Lower Columbia River 
Sturgeon Fishing

 


SHARED JURISDICTION :

Washington and Oregon  Dept. of Fish and 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, and has a fishing license for that state can launch his/her boat on either shore, legally fish and 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 and a non-resident license from the other.  This does not allow a Washington angler to BANK FISH in Oregon however.  This information has just been added to the WDFW fishing pamphlet.    I sent e-mailed questions to both the Oregon and Washington departments in 2003, received the above information back at that time.

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 and tugs. The normal shipping lane depths may be dredged and kept at a minimum of 40 ft.  The one thing here is that the ships will be ship traffic will be moving upriver and downriver and 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 highway with upriver designated for the Oregon side, and downriver designated for the Washington side of the lane.

If you plan on fishing and 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 and 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.  

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 many boaters know, you can anchor in the shipping channel but can be fined for violating Rule 9 of the Navigation Rules if you do not move for larger commercial traffic.   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 and the possibility of them passing at you exact location is possible, it will behoove you to pull anchor and move, -- well in advance of them reaching you.   If you waited too long, then get loose from your anchor, leave it, and get out of the way ASAP.

Also you should read and 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 and take the wave sideways.

Also, if you are just outside of the channel, but near it in a confined area, when these heavily loaded tankers pass by they create a sizable amount of rough water, with turbulence for up to 15 minutes or so, this very well could disrupt your fish catching possibilities.

Where to Fish ;  Starting with the 2003 regulations the lower river is split into 2 seasons.  The divide between the two is the power lines from Wana on the Oregon shore to Puget Island at Cathlamet.   For the 2007 seasons there is a 10 day gap of non retention both above and below these power lines.  One recommendation, NEVER LEAVE THE DOCK without a copy of the current fishing regulations.  AND check WDFW website regularly if you intend to fish here, as there can be closures that are not in the published regulations.

The methods used will depend on where you are in the river.  If you are in tidewater where there are sand flats at a low tide the normal method  for some will be to find a spot at the low tide and wait until the tide comes in.   As it comes in, the sturgeon move out of the holes they were in at low tide and feed on shrimp or clams that may have been exposed and are now just under water as the tide comes back in.   If you are upriver above tidewater the normal method is to fish the holes.   Also if you are in the estuary and there is a large run off, the fish tend to move into a deep hole or into a side channel. 

If you are one who doesn't care for a crowd, and 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.  When you find a few fish symbols right on the bottom you can assume they are sturgeon.   Drop anchor and if nothing happens within a 1/2 hr, move then do another search.  Sometimes moving 50 ft will make a great difference, if you are not in a migration route.  Sometimes just changing sides of the boat will make a difference, as I have seen one guy pull numerous fish off the port side and the other guy on the starboard could not even buy a nibble. 

If you fish the main river then just finding a hole and 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 is usually better, as the fish tend to feed more on the slight up slope, and the current will dictate that they swim into it.  This will also be the area where the most feed will concentrate first.

As mentioned above, 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 and feed on whatever was washed down over the ledge, into the hole with the current.   However if the current is so strong that you need a HEAVY sinker, you had probably better move to a side channel or go home.

These fish seem to concentrate in different 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 and 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).  But if there is a lot of snow in the mountains, in the spring, the temperature of the water will be colder (53 degrees or so) this colder water tends to push the fish into protected channels until the river warms up and by then hopefully for the shad run in May/June.  The later eel migration also has it's effect.  In the lower estuary will be effected by the herring and anchovies in the late summer.  Then in the fall when the salmon have spawned and 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 and 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 locals there tend to lean toward May and June as being the best.  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 little critters in the water.

Farther up the river around Kalama these fish tend to not move in and 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.

Also do not fish on a high exchange of water between high and low tide, as the water will be running fast enough as to require a heavy sinker and you may not detect a light biter.  Remember if there is a full moon, then usually there is a minus tide which creates a high run off. 

Another observation by some fishermen is that sturgeon don't seem to bite as well on a falling barometer, (raining).

Boat Size ;  You will see boats of many different sizes and configurations in this area.  Safety is the main concern.  I have fished it with boats ranging from 16' to 22'.  Safety and comfort is the prime criteria.  If you pick your days you can have flat water with minimal tidal exchange.  However I have seen the wind pick up and you have whitecaps occur in a very short period of time.  So you need to be vigilant if you are in a small open boat and more especially if you have far to run to get back.  My previous older small boat was a 16' jet sled.  I had made a vinyl bow cover with the snaps close together then I put inflated kids swimming pool rings under it to support the vinyl from underneath to keep any water from coming over the open bow if the weather gets nasty and filling the front compartment.

My newer 18' North River also has a removable bow cover as seen below.

Bow cover for a open bow boat showing the puller ball under

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.  If you do want it attached, then tie in a section of  SMALL, 1/8" line off the end to the spool or where-ever it is attached to your boat as a break away connection.  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 and 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.   For more on anchoring in the Columbia River CLICK HERE.  This was written mainly for fall Chinook, but the principle is the same, just less congestion fro sturgeon fishing.

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.

Three 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 this is a fold up unit that helps in storage.  It has double flukes.  These anchors will have an eye at the center of the main shaft at the BOTTOM of the anchor.   Attach a heavy chain to this eye and run the chain outside the anchor shaft and at the the top of the anchor shaft again attach it with dacron leader 100# or 120# tie it up, double and triple knot it and it will last a month of use or more.  You will see the dacron wearing and can replace when needed.  Yet it is strong enough to do the job and not break when you are in a hogline and the wind or current picks up that WILL break under extreme stress.   Some will use a single 75#  (8") tie tape instead of the dacron.  Others use a cotton twine, but it is hard to find one that is in the breaking strength range that is needed here.

Under normal usage the anchor can be pulled in OK, but if it hangs up, you can motor upriver (into the current) and pull the anchor out by breaking the tie tapes, the strain will then 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

Number two is basically the same as #1, but it is rigid and made of round rod.  These are made and sold by Motion Marine, which also makes anchor mounting/roller units that mount on the bow, storing the anchor when in motion. www.motionmarine.com/

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. 

Boat Swinging With Wind ;  There are a couple of other methods or a combination of all that may improve your odds. Use 2 drift socks, not totally unlike small sea anchors. These do not need to be large for a small boat, a 12" dia. upper hoop may be all that is necessary, while 16" + may be right for a larger boat. These socks are usually made from nylon and are normally about 12" on the large end about 24" long with a 4" hole on the bottom.  They act just like you had a 5 gallon bucket in the water. Place these socks over the side on the rear corners of the boat.  They do not need to be back more than 4' to 6'.  Keep in mind that the farther back they are the more chance of interfering with a possible fish.  All you want to do is keep the boat from swinging in the wind or slowing tide.  As the tide approaches slack, you might consider removing the sock from the side your kicker motor is mounted on and then running the kicker in reverse, pulling the boat against the anchor to hold it straight. 

Pulling the Anchor ; There are numerous brands of anchor / float / retrieving / mooring systems.  Essentially they consist of a 15" to 18" round plastic float/bumper that are usually an orange color.  The actual puller is a slider that attaches to the anchor line and allows the line to pass one way with ease.  In use, when anchoring with this system, you drop the anchor, feed out the amount of line for the slope, needed, then let out the float buoy so it is in front of the boat 20' to 50', and then tie off the line to your front mooring cleat.

Practice pulling your anchor with these systems in a quiet spot before you get out on the swifter river or near other boats.  You need to understand just what is happening and when, plus what to do if it dose not quite function properly before you get into a close situation with other boats and you get your anchor tangled with theirs while they are still at anchor, while in a strong current.  This could well turn into a very dangerous situation VERY FAST.

When ready to retrieve the anchor, you motor upstream and off to the side of float buoy, then make a slight circular swing, usually to the right if your steering wheel is on the right so you can watch the anchor line.  Keep moving away and in an arc so that the anchor line does not get under the boat and into the prop.  The float buoy will slide down back on the anchor line, when it gets behind the boat, you may want to speed up somewhat, so that the force of the water pushes the float down the anchor line, (even under water).  The buoyancy of this float lifts the anchor and the force of the boat going ahead slides this float back to where it stops at the anchor.  When the float reappears to the surface, the anchor is now hanging directly under the float.  All you need  to do now is pull the line, float and the anchor in.

This anchor has been pulled by using the float & now all that is needed is to pull in the floating line, float with the anchor hanging below it.
   

If you are using a anchor puller, you will of course be tied off or attached to the bow as in the previous paragraphs.   Be very careful to swing wide and 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 does happen, you are hung up with the anchor rope attached to your bow, the rope tangled in the prop and by the time you realize what has happened, the motor dies because your line is tight from the bow to around the prop. You CAN NOT raise the motor in this condition.  This will happen in the first stages of the attempted pulling, and you still have the anchor on the bottom.  Now you are fouled up, no power, soon to be stern upriver in a current and still anchored.  This is the time for FAST, CLEAR THINKING and 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 does hang 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.

When using one of the anchor / float / retrieving / mooring systems, depending on your boat, you may want to install a extra set of mooring cleats amid-ships where you will be able to quickly be able to disconnect the line. This is so that you can take the line around one side of the bow mooring cleat, then to the opposite side of the bow, and then back past the windshield to this 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, which can prove a problem depending on the configuration of the boat windshield/cabin.

Rods ;  You will find as many different recommendations as you find fishermen, many fishermen use any rod in the salmon rod of 12# to 25# category, but the consensus seems to be a 7' to 8' fiberglass rated as a medium heavy with a line capacity of 30# - 60# range.  If you are concentrating on the oversize Bonneville fish, then even 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 and crank down, raise and again 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 monofilament, 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 and 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 and also something to grab onto when the fish is at the boat side and if it is undersize for tailing and 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 and beads on the end of the line along with this leader section above the slider and 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 Dacron type 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 and 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 and no light can be seen between the closed barb and the main shank.  The Washington regulations say single barbless hooks in the "species rules".  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 and 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.  Anchoring under the Wana power lines at the head of the 100' hole may require 20oz if you stay through the outgoing tide.  And if you are fishing the Bonneville area with faster current, you may have to use up into the 24 to 32oz. size.  However the faster water, the more weight, the more chance of problems in anchoring.  And it is suggested that the novice learn on calmer less fast current.

There are more than one type of sinker slider.  The cheaper Danielson plastic sliders with a snap attached work OK if you are not using a sinker over about 10oz.  But when you get above that, the plastic has a tendency to break off at the snap, loosing the sinker.  There is a couple of other  types that are made from either a few beads, a barrel swivel and clear plastic tubing, or a heavy plastic tube with a swivel around it as shown below.  This later type is preferred when going to the heavier sinkers as the Danielson plastic lip that the snap attaches to can break off is using heavy (20 oz. +) sinkers.

You will notice a small plastic Tee on the Danielson slider.  For this type of fishing, you need to remove this Tee, as it is there in case you want to secure the slider to the line by making a wrap around it.  Here you want the unit to slide and if you do not remove this Tee, it may allow weeds to collect, so simply cut it off.

Oregon tackle Co. sinker  slider Danielson sinker slider

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 and 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

You will get many different ideas on the ideal sturgeon bait.   The following was pulled from a popular fishing forum when the bait question was asked.

(1) Get frozen squid at a fish market.  I pay around $10 a box that will last 4 trips.   Take out a days worth the night before and put it in a zip lock bag with anise.  Keep it cool but let it thaw.   Get 2-3 boxes of fresh live sand shrimp.  Small ones are ok.   Half a squid with a sand shrimp on the hook. Stretchy string to keep it there.  Add a little more anise.

(2) A local tackle store employee says that if you again use squid, and thread the body up the leader leaving the tentacles hanging over the hook, then inject the body cavity with clam juice, this is quite effective.  You may have to re-inject more juice occasionally, but these squid are tough that one bait will last all day.

(3) I use green label herring all year and some times I stomp on it to release scent under the skin, and cast away

(4) Sand shrimp and anchovies have produced best for me. Followed by Roll mop, squid and herring.  You gotta have options available as it depends their mood and location.

(5) Squid with anchovy wrap did best for us last summer.  We also add sturgeon feast or, sturgeon cocktail scent.

(6) I have done well with live shrimp and night-crawler sandwich!  2 fat shrimp with worms in between, lots of 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.

My best fishing trip was in mid May 2004 with 3 friends out of Deep River fishing in the sand flats, (15'-20') with fresh anchovies.   The biggest fish was mine at 54" and it came to the point where after we were limited, when another fish was on, we were so tired, the question was "who wants this one", the answer usually was, "you take it, your' closer".

Smelt have always been a choice if you can get it, but anchovies and shrimp can not be overlooked.  Illustrated below are examples of  rigging a smelt.

Something fairly new is Berkley's Saltwater Series Gulp lures.  These are made of a soft plastic like material in the forms of squid, herring, shrimp etc.  They come in a re-sealable package of 3 that is saturated in a liquid.  Price is about $7.50 per package.  The literature that comes with these baits are that they put out 400 times the scent as natural bait.  They have been used with good luck by halibut fishermen for some time, so why not use them on sturgeon that also find the bait by scent?

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 or  more half hitches on the baits tail, spacing them somewhat apart.  If using shrimp, it seems best to pull off the claws, and tie the shrimp, sometimes using 2, belly to belly onto the hook with stretchy thread.

Smelt being rigged Smelt ready to use  2 Sand Shrimp, streatchy threaded on

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 and 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.  You can inject some of the more liquid type into the bait.   Quite by accident one fisherman found that he caught more, if he stepped on the smelt before it went in the water.  This apparently broke the skin enough that it allowed the oils to leach out more rapidly.  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.

Casting From Boat ; Here you will not normally have to cast far, but just enough to separate your line from your partner's.  It is best to use an underhand cast.  This is helpful in that it is easier to direct your cast while not having to worry about banging the boat, or your partner with the sinker.

Bank Fishing ;  Gear here will normally be the same as boat fishing with the exception of rod and 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.  Here, you will need to practice as to what method works best for you, but the side cast seems to work good.

Landing a Fish ;  Since there is a minimum and maximum size, it is ILLEGAL to gaff sturgeon, so therefore you will have to net them or use a glove and tail them.

Legal Size ; The legal size WAS between 42" & 60" total overall length, measured the shortest distance between the tip of the nose and the extreme tip of the tail, all others shall be returned to the water unharmed.   Washington State prior their 2009 regulations, length statement was:  The shortest distance between the tip of the nose and 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.   As of April of 2009 the language was changed to fork length, which is defined as the distance from the tip of the nose to the fork of the tail.   Here the standard season length was also changed to 38" & 54" which equates to the same size of fish as previous measurements.  This now appears to coincide with other state and Federal system of measuring.

A pair of Columbia River keepers, a 42" & 45" caught in 2008 Another 46"er taken at the Wauna power line area near Cathlamet
   

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 and verified by an Oregon DWL officer.  It was legal at that time.  When the fisherman got to the weigh in, a Washington DWL officer measured the fish and declared it over the 60" length.  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 and lost his first place prize.  He later got verification from the Oregon officer who inspected it previously, and his fine got suspended.  But he lost his fish AND the prize because of the deal. 

There is also some fish cops who do not understand that sturgeon's length will change length when they die.   Most fishermen agree that the fish get slightly longer when they die, as their muscles relax as they have NO BONY SKELETON frame.

Sturgeon are like catfish and 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.  If the hook is not stainless, it 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 and 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 ;  To make the meat better, you need to kill any fish, bleed it out, otherwise when you clean it the blood will disperse thru this white meat and would then need to be soaked out.   Cutting the gills will do this, but some say cutting a ring just in front of the tail will allow more of the blood to get pumped out of the meat.

For a photo illustration of how to clean sturgeon, CLICK HERE.  Fillet as you would normally fillet any fish except remove all rows of "scutes" (the sharp spines on it's sides).  A good sharp non-flexable knife will slice them right off without cutting under 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 It ;  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 and deep-fry in peanut oil until the meat floats, 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 so as to not allow it to stick and burn.  Salt and pepper, brush the meat with Honey-Mustard barbecue sauce, bake at a medium heat (375 degrees) grill for about 8-10 minuets, 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 zip-lock 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, also works good with salmon, back strap, tenderloin, just about anything.

Health Issues :  Here is something to ponder.  If you are using shrimp, many times they will not live as long as you would like, so you end up using the dead ones also.   Now the main reason they die is because they smother in their own urine.  Now after you have baited up your lure and have cast it out the wait can take some time before a bite.   Maybe it is close to the time for a cup of coffee and a sandwich.  Did you wash your hands before partaking?   Some fishermen have recently come down with ptomaine poisoning and the only thing they had eaten was in this situation.  Any form of contamination and possibly from the dead shrimp could have been a contributing factor here.

One method of keeping these shrimp alive is to wash them off, wet a paper towel place it in the bottom of a sealable plastic dish like Tupperware, then freeze the container.  Drill holes in the lid of the container.  Now layer the shrimp on top of the towel between heavy saw dust or crumpled up tree leaves.  Keep the container cool (like in a ice chest) while fishing.  Change the leaves and towel as soon as you smell urine.  The shrimp will stay alive for 4-5 days.

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 then add 1 hour..

It seems there at least 2 schools of thought on sturgeon fishing here.  One is to fish the deep holes, usually at a low tide. The other is to fish the sand flats on an incoming tide.  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 and are not willing or able to move around if nothing is going on,  just stay there and 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 and 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 and finish the day.  This is contrary to what most others will tell you.

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 and Tongue Point on the Oregon 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 and 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 and 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 August 1 to Sept 30.

The charters seem to always fish the shelves in the river below the Astoria bridge.

Cathlamet ;

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 heavier weights.

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 people fish around the hole near where the old Trojan power plant was.  However others run up to markers 52 and 54 and just stay within that area until they find some fish.

Portland to Camas ;

There are a few areas here that are fished more than others.  Kelly point at the mouth of the Willamette is one.  Boat fishing is popular.   Here is one area that there the bankies can utilize off the end corner of Marine Drive.   Farther up the Willamette boaters can launch at Cathedral Park under the St. Johns bridge and run either up or downriver.  There are some 60' -70' holes that produce fish.  This area is a good one early in the year when the Columbia is still cold, while the Willamette has slightly warmer water enticing the fish to hold there.

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 and 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 and spring.  At this time the Willamette water 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 there. 

Straight out and slightly upstream from the Camas marina, but out of the shipping channel is also been known to take sturgeon.

Bonneville ;

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.

Sturgeon Spawning Sanctuary :  From Bonneville Dam downstream 9 miles to a line crossing the Columbia from Navigation Marker 82 on the Oregon shore through the upstream exposed end of Skamania Island, continuing in a straight line to a boundary marker on the Washington shore: CLOSED to fishing for STURGEON through the month of August.

 

As of 2013, sturgeon fishing has made a major change in numbers of keepers allowed and seasons, so check the regulations pamphlet
AND the the decline was more so for 2014 only will be a Catch and Release below Bonneville Dam

Help -- I need someone familiar with this type of fishing in the upper river or to make additions or corrections here.

Copyright 2004 - 2015 LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

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Originated 5-26-1999    Last Updated 12-28-2014 *
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