Oregon’s tributaries to the Pacific Ocean provides the best sturgeon fishing in the world. Caught mostly for sport, the white sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in North America. Their population in Oregon waters is estimated at 2 million, with the highest concentration being in the estuaries of the Columbia River and the Willamette River.
Sturgeon are called “living fossils” because their characteristics have remained mostly unchanged since the Triassic period, more than 200 million years ago; they have thick skin instead of scales, large bony plates running down their backs, a long, flat snout and a cartilage-like skeleton. As bottom feeders, sturgeon use four barbels hanging from their toothless mouths to feel and smell food. They can live more than 100 years and are believed not to mature before they reach 25 years old.
The migration of sturgeon from ocean water to fresh water occurs between January and July, with runs less consistent and less frequent than those of salmon, since they only spawn every two to eight years. During their migration sturgeon feed on freshwater clams, eel, anchovies, salmon, steelhead, smelt and shad.
White sturgeon can grow to 20 feet long, but more commonly caught sturgeon are between five and 12 feet long, and typically weigh 20 to 40 lbs. In warmer summer water, sturgeon can become very aggressive, and put up a gigantic fight with anglers. Buddy Dupell, owner and guide of Columbia River Fishing Adventures, describes the experience of large sturgeon fishing: “Sturgeon fight hard, run line and jump completely out of the water! If huge, strong, hard-battling fish is what you’re after, Oregon sturgeon Fishing won’t disappoint.” It’s not unusual to catch 25 or more sturgeon on each guided fishing trip in the Columbia or Willamette River.
For angling, sturgeon are classified into three categories: shakers, keepers, and oversize. “Shakers” are undersized, measuring less than 38 inches in length, depending on their location. “Keepers” are 38 to 54 inches long and weigh 20 to 40 lbs. 38 to 54-inch keepers are a frequently caught size of sturgeon in Oregon waters, though keepers have a limited harvest season. “Oversize” sturgeon range from five to 12 feet long and can weigh well over 400 pounds. They are a Favorite of Columbia River Sturgeon Fishing Guides – real river monsters!
Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife determines the size and dates when anglers can keep sturgeon, and usually set brief seasons with only a few weeks advanced notice. Sturgeon fishing in Oregon is usually on a catch-and-release basis, but this year Columbia River fishers are allowed to keep two sturgeon per year during select seasons. However, the policy could return to only catch-and-release next year.