attached to the center of the main shaft. This is a fold up unit that helps in storage. Tie this chain to the top of the anchor shaft with a tie tape or cotton twine that will break. Under normal usage the anchor can be pulled in OK, but if it hangs up, you can motor upriver (into the current) & pull the anchor out by breaking the tie tape & the strain will be on the main shaft, usually pulling it back off the way it got hung. These anchors usually will not need an extra chain, unless you are in heavy current.
Another popular anchor found being used will be the "Danforth" pivoting double fluke type with a slider ring on the shank that will slide back to the main pivot shaft to help on retrieval of a hung anchor from the opposite direction. This one does not have the holding ability as the Columbia River anchor, but seems to be somewhat popular, simply because it is readily available.
When using the Danforth, use enough heavy chain to help hold it down, (at least 10 ft) and have at least 3 TIMES the length of rope in relationship to the depth of the water that you expect to anchor in. 150 to 300 ft of 3/8" would be a good length depending on where you fish.
When using one of the anchor / float / retrieving / mooring systems, there are different types of pullers, and you may want to install a extra set of mooring cleats amid-ships. This is so that you can throw the anchor off the bow, then take the tail end of the anchor rope around one side of the bow mooring cleat, then to the opposite side of the bow, and then back to the center mooring cleat. Make a single loop around the rear horn, up and poke a loop under this incoming rope. In use, the strain on the rope holds the loop tight. If you need to quickly detach yourself, just pull on the tail of the loop, and it comes free and the rope slides off the bow and you drift downstream. You do not have to jump up and run to the bow to untie.
PULLING THE ANCHOR --If you are using a anchor puller, you will of course be tied off or attached to the bow as in the previous paragraph. Be very careful to swing wide & in an arc when you motor upstream to pull the anchor with the buoy, as to NOT get the prop or pump fouled in the rope. If the above happens, you are hung up with the anchor rope attached to your bow, the rope tangled in the prop & by the time you realize what has happened, the motor dies because your rope is tight from the bow to around the prop. This will happen in the first stages of the attempted pulling, & you still have the anchor on the bottom. Now you are fouled up, no power, soon to be stern upriver in a current & still anchored. This is the time for FAST, CLEAR THINKING and /or a sharp knife. When using a puller, DO NOT attach the rope to a stern cleat to get away from this problem, as if the anchor hangs up, your stern will be pulled under VERY FAST, as most smaller boats used here are usually lower in the water at the stern than the bow.
RODS-- You will find as many different recommendations as you find fishermen, but the consensus seems to be a 7' to 8' fiberglas rated as a medium heavy with a line capacity of 30# - 60# range. If you are concentrating on the oversize Bonneville fish, then a standup Tuna rod seems to be the preferred type. A stiff rod will not give you the signal of a light bite, and a lighter rod will hinder you in setting the hook & fighting a legal sized fish.
When fighting any large fish, raise the rod tip, crank the reel while allowing the rod to move down, raise & crank down, raise &crank down, etc. If you get tired, DO NOT allow the rod to rest on the gunnel or any part of the boat, while fighting a fish, as this could result in a broken rod if the fish decides to dive quickly.
REELS-- Most common you will find will be a star drag salmon type spool reel. Line capacity of 250 yards should be plenty if you are in a boat. The most important part of a reel is to have one with a GOOD smooth drag. The newer Penn GTI's in size 310 to 330 seems to fit about any fisherpersons needs.
LINE-- The current trend is to go to the new type "spectra" type non-stretch lines. However if you still prefer monofiliment, probably a weight of 40 to 60# is sufficient, but try to get as stiff a line as possible. The thing to remember on either is that when using the mono is that it stretches so you have to really set the hook if in deeper water and have lots of line out. On the other hand if you are using the spectra type, don't set it too hard, with the same enthusiasm as you would mono, or you could break the rod. Be careful if you grab the line when bringing a fish in to the boat, it may be best to wear a glove, as this line will cut flesh.
SECONDARY LEADER-- One good idea is if using spectra lines is to make up a 4' (any longer will hinder you in casting & getting the fish to the boat) of 40 # mono secondary leader that you attach the sinker slider onto. This will give you some slight stretch on setting the hook & also something to grab onto when the fish is at the boat side & if it is undersize for tailing & or releasing. It has also been found that if you place a "golf tee" on the mainline at your snap end that this will help divert the weeds away from your slider/terminal gear end. I like to put golf tees & beads on the end of the line & also on this leader section above the slider & again at it's lower snap. This gives me something to grab onto instead of getting cut with the line.
LEADER-- Usually this will be a heavy braided line of up to 100# with a single hook tied on one end, the other will have a loop about 3/4" long tied in it with a total length about 18" to 24" long. This length seems to be about right, as you need the bait close to the bottom and at the same time also trying to place a heavier abrasion resistant line close to the fish so that in the case they make a run & twist, that they do not cut the line on their side sharp "scutes". Also if the leader is too long it hinders casting.
HOOKS-- The hooks by law have to be barbless, or if they were originally made with barbs, the barb has to be pinched down until it is closed & no light can be seen between the closed barb & the main shank. The Washington regulations say single barbless hooks in the "species rules". In the "gear rules" it says no more than 1 line with up to 3 hooks while fishing. Hook size will usually be 5/0 to 6/0 for normal fishing. Some of the people who try for the larger oversize fish as a catch & release, will use up to 9/0.
Since the chance is there that you may have to leave the hook in a released fish, DO NOT use stainless hooks.
SINKERS -- The sinkers are usually attached to a sinker slider that is slid onto the mainline or the secondary leader. The theory here is that the fish can take the bait without the feel of the sinker, yet you can feel the bite, without the sinker. Sinker shape can be about anything, you will find bank, pyramid, round, round flat, etc., the main thing here is to get one with the eye so that you can snap the slider into the eye. Actual weight needed will vary depending on the area/current/river levels/depth. Usually you can get by with 8 to 16oz. If however you are fishing the Bonneville area with faster current, you may have to use up into the 24 to 32oz. size.
BAIT-- Sturgeon bait can be about anything, but it seems best to "Match the Hatch", use what they are currently accustomed to be feeding on at any given time naturally. The most common will be smelt, sand shrimp, mud shrimp, herring, anchovies, eels, squid, worms, or a combination of these. Shad are a very good bait when they are running in the river in late May & June. Salmon bellies work good in the fall.
A sturgeon sandwich is a generic term for combining various baits on one hook. You might try a 1/2 a sardine or smelt, a sand shrimp, some roll mop or squid, and top it off with a night-crawler, all wrapped up with stretchy thread
Roll mop is basically, a pickled herring product produced by "Lascco" You can find it a most supermarkets and usually at a bit lower price than a sporting goods store. Roll mop is essentially a whole herring filet (minus the head and tail) wrapped around a pickle and then canned. To use, remove pickle and toss away or if your feeling adventurous you can eat it, then split the filet down the middle and thread the half or quarter of that on to a hook and wrap with elastic thread. Roll mop is a pretty generic bait and should be good in any sturgeon waters as long as they are interested in biting.
BAITING-- Sturgeon seem to like to take the bait head first, so it is not baited as if you were fishing for salmon. When using smelt, use a threader, which is basically a 1/8" wire about 8-10" long that is pointed on one end & has a slight notch hook cut into it, like a crochet hook. In use, the leader will be not attached to any line at this point. Push the threader in the anus of the bait, coming out it's mouth. Slip the leader loop end into the hook end of the threader & pull the leader back thru the bait with the hook being pulled in the mouth as far as it will go. Now with the free end take 2 half hitches on the baits tail, spacing them somewhat apart. If using shrimp, it seems best to pull off the claws, & tie them, sometimes using 2, belly to belly onto the hook with stretchy thread.
SCENT-- Scent is used most all the time, since these fish have to find most of their food by scent instead of sight as the water is usually not clear at all. This scent can consist of any of the prepared attractants, it may be best to carry more than one flavor & try more than one at a time for different rods to find out which works best on that particular day. Shrimp or herring scent would be a starting point. Some fishermen swear by WD40, however it's use may not be really legal from the standpoint of environmental law of releasing contaminate oils into the water.
BANK FISHING-- Gear here will normally be the same as boat fishing with the exception of rod & reels, which usually consist of a rod 12' to 14' and a large spinning reel. Lines will of course will usually be mono. A rod holder of some sort will need to be fashioned that can be driven into the ground and yet allow the easily access to the rod.
LANDING FISH-- Since there is a minimum & maximum size, it is illegal to gaff sturgeon, so therefore you will have to net them or use a glove & tail them.
LEGAL SIZE--The legal size is between 42" & 60", measured the shortest distance between the tip of the nose & the extreme tip of the tail, all others shall be returned to the water unharmed. Washington regulations length statement is: The shortest distance between the tip of the nose & the extreme tip of the tail, measured while the fish is laying on its side on a flat surface with its tail in a normal position.
In a sturgeon derby, the year 2000 out of Chinook, WA., where the rules called for fish to be brought to the weigh in while still alive, a fisherman came in with a 59 1/2" fish that had been previously measured & verified by an Oregon DWL officer. It was legal then. When the fisherman got to the weigh in, a Washington DWL officer measured the fish & declared it overlength. There seems to be some confusion as to just how to measure a fish, even a live one. The fish was confiscated, the fisherman got a hefty fine & lost his first place prize. He later got verification from the Oregon officer who inspected it previously, & his fine got suspended. But he lost his fish & the prize because of the deal.
There is also some fish cops who do not understand that
sturgeon will change length when they die. Most fishermen agree that the fish
get slightly longer when they die, as their muscles relax.
Sturgeon are like catfish & can stand to be out of the water for a period of time more than most other fish. Since it is illegal to remove oversized fish from the water, it therefore seems best to use a hook remover if possible, & if the fish has taken the hook really deep, then the best alternative may be to cut the leader as close to the hook as you can and let the fish go. The hook should rust out before too long.
OTHER LEGALITIES-- Other legalities from the 2001 WDFW fish regulations read-- Catch Record Card required statewide. -- Annual sturgeon limit is 10 fish even if the angler holds both a Washington and Oregon license. -- In Columbia River waters forming the boundary between Washington & Oregon, sturgeon anglers may continue to fish (catch & release) after a daily or yearly limit has been obtained. -- Single barbless hooks and bait are required to fish for sturgeon. -- Lures not allowed. -- Immediately release any sturgeon not to be retained. -- Sturgeon fishing is not allowed at night unless specifically noted. -- In the field, eggs must be retained with intact carcass of the fish from which it came. -- Oversized sturgeon cannot be removed totally or in part from the water. -- Do not remove tags from fish not of legal size or that are not retained, but record: tag number and color, date & location of catch, fish length, your name & address. -- If fish is retained, remove tag and send this above information to WDFW Columbia River office.
CLEANING-- Fillet as you would normally fillet any fish except remove all rows of "scutes" (the sharp spines on it's sides). A good sharp knife will slice them right off without cutting into the skin. Then take your SHARP knife, and cut along the spine. Slice the meat away from each side of the spine, just as you would fillet any other fish. There seems to be more meat on the belly than is on a salmon. It is highly recommend NOT to cut into the gut cavity if you can avoid it. It STINKS!!!
Then take your fillets and lay them skin-side down, and hopefully, use a different razor sharp knife or resharpen the earlier used knife, slice the skin away from the meat. Then you can trim off the small pieces of cartilage and gut cavity that always seem to find their way into the fillets. Importance of a good, sharp knife can't be stressed enough! It takes some practice to get a nice clean fillet, but even the "rough" ones taste great!
COOKING-- For cooking, there are
many favorite methods, listed below are a few.
(1) To deep-fry cut into chunks about 1 1/2" square, dip in a batter & deep-fry, let drain on paper towels.
(2) To Bar-B-Que, use a shallow pan or cookie sheet, place olive oil, vegetable oil, or margarine in the pan enough to generously cover the bottom & as to not allow it to stick & burn. Salt & pepper & brush the meat with Honey-Mustard barbecue sauce, bake for about 8-10 minuets over a medium heat grill, depending on the thickness.
(3) Cut your fillets into the size of a piece of bread, get some Schillings Grill Mates Spicy Montreal Steak seasoning, Mix in a ziplock bag, 2 tablespoons with 1/2 cup of Olive Oil and 1/4 cup of Soy Sauce, put your fillets in the bag, squeeze the mix into the meat and stick it in fridge for about an hour then barbecue, works good with salmon, back strap, tenderloin, just about anything.
ESTUARY: (Astoria, Chinook, Deep River, etc.)
Use tides listed for Astoria when fishing here, or if your tide book does not show Astoria, use Pacific Beaches tides & add 1 hour..
It seems there at least 2 schools of thought on sturgeon fishing here. One is to fish the deep holes. The other is to fish the sand flats. Possibly a combination of the 2 may be best depending on the location, the tide and the type of boat you are using. But they both produce sturgeon.
Fishing the holes may be the best if you get there on any tide & are not willing or able to move around if nothing is going on, & just stay there & maybe they will move in on the tide change. And any day on the water is better than a day of work, that is also why they call it fishing & not catching.
One guide I know says he fishes the flats on the outgoing low tide. Then when the tide turns if he is not getting any bites, he will move into the holes & finish the day.
The flats fishing game usually is to use a jet sled, find a underwater channel leading up into the flats. Unless you have a specific known location, move up toward the sand flats between Grays Point on the Wash side & Tongue Point on the Ore. side at low tide & find the showing spits, anchor in a channel or as near as possible to one. The thought is to find this channel that will give the fish a place to travel & also make a catch basin for concentration of the run off debris. It is then possible to catch fish in shallow water as the tide comes back in bring the sturgeon in on the flats to feed. Needless to say the bait here will be sand shrimp.
If you find a good location, mark it with GPS or piling notations, so you can locate it later at a higher tide, because it can also be a good spot on the outgoing tide for the same reasons.
I think that maybe a combination of the 2 that could be best. That is to fish the holes on the last of the outgoing low tide, because they probably will be concentrated there at that time because of the tide & less area for them, then to fish the flats as the tide is coming back in. This will be only possible if your boat has the capability of going into the shallows, unless you happen to find a channel close enough to deeper water for a prop unit to navigate.
The best times to fish hear seem to be from the end of June to October. Occasionally they may close the season from Aug 1 to Sept 30.
The charters seem to always fish the shelves in the river
below the Astoria bridge.
Tides here will be add 1 hr from Astoria tide, or +2 hrs,
Pacific beach times for high tide, and an additional hour for low tide. Weights
used here seem to be 8 to 12oz. It seems best to try to start fishing from low
slack, or a little later so that you fish the last 2/3 rds. of incoming tide, as
bite seems to drop off about 1-2 hrs after corrected tide change of high tide,
also the current again starts running more on the outgoing tide, requiring
LONGVIEW / RAINER / KALAMA :
To figure the tides, for Longview, look at the tides for Astoria. Add 3 hours 27 minutes for high tide and 5 hrs and 14 minutes for low tides. Reference point is Tongue Point. The best tide here to fish seems to be from actual low tide up to high tide plus an hour or so.
You can usually get away with 12 to 16 oz. weight here, but If you catch the outgoing be ready to try 20 to 30 oz's or look for a shallow flat somewhere.
Sturgeon fishing can be very productive in the Kalama area in
the late fall/early winter. Some fish around the hole at the Trojan plant.
However others run up to markers 52 and 54 and just stay within that area until
they find some fish.
There are a few areas here that are fished more than others. Kelly point at the mouth of the Willamette is one. The problem here is that you are near lots of commercial boat traffic. And you will have to watch where you anchor. If the Coast Guard comes out & runs you out when a ship/barge is coming by, or the tug with a barge blasts it's horn, you MAY possibly be too close or IN the shipping lanes. Move up into the Willamette when the water temperature of the main Columbia drops a bit in the winter & spring. The Willamette will usually be a couple of degrees warmer & sometimes only a few degrees difference in temperature will make the difference on the fish biting or not.
Another spot is on the upstream side of Government Island.
Don't be disappointed if you can't find any deep holes here, the fish are still
Here is where you find the monsters. These large oversize fish tend to congregate in this area, possibly to spawn.
This area could be considered from Rooster Rock right up to the boundaries at Bonneville dam. The Rooster Rock area can vary from 15' to 65', and fish can be found in either. The bottom here can be more gravel & sand than near the dam, since the current is slightly less. However you still may have to use a sinker of 24 to 32 oz. to hold the bait down.
Farther up river to the dam, you need to go with someone the
first time, as the water is faster, more crowded & barge traffic at times. The
bottom here will have more rocks, since the flow is faster.
Most of the fishing here will be from April thru mid summer.
Water is deep enough here that a prop boat has no problems.
above information was used with the permission
LeeRoy Wisner had posted several EXTREMELY informative articles on the Puget Sound Anglers website and we strongly recommend visiting that website or click here to email him directly. As an editor's note I must say that in my lifetime of searching every available resource I have never come across so many helpful and informative articles as those written by LeeRoy Wisner. Thanks again and hats to LeeRoy for giving us permission to post these articles so that you can learn more about fishing and hopefully you catch more fish!