Green Sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) are a prehistoric species
common to the Umpqua and Rogue Rivers entering Oregon's Rogue River. The skin of the green sturgeon has a greenish hue on its back and a yellow hue on its stomach and usually a pale stripe below the lateral scute line. This stripe is usually absent in white sturgeon. Counting the lateral scutes on the side of the sturgeon is the best method to identify them. The number of lateral scutes on white sturgeon typically exceeds 37 scutes on one side while Green sturgeon has fewer than 37.
The lateral scutes on white sturgeon wear down and become smooth in older fish. The lateral scutes on older green sturgeon remain sharp and dangerous. Unfortunately the flesh of green sturgeon is oily diminishing their value as a food fish and when they’re caught they should be released immediately, however white sturgeon are highly esteemed for their value as a food fish.
White sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) are a prehistoric species
common to all of Oregon's bays and coastal rivers. They are oriented to the brackish and freshwater of Oregon's bays and rivers entering them for extended periods throughout the year. The white sturgeon has gray colored skin on its back and white colored skin on its stomach.
The white sturgeon fishery of the Columbia River is a world class fishery offering anglers the opportunity to fulfill their greatest expectations with the permanent population exceeding one million fish. White sturgeon are a slow growing attaining sexual maturity beginning at 20 years of age. Data compiled from studies reveal that white sturgeon only spawn in the Columbia River. The spawning period extends from late April or early May through late June or early July of each year. Spawning occurs primarily in the fast-flowing section of the river downstream from Bonneville Dam. White sturgeon grow between 7 and 12 inches during their first year and 4 inches a year until they reach 3 feet in length, and then 3 inches a year until reaching sexually maturity. A 3 foot sturgeon is 8 years old; a 4 foot sturgeon is 12 years old; a 5 foot sturgeon is 17 years old and 6 foot sturgeon is 23 years old. Historically the size of white sturgeon exceeded the spectacular reaching 20 feet in length weighing more than 1500 pounds and living longer than 100 years of age. However in today’s environment large white sturgeon attain a maximum length of 16 feet, but more commonly an 8 to 10 foot white sturgeon is considered as being large. Landing a large sturgeon requires the use of terminal tackle. The terminal tackle used to land a sturgeon may seem too heavy until a large sturgeon takes the bait. To keep sturgeon in Oregon the overall length of the sturgeon must measure between either 42 or 45 and 60 inches in length except when the retention regulations are in effect. Sturgeon are measured in a straight line from the tip of the snout to the tip of the upper tail lobe.
The rentention of sturgeon is no longer allowed in Oregon's State waters. Refer to the ODFW Fishing Regulations for when the fishery is reopened, if ever.
The sturgeon fishery of the lower Columbia River provides the angler with a realistic opportunity to catch a legal size sturgeon. Typically the angler catches a dozen undersize sturgeon (called shakers because they vigorously shake their heads when hooked) and an occasional oversized sturgeon (called peelers because they are large enough to spool the line off of a reel when they are hooked) for every legal size (called keepers) sturgeon caught. The total number of legal size sturgeon caught in the lower Columbia River exceeds the total combined catch of from all of Oregon's bays.
The greatest numbers of sturgeon enter Oregon's bays from December through June. The most productive fishing occurs in Tillamook Bay and Umpqua Bay followed by productive but inconsistent fishing in Yaquina Bay, Nehalem Bay and Coos Bay. Oregon's other smaller bays produce sturgeon but the opportunity to catch a keeper size sturgeon is limited by fewer number of sturgeon entering the bays and from pressure by local anglers.
The locations of sturgeon holes in Oregon's bays and coastal rivers are well known. The irregular features associated with geological structure of the bays and river channels often disclose the location of sturgeon holes, i.e. a bend in the river or the confluence of sloughs, creeks and river channels, etc. Ask for directions to them from the local bait and tackle shop owners. Boat owners can use marine electronics to locate sturgeon holes and to find fish.
Fish for sturgeon by anchoring the boat up current from the shallow depressions and deep holes found in the troughs and channels associated with the bays and rivers. The most productive fishing occurs during the last two hours of the outgoing tide of the major tidal exchange through low slack tide and during the first hour of the incoming tide of spring tides. The outgoing tide is the most productive tide to fish as the sturgeon move into the deeper holes. Cast the bait to the up current side of the hole, and the current will carry the scent of the bait to the sturgeon.
Mud shrimp, sand shrimp or a combination of mud and/or sand shrimp are the first choice for bait year round. The mouth of a sturgeon is tough and it requires needle sharp hooks to affect a successful hook set. Use a 3/0 to 6/0 size barbless hook when fishing with sand or mud shrimp. The size of a size 6/0 hook or larger matches the size of a large mud shrimp while the size of the 3/0 hook matches the size of sand shrimp.
The best method to bait mud shrimp to a size 6/0 hook is to thread the mud shrimp onto the hook using a bait needle. Insert the bait needle into the mouth of the mud shrimp pushing it through the body cavity and the tail. Attach the loop on the hook leader to the notch in the end of the bait needle. Pull the bait needle and the hook leader line all the way through the shrimp until the shank of the 6/0 hook is buried in the head of the shrimp. Attach the loop on the end of hook leader to the cross lock snap swivel on the end of the sinker leader. Pull enough of the hook leader line to loop a half hitch around the tail of the mud shrimp. Loop a second half hitch around the mud shrimp and you are ready to fish.
The best method to bait a sand shrimp to a size 3/0 hook is to thread the shrimp onto the hook using a bait needle. Insert the bait needle into the mouth of the shrimp pushing it through the body cavity and the tail. Attach the loop on the hook leader to the notch in the end of the bait needle. Pull the needle and the hook leader line all the way through the shrimp until the shank of the hook is buried in the head of the shrimp. Secure the sand shrimp to the size 3/0 hook with elastic thread and the bait is ready to fish.
Baiting the hook with more than one sand shrimp enhances its effectiveness. Remove the large claws from the sand shrimp. Wrap up to four additional sand shrimp around the back of the one baited to the hook by wrapping them together with the elastic thread. Spray the bait with WD40 and the bait is ready to fish.
Fishing with a sturgeon cocktail comprised of mud shrimp, sand shrimp and sprayed with WD40 is a winning combination that sturgeon cannot refuse when other baits fail to produce. Bait a sturgeon cocktail by threading a mud shrimp onto a size 6/0 hook using a bait needle. Secure the mud shrimp by looping a half hitch with the leader line around the tail. Place the bottom side of the sand shrimp’s tail against the bottom side of the mud shrimp’s tail wrapping them together with elastic thread and spray with WD40.
Sturgeon are particular how they swallow their food preferring to ingest it head first. Fresh herring, smelt, anchovies or shad replace shrimp as the best choice for bait when those species enter bays. Match the size of the hook to the size of the baitfish. Smelt and anchovies require smaller hooks than herring. Herring require smaller hooks than shad. Use a 3/0 to a size 11/0 barbless hook. Sturgeon usually takes a baitfish headfirst. Insert the hook into the tail of the baitfish just above the lateral line. Push the hook through one side at the lateral line exiting out the other side. Continue lacing the hook through the baitfish with the hook exiting in an upright position just behind the head pointing toward the tail. Loop a couple of half hitches around the tail and you are ready to fish.
Remember a sturgeon is a large and powerful fish. Match the tackle to the size of the fish. The tackle should be heavy enough to play the fish rather than the fish playing you. You can always downsize the tackle, but when a large sturgeon that is 8 to 10 feet long and weighing between 225 to 450 pounds takes the bait it is too late to upsize the tackle.
Fish for sturgeon from a boat using a 7 to 8 foot heavy duty rod of medium action with a flexible tip equipped with a high quality high speed dual or single speed level wind reel loaded with a minimum of 50 pound test abrasion resistant braided fusion line or 50 pound test Dacron line. The heavy test Dacron or abrasion resistant braided fusion line in necessary because the lateral scutes on the side of the sturgeon are sharp enough to chafe or cut through monofilament or nonabrasive braided fusion line as they role trying to escape the hook and line. The reel should be equipped with gears that standup to all the strain and pressure an angry 8 foot 225 plus pound swimming freight train can place on them without failing. The reel should also be equipped with high speed line retrieval features and a heavy duty star drag capable of slowing the freight train down. Fishing with tackle that is to light can result in losing a large legal size sturgeon or deny the angler the thrill of bringing an oversized sturgeon to the boat. Using high quality heavy duty tackle reduces angler fatigue and the level of stress the sturgeon undergoes by cutting own the time is takes to bring the sturgeon to the boat.
White sturgeon are light feeders. The bait should be rigged in such a manner that it presents very little resistance to the sturgeon as the sturgeon picks it up. Use a sinker of sufficient size to hold the bait on the bottom in the current. Attach the sinker to the line in a manner that allows the sinker to slide when the sturgeon picks the bait up. The size of the sinker to hold the bait on the bottom varies from 2 to 8 ounces or heavier because the velocity of the tidal current can be strong enough to raise the bait off of the bottom. The bait has to be on the bottom to entice the sturgeon to the bait; otherwise, you are just wasting your time. The typical sturgeon leader is comprised of two parts, a sinker leader and a hook leader. Rig the sinker leader to allow the sinker to slide on the leader by threading a large bead, a sinker slider and another large bead onto a 4 foot length of 80 pound test Dacron line. If a sinker slider is unavailable use a snap swivel. Thread eye of the swivel between 2 beads onto the leader line. Tie one end of the sinker leader to the size 3/0 barrel swivel to the end of the main line. Tie the other end of the sinker leader to a size 6/0 cross lock snap swivel. Attach a heavy enough sinker to the sinker slider or snap swivel to keep the bait on the bottom; usually a 2 or 3 ounce pyramid sinker is sufficient. Rig the hook leader by snell tying the appropriate size hook that matches the size and type of bait to one end of a 2 foot section of 80 pound test Dacron line and a loop the other end. Bait up and you are ready to fish. When the sturgeon picks up the bait put the reel in free spool or open bail and allow the sturgeon to move away for 3 seconds before setting the hook.
Fishing for sturgeon from the banks of bays or river channels requires a slightly different strategy than fishing from a boat. Use an 11 foot surf casting rod with a heavy duty reel that can hold a minimum of 150 yards of 50 pound test abrasion resistant braided fusion line. The longer rod is necessary to extend the distance the angler can cast the bait. It is also easier to land a larger sturgeon using the power of the longer rod to tire the sturgeon before maneuvering it into the shallow water along the beach. The weight of the sinker has to be light enough to be able to cast the bait to the desired location above the up current side of a hole and heavy enough to hold the bait on the bottom. Tie a size 3/0 barrel swivel onto the end of the main line. Rig the sinker leader to allow the sinker to slide on the leader by threading a large bead, a sinker slider and another large bead onto a 4 foot length of 80 pound test Dacron line. Tie one end of the sinker leader to the size 3/0 barrel swivel to the end of the main line. Tie the other end of the sinker leader to a size 6/0 cross lock snap swivel. Attach a heavy enough sinker (usually 2 to 6 ounces is sufficient to keep the bait on the bottom in most coastal rivers) to the sinker slider to keep the bait on the bottom. Rig the hook leader by snell tying a barbless size 6/0 hook to one end of a 2 foot section of 80 pound test Dacron line and a loop on the other end. Bait the hook with a mud shrimp, sand shrimp or a combination of mud and sand shrimp as previously described then cast the bait to the desired location on the up current side of the hole.
How many sand shrimp do you have to buy when fishing for sturgeon? Usually 12 dozen is sufficient. My friend, Harold (Dutch) Schuttpelz and his son, Steve bought 4 dozen when they were fishing for sturgeon at the old Shingle Mill Hole on the Yaquina River and they ran out! Steve caught one of the sculpins that had eaten all of their sand shrimp with their last sand shrimp. Steve sliced the sculpin into strip bait; then he laced the strip bait onto the hook, sprayed it with WD40 and cast it to the head of the hole. A few minute later Steve lifted a keeper sized sturgeon into the boat. The amount of sand shrimp, mud shrimp or other bait consumed while fishing for sturgeon varies with the amount of freshwater flowing into the bays. During periods of heavy freshwater runoff from seasonal rains, the crabs move down into the lower bay and there are fewer sculpins to contend with. Fewer shrimp are used while fishing from late winter through spring and more are needed from late spring through fall. Without competition from the crabs and sculpins the catch rate for sturgeon soars. With the arrival of summer and diminished rainfall the crabs and sculpins return to the upper bay and at times become more than a nuisance by consuming the bait as soon as it hits the bottom. Use Bagetts or wrap the bait in bait netting or cheesecloth secured with elastic thread to help protect it from the crabs and sculpins. Bagetts are a net baggie that encloses the shrimp and are held on the shrimp with a drawstring. Extend the time the bait is in the water fishing by using Bagetts, bait netting or cheesecloth. Once the bait is in the water fishing, set the reel in fee spool or loosen the drag sufficiently to allow the sturgeon to pick up the bait and swim off without feeling any resistance. When the sturgeon picks up the bait and swims off pick up the rod, lower the tip tightening the drag and setting the hook hard. Pay close attention to everything you do. Be patient and use the power of the rod to tire the sturgeon.
The popularity of fishing for sturgeon in Oregon's bays, coastal rivers and the lower Columbia River is increasing. The number of sturgeon caught and released is enormous. The angler should make ever effort to release sturgeon unharmed. Land all sturgeon as quickly as possible to minimize the stress the sturgeon undergoes. Removing a large sturgeon from the water can damage its internal organs killing it. Remove the hook from the sturgeon without removing the sturgeon from the water. Normally the hook can be removed from the sturgeon’s mouth without difficulty. But if a large sturgeon is hooked inside the mouth, attach the pliers to your wrist with a wrist band before reaching into the sturgeon’s mouth to remove the hook. If necessary, use a sturgeon snare looped around the tail of larger sturgeon to hold the fish. Snare the sturgeon by passing the rod through the loop of the sturgeon snare sliding the loop down the line and over the body of the sturgeon to the tail. Revive stressed sturgeon by forcing water through the sturgeon’s gills by moving the sturgeon back and forth in the water. Remember conservation is the key that will assure good fishing in the future.
Return to Oregon's Other Coastal Fish Species.