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How To Catch Sturgeon

Many questions are asked concerning habits, growth rates, life cycles, etc. of the White Sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus).

After thumbing through a lengthy and sometimes confusing technical report funded by the B.P.A. in cooperation with State and National Fish & Wildlife Departments, I have found a few interesting facts to pass along.

Presently the most popular recreational fish in the Columbia River from the mouth to McNary Dam, the White Sturgeon are found along the west coast of North America from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, to Monterey, California.

Although this species is considered to be anadromous, some populations are landlocked due to dam construction.

Spawning occurs in the spring (early May - early July) only in the tailrace areas of the dams where the water velocity is the greatest, and it's success is greatly related to river discharge. Optimal spawning temperatures are 13 to 14 degrees centigrade.

Being a "free spawner," fertilized eggs are carried downstream by river currents and adhere to the bottom substrate with a sticky substance that covers the egg. It is believed that the large dispersement of eggs insures survival by utilizing more feeding areas and rearing habitats by larval and post-larval Sturgeon, as well as protection from predators.

The young Sturgeon are apparently effective and efficient predators themselves during the summer and early fall, as they generally reach a length of approximately seven inches by the end of September!

With a reproductive cycle (time between spawnings) of 3 to 5 years, only 10% to 20% of the adult female population is capable of spawning in a given year.

Female Sturgeon grow larger in size than the males, and generally reach maturity by the time they reach 6 foot in length although some reach maturity around the 48" size (approximately 14 years old).

Knowing that Sturgeon are slow growing and can live to be over 100 years old, the most frequently asked question is, "How old is that fish?" I can only give you some figures from a few "tagged" fish that we have caught and submitted to the O.D.F.& W. which has graciously returned information for, and some rough calculations from data I have in this report.

A 42" fish (minimum legal size) is about 11 years old, 45" is 12 years old, 66" is about 24 years old, 8' is about 48 years old, 10" about 62 years old.

Bear in mind that all fish do not grow at the same rate with a given year, due to available food supplies, age of fish and gender, but this should give you a basic idea of their length to age ratio.

The primary method used in determining the age of sturgeon is by examining a cross section of the pectoral fin under a microscope and counting pairs of opaque and translucent rings (much like aging a tree), and although the accuracy of this method can be questioned it does provide us with knowledge of their growth in conjunction with environmental changes.

Sturgeon are primarily bottom feeders and eat just about any dead fish that they can find. They also forage on crayfish, fresh water clams, sand rollers and lamprey.

Some of the preferred baits in The Columbia River near The Dalles, Oregon include Roll-Mop (pickled herring), Squid or pickled Squid, Lamprey, Night Crawlers, and Shad. Late May through July the enormous runs of American Shad seem to draw Sturgeon from lower reaches of the pool up to The Dalles Dam like "ants to a picnic", and with this "captive audience" all that you need to do is put the bait in the right place!

It is not uncommon to hook and land Sturgeon in the 7 to 9 foot class, and although we must release these prehistoric monsters, you'll have an experience ( and hopefully photographs) that you won't forget. Short stout rods, heavy line, big baits and a strong will are all required to land the "big game" of The Columbia! Be prepared to battle a single fish for 1 to 2 hours as they are extremely strong, and with the fast and deep currents of the river they have a certain advantage over you.

Bring your sunscreen, a sweatband, a camera, get a good nights sleep and then you'll be ready to land what may possibly be the biggest fish of your life! Are you ready for the challenge?

This article submitted by: Jack laFond Young's Fishing Service, Inc.