Chasing the Monsters of the Deep, Sturgeon Fishing on the Columbia River
It’s the early crack of dawn as brilliant orange hues crest across the sky. Mist rises off the cool water, as thick damp air sends a chill to the bone. Swaying back and forth the planks of the dock grown as we stumble along to our destination. It’s 6:00 AM, as we step onboard fishing gear neatly tucked in its place. We are ready to go. The rhythm of the water laps against the side of the boat indicating the beginning of what should be a spectacular day. The 250 horse Mercury outboard roars to life as we head out onto the Columbia River in search of one of the oldest existing fish species alive today, the infamous white sturgeon.
Dating back over 200 Million years, sturgeon are among the few fish that can live to be over 100 years old. Often referred to as the dinosaur fish of the Pacific Northwest the region is home to both white sturgeon and green sturgeon. These fish can be found throughout the Columbia River system and its estuaries. The larger of the species known as the white sturgeon can typically range from 7-12 feet in length with some sturgeon reaching as large as 20 feet long and over 1000lbs. Due to having been heavily fished for so long, not many white sturgeon that big are being caught today, but it’s not unusual to catch these exoskeleton beasts in the 6-8 foot range, weighting in at over 300lbs.
The smaller of the species, the green sturgeon averages 4 ft. to 6 ft. in length and can weigh as much as 300 lbs. However, green sturgeon are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and are not allowed to be retained.
Sturgeon by far are the largest fresh water fish caught in the region and will challenge the heart and biceps of any angler who dares to set the hook. Even though sturgeon have survived millions of years catching them is far from rocket science. Since they are bottom feeders the most common method of catching them is to plunk bait off the river bottom in typical sturgeon holding areas.
Knowing these exact areas is where the adventure begins and is what separates the amateurs from the pros. Every year Sturgeon move throughout the Columbia river system actively feeding. When the water temperatures start to warm up as early as spring and into the summer sturgeon begin to spawn.
The Columbia River system is one of the few places in the world with healthy enough Sturgeon populations that they can literally be caught in numbers all year long. With that being said, some months are better than others. As far as the best times to target sturgeon on the Columbia late May through late July is probably the best fishing in the lower sections out of Astoria. The Willamette offers excellent sturgeon fishing from late fall to early spring making November through April a great time to hit the mouth of the Willamette for some killer sturgeon fishing.
There are two main seasons on the Columbia to be aware of, one is the keeper sturgeon season and the other is the catch and release. During the limited keeper sturgeon season, anglers are generally only allowed to retain a white sturgeon ranging from 44-50 inches in length. Typically, this season runs from January to March generally ending when the fish quotas have been caught. The catch and release sturgeon season is all about going after world record class fish.
There is nothing quite like the subtle feel of the bite after just dropping your line off the bottom. The tip of the rod starts to bump and then like a whip bends right in half. With a quick and sturdy yank, the hook is set and it’s on. I mean, really on, as in 300-400 lbs. of on, as in hold on for dear life. As the line squeals off the reel like mad, we adjust the drag keeping just the perfect amount of tension as not to break the line but instead force the fish to work and that’s when the fight begins. Back and forth we go as she takes the line off and gives back an inch, we reel in the slack as soon as possible. If too much line has been peeled it’s time to go for a boat ride. Anchor up, and off we go, as the monster of deep gives toe to our 20’ jet sled.
Here is where the true mastery begins, keeping the boat in motion with the fish as not to get broken off. Then suddenly the line goes slack, heart pounding in the chest, no tension, just limp line, you can feel the emptiness, it’s over, the great white beast shook the hook. Then without warning there is an eruption from the waters surface as the ancient fish launches itself like a rocket high into the air, time stands still and then with a great splash the fish is gone. Within seconds the rod bends in half again as our beast makes another run.
This time we’re keeping the tension nice and tight, pull and reel, pull and reel, as the muscles and tendons flex and burn it’s all about keeping the great white beast of the Columbia working hard. It’s caveman vs the dinosaur, who will survive? A lifetime flashes before your eyes, minutes seem like hours, hours like weeks, and after about a 2-hour struggle against life and death, the battle finally ends. The monster of the deep surrenders itself, belly up, with the enthusiasm of a capsized log. There before us rolling up next to the boat, an 8ft and 300 plus lbs. armor cladded monster. Nothing less than spectacular. Sweat running off your brow the celebration begins, now it’s time for the photo’s and telling of jolly stories about the one that didn’t get away. The photos worth a thousand words and the memory of a lifetime catching a monster of the deep on the Columbia River.
These are the kinds experiences we offer our clients here at Columbia River Fishing Adventures. The thrill that can only be had by experiencing it. Embrace nature, capture it, conquer it, live it, and be a better person for it. You only live once. Join us as we chase the ancient and powerful sturgeon as we journey upon the pristine waters of the Columbia and its tributaries. Call us today! We at Columbia River Fishing adventures take great pride in helping you live the outdoorsman dream. Come breath the fresh air of the Pacific Northwest and feel the power of the tug for yourself. We offer sturgeon fishing trips all year long, as well as salmon and walleye. In many cases we’re fishing less than an hour outside of Portland. If you’re on the Washington side we’d love to take you on a trip as well. Contact Buddy Dupell of Columbia River Fishing Adventure today. Call (503) 490-3099 and book your trip today. We have two boats so can do everything from singles trips to full on corporate outings. We at Columbia River Fishing Adventures look forward to hearing from you.