1/4/2020 CA F&W REGULATIONS
The recreational fishery for white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) remains open year-round. The daily bag and possession limit is one fish that must be between 40 inches and 60 inches fork length. The annual limit is three (3) sturgeon per person.
Short or oversized sturgeon must be released unharmed immediately; note that white sturgeon greater than 68 inches fork length may not be removed from the water prior to their immediate release. No snare may be used to assist in taking sturgeon. Only one single barbless hook may be used on a line to take sturgeon. The sturgeon must voluntarily take the bait or lure in its mouth. No sturgeon may be taken by trolling, snagging, or by the use of firearms. Sturgeon may not be gaffed, nor shall any person use any type of firearm to assist in landing or killing any sturgeon. Any person fishing for sturgeon shall have in their possession a non-transferable Sturgeon Fishing Report Card and complete it in accordance with Section 27.92, Title 14 California Code of Regulations.
Sturgeon may not be taken in the following described area between January 1 and March 15: That portion of San Francisco Bay included within the following boundaries: A direct line between Pt. Chauncy (National Marine Fisheries Laboratory) and Pt. Richmond, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and a direct line between Pt. Lobos and Pt. Bonita.
Green sturgeon (Acipenser medirostris) may not be removed from the water, taken, or possessed at any time. Green sturgeon must be released immediately without being removed from the water.
This is not just another article on how to catch Sturgeon. I am writing this to share some of my experience and knowledge with both the novice and the experienced Sturgeon fisherman. If you are a novice I believe you will get enough information to get you started in this great fishery. If you are a seasoned and successful Sturgeon fisherman I believe you will find some of what I have to share to be informative and interesting.
First I would like to share my thoughts on all fishing. Fish are not as smart as most people give them credit for. They do not think for themselves as individuals. It is in there genes to eat and propagate and from this arises the survival of the species. Their instincts form certain patterns of feeding and migration. Our challenge as fishermen is to try to learn these patterns and use them to our advantage to be successful.
Just a little about myself and my experience. I am a native of the Bay Area, Born 1936 and have fished the San Francisco Bay and Delta waters since the early Forty’s. I have fished for most of the fresh and saltwater species available her and in 1962 I fished for and caught my first Sturgeon. Needless to say I was hooked. Sturgeon fishing has been my main hobby every since. In the over forty years since then I have spent countless hours and traveled many miles up and down the San Francisco Bays and Delta to successfully land well over 2,000 Sturgeon, most of which were released.
I hope to share with you a little history of the local Sturgeon fishery, and also what I have learned over the years. I do want to make it very clear that my ideas and methods are not the only ones, but they are what have been successful for me. I believe when fishing for any species we have to be comfortable, and believe that what we are doing will bring success . So all I ask is that you keep an open mind, and I hope everyone enjoys and learns something from this article.
Even though I have fished all of the San Francisco Bays and the delta to well above Sacramento I was asked to share my experience and knowledge of the South Bay Area. This will include from the San Francisco Bay Bridge south to Alviso Slough & Coyote Creek. But with some small changes these methods can be adapted to fish anywhere.
Let’s Go Fishing
The best way to share with you is for us to take a couple of days off and let’s go fishing. This trip we will be fishing on my boat, a 20’ wellcraft cuddy cabin with an I/O. The best thing about Sturgeon fishing is that you do not have to have a hundred thousand dollar sport fisher to enjoy the sport. To be successful catching Sturgeon a boat is not even needed due to the amount of public access to piers and shore line. You can find an area to fish with the smallest to the largest boats. My preference is 18’ to 26’ range due to the shallow depth of water I prefer to fish in. The lower profile gives less swinging due to wind, and puts you closer to the water to handle the fish for landing or release.
We talk and I find out even though you have done a lot of fishing this is your first serious Sturgeon fishing trip. We decide we are going to make two trips this coming weekend, Saturday and Sunday.
Your first question, what do I bring?
I suggest you bring only a rod and reel and I will supply the terminal tackle. No need for high dollar rods and reels. Moderate priced tackle will work fine. 6 ½ to 7 ft. rod rated 10 to 30# with a good back bone and a soft tip. I use Shakespeare Ugly Stik BWC2200 7’ rated 10 to 30# that are rewrapped with Fugi Ceramic Guides. And I also use Seeker Blacksteel G270 7’ rated 12 to 20#. Reels are a matter of choice also. Any conventional reel that will hold approx. 300 yards of 20# mono is sufficient. I use Shimano 2000 Charter Specials with the level winds removed, & Penn 310 GTI. Now comes the great debate. What line to use? I personally use 25# Berkley Big Game Mono. I have used all the high tech Lines and keep going back to what has been successful and works for me. I love Spectra for the sensitive feel but have had bad luck with it. I have broken Spectra lines from 30# to 80 #. This could be debated for a long time but I feel Spectra just will not hold up to the strain of constant casting & hard hook setting, I believe it breaks down the fibers. So again what ever line you feel comfortable with is what you should use, you have a lot of choices. Keeping in mind the less line stretch the better the hook set.
Ok now it is my job to try to locate some fish. If I have not been fishing recently myself I use all the recent information I can gather. What are the tides? Where are fish being caught? Has there been a herring spawn? Have we had recent rain? I use a number of sources: Coastside fishing reports, newspaper fishing reports, call friends that have been fishing, etc. It is February and I do not hear of any recent herring spawns, and we have had some recent rain. I hear of some fish being caught from Dumbarton Bridge south to buoy #18. We will have 4’ incoming tide in this area in the AM so I decide we will take a look in that area.
Now I need to locate bait. I have had good luck with most of the popular Sturgeon baits in the south bay: Grass, Ghost, & Mud Shrimp, Herring, Lamprey Eel, Blood & Pile Worms, and Salmon Roe. Live or fresh bait works best but frozen baits will also work well. I try to use the bait that the fish are feeding on in a given area at the time. We will be taking, 1# of grass shrimp, 2 doz. Ghost shrimp, 3 green trays of frozen herring, and some lamprey eel in case the crabs are a problem. Remember we are fishing a second day and can use the left over bait, or if the shrimp is still alive we can freeze it for later.
Just a few words here on the history of Sturgeon baits. In the early 60’s when Captain John Severa , fishing out of Dowrelios harbor on the Happy Days discovered grass shrimp was a major food source for Sturgeon. This news revolutionized Sturgeon sport fishing. At that time the bait shops began supplying frozen grass shrimp in ¼# containers, about 50 cents each. That was the hot new bait. When first thawed it worked and would stay on the hooks pretty good. As the day went on the bait would turn black and mushy but we still caught Sturgeon on it. In the mid 60’s some bait shops started selling live grass shrimp, about $2.00 or $3.00 a pound. We had live bait and we thought we were big time! In the mid Seventies studies showed Sturgeon migrated into San Francisco Bay for the herring spawns. They were feeding on the herring roe and herring. So during this migration that became the bait of choice in the Bay Area. In the early Eighties Mud and Ghost Shrimp was also starting to be used. It is a natural feed and works very well. Blood and Pile worms, and Salmon Roe, are other successful baits that are used to a lesser degree. In the late 90’s, when the mitten crabs were introduced from Asia into our Bays, they would steal any bait you used. It was discovered that Lamprey Eel is very tough and that the crabs had a hard time getting it off the hooks, and it is another natural Sturgeon food source so it became popular during the times crabs are a problem. Sturgeon are bottom feeding scavengers and have been caught on lots of different baits, but these are the most popular.
Ok it is Saturday morning and at day break we have launched at the Redwood City launching ramp. As we proceed out the channel I point out that you should always have a current N.O.A.A. chart on board for the area you are in. This applies to all types of fishing or just boating. Regardless of how much electronics you have on board there is information on the chart you will need. We are on low water so you are able to witness the amount of mud and sand bars on both sides of the channel. I point out that you are ok as long as you stay in the well marked channel until we reach the entrance at buoy #2 or #3. We turn south around #3 and head towards Dumbarton Highway Bridge. As we proceed south in the bay channel, we keep a close eye out for any signs of Sturgeon. Jumpers, marks on fish finder, other boats hooked up, bait schools, etc. We are going to fish around buoy #17 or #18 but we want to be aware of anything in this whole area. We may want to fish the outgoing tide here today, or maybe fish here tomorrow? As we approach #18 along the west side of the channel we see marks on the fish finder. We run slowly east and west to locate the drop off at the west side of the channel and anchor just at the edge in the deeper water. Low water we are in about 10’ to 12‘ of water. Knowing we have a little over 4’ of incoming tide we know we will have good current here.
Now it is time to start fishing
I notice you have brought your salmon trolling rod, 7’ with light tip and good backbone. Penn 320gti loaded with 30# Berkley big game mono. I give you a 100# coast lock snap with barrel swivel to attach to your line with nothing else on it. Our leaders are 30” 60# Sevenstrand plastic coated cable. On one end we have 2- 6/0 to 8/0 Eagle Claw lazer sharp octopus hooks, separated by ¼ oz. egg sinker. This loop is about 1 ¼” diameter, secured by an A-5 double sleeve. 18” above the hooks crimp another ¼ oz. Egg sinker onto the leader for a slider stop. Install a slinko slider and make another small loop on this end to attach to your main line.
You will start by using Grass Shrimp on one hook and Ghost Shrimp on the other. This will be wrapped and tied on with stretch thread. I will start with herring fillet on one hook and Grass Shrimp on the other, wrapped and tied. We will be using 6 oz. Pyramid sinkers attached to the sliders to start. We will both add some kind of scent to our bait. I let you cast first. No need to see how far you can cast because we set up the boat where we want to fish. I will cast my line away from yours to get the best spread we can.
Now we are fishing and I encourage you to ask questions. That is the main purpose of this trip, for me to share my methods and ideas with you. So you start the questions.
Are we going to hold these damn poles all day?
No, I have found over the years that I can see the action on the rod better than I can feel it. As the boat swings or up and down motion the action on your rod will form a pattern. Any change in this pattern is what you are looking for and can be considered as a bite. I use two methods to sturgeon fish. I always fish with a fairly tight drag so if a suicide fish comes along he will get hooked and still be able to take line. I have modified Fish On pole holders. I have removed the locking ring and cut the top open to about 1 1/2” and this modification allows easy removal of the rod. Fish On rod holders are very adjustable both vertical and horizontal. With the rod in the holder you can see the action on the whole rod and not just the tip. I prefer my rod to be 30 to 45 degrees to the water. With this angle you can see any movement or flexing of your rod. We also can lean the rod against the motor box or transom but we will have to keep a very sharp eye on them or a suicide fish can steal it in a second. Also you can only see action on half of the rod this way so the holder is the way to go.
What kind of bite are we looking for?
The classic Sturgeon pump we all hope for is a very slow, steady, pulling down of the rod tip. At this point you slide your rod forward and out of the rod holder. Pointing the rod tip towards the fish you put thumb pressure on the spool and when you feel the fish pulling hard you set the hook with all the power you have. Set it two or three times. Now, without hesitation, reel as fast as you can until you feel the fish. If you do not feel anything continue to reel, either you have missed him or he can be running towards the boat. Either way you have to reel your line in because either you hooked him or you will have to re bait. It is very important to set the hook with lots of power. Even though you are using very sharp hooks Sturgeon mouths are very tough. This classic Sturgeon pumps occurs about one bite in a hundred. Any type of rod movement you see you have to assume it is a Sturgeon. If you are catching lots of garbage fish do not be lulled into thinking. “oh, heck, just another bullhead”. Sturgeon can and will bite the same way, slide your rod out and wait for the hard pull down and set the hook.
Why are we using steel leaders?
I prefer the plastic coated stainless steel leader because of the weight. It will help keep the bait on the bottom. I do not use it to keep from being cut off by the diamonds on the Sturgeon. If that was the case you would need at least 6’ leaders to help at all. Good line and a lot of luck come into play here. Over the years I have tried all the different leader materials, Mono, spectra, nylon, uncoated steel braid, and I keep going back to what works well for me: 60# Sevenstrand Plastic coated stainless steel leader.
How do we fish the various baits?
We use 6/0 to 8/0 hooks depending on the size of the baits and our personnel choice. Grass, ghost, and mud shrimp are impaled on the hook from the tail thru the body and out the head. Herring can be filleted, chunked, butter flied, or fished whole, depending on the size of the herring and personnel preference. Blood and pile worms can be either impaled thru the length of the body or woven on the hook. Lamprey eel is cut into sections like sausage about 4” long. These sections are then cut length wise into half, third, or quarter sections, depending on the size of the eel. Just a tip here, eel can be used over and over thawed and refrozen. Lamprey eel is very tough and hard to remove from the hook, so at the end of the day just leave it on the hook and place your leader in a plastic container and refreeze it for the next trip. Salmon roe can be made into balls about 3/4’” diameter, using cheese cloth or nylon panty hose. Cut squares about 4” and put a chunk of the roe in the middle and pull the sides up ant tie with stretch thread, then trim off the excess material. Impale 2 or 3 of these on your hook. Another tip here. Salmon roe works best uncured. Just cut the fresh Skeins into pieces big enough for one days fishing and place in small plastic containers and freeze. No matter what bait you are using make sure the point of the hook is exposed. This is important to get a good hook set
Why did we tie the bait on the hooks?
Just for the obvious reason, to keep it on. If we have a lot of bait stealers in the area it will help to keep them from getting it off the hook so easy, and it will help to keep the current from washing it off.. Contrary to popular belief I have found over the years that the way bait is put on a hook has very little effect on the amount of fish you will catch. When you lose some of the bait just add some more on. Get as much bait as you can on the hooks and still leave the point exposed. Remember Sturgeon are not gourmets, they are scavengers. If you don’t believe this then I would like someone to explain why so many times at the end of the day we put on the last piece of bait that is black, mushy, smells bad and we catch the biggest fish of the day?
Why did we add scent to our bait?
This one can be debated for ever. For me it is a personnel preference. I usually add some kind of scent to the bait or lure for all types of fishing. I believe since fish feed on instinct that any heavy scent will attract them to a given area and trigger them to feed. I know WD40 is illegal to use now but in the past it has been one of the most successful scents
How much weight do we use?
As you have seen, the slider that the weight is attached to is on the leader and not the main line. The purpose here is to get the weight as close to the hook as the regulations allow. We need to be fishing on the bottom at all times, so we use as much weight as it takes to accomplish this. It is better to use too much weight than not enough. I use all pyramid sinkers so they will not roll and end up with all the lines in one spot behind the boat. I use at least 6oz. for ease of casting and feel of the bottom, yes even in 2’ of water with very little current. I have used up to 12oz. But any water that requires more weight than that to stay on the bottom does not interest me. Deep, fast water should only be fished on slow currents and top and bottom of the tides.
When are we going to get a bite?
Sturgeon fishing is a waiting game. It is all about patience. You may wait all day for that one bite but when it happens you never know what to expect. It could be a small throw back or it could be the 500# fish you will remember the rest of your life. If we knew exactly what set them off to feed there would be no challenge. Sturgeon can and will bite all the way through both tides. But most bites will occur at the top or bottom of a tide as the current slows and the bait in the area settles to the bottom.
If they bite on slow current why do we fish on the big tides?
The big tides move a lot of bait around. It will pull bait off the banks and flats, the fast current will carry it and when the current slows it settles to the bottom and Sturgeon can feed on it without having to work hard. Also Sturgeon are migratory, and become active and move with the big tides. So the chances of them coming to you are greater.
Why do people say we need the first rains so we can Sturgeon fish?
First off, Sturgeon fishing can be very productive all year in the right areas. In the San Francisco Bays during the warm summer months we have an abundance of other fish and crabs in our waters to feed on all the nutrients and to spawn. It is hard to fish with all these bait stealers around. When we get rain it will freshen and cool the water and most of these fish and crabs will leave. Sturgeon live in both fresh and salt water, but prefer the brackish water areas to live, and they spawn in fresh water. In the 60’s when we still had heavy water flows from the Delta, San Pablo Bay was alive with fish all year. But as they pumped more and more water out of the rivers and built more and more dams and the water flow was slowed down that brackish water is now up in Suisun Bay and as far up as Pittsburg. The resident fish are now in this area all year. In the South Bay from the Dumbarton Car Bridge south is where the brackish water starts and you will find resident fish in this area all year. Just a note that the Alviso Sewer Plant releases about 4 million gallons an hour of fresh water into the Coyote Creek area, this has helped to clean this area up and helped to maintain a good fishery. When we get the heavy rains the fresh water run off flushes the shrimp and other baits out of the creeks, sloughs, and rivers into the Bays and also cools and freshens up the water. At this time also the herring are moving into the Bays to spawn. A combination of all these factors cause the Sturgeon to start to migrate into the Bays. This is why Sturgeon fishing is now considered a winter sport. But do not be fooled by what you read, Sturgeon fishing is good all year in the right areas.
Why did we anchor at the edge of the channel?
We were looking for some current that would move bait and also Sturgeon would be moving in. As the current flows it caries the bait off the edges of the flats and deposits it into the channel. It will remain in the deeper water along the bottom of the drop off. We could and do sometimes fish on the top edge and find fish as they migrate off or onto the flats. Today we have a modest income tide of 4’ so we will be fishing in better current in the deeper water. If we had more current we could also look at the top edge of the channel.
How long are we going to sit here without a bite before we move?
As I said before Sturgeon fishing is all about patience. We know from reports and from all signs there are fish in this area. We have a game plan and we are going to stick to it. We hear radio fish being caught, or we hear of someone marking a lot of fish. We have to ignore all of that because about the time we move to fish to another area, the conditions will become right where we are, and we will be running around looking for something else. We will sit for the complete incoming and the start of the outgo before we will consider moving. As I said the fish are migrating and will pass us sometime during the tide, we can only hope they are hungry when they do.
You said you like to fish in the coyote creek area?
Yes that is my favorite area in the South Bay. The biggest thrill in Sturgeon fishing is catching one in very shallow water. He has no where to go except straight out or straight up. You will get long hard runs and jumps that will bring the fish completely out of the water. For me this is the ultimate Sturgeon battle. I do not recommend anyone venturing that far south unless you are familiar with the area or following someone who is. Due to the shallow water and numerous sand and mud bars it can be dangerous. From the electrical towers at Alviso Slough south to the Am Track Rail Road Bridge is my favorite fishing spots. The fish in this area are usually resident fish. As they return from the lower bay they just move around within the area feeding. On low water most of this area is about 4’ deep. What you look for is a spot the bait will collect, a bottom change, a bend, a point, a small slough feeding into the creek, anything that will hold bait. Both tides and small tides will work in this area because it is shallow and confined so you get good currents.
Now for the fight.
Just as we are approaching the top of the tide you get a classic Sturgeon pull down. You go to your rod and slide it forward out of the holder and point it at the fish. When you feel the fish pull again, with your thumb on the spool you set the hook with all your strength, then a second and a third time. Then without hesitation you start to reel. As you gain line you feel the weight of the fish. Now the battle has begun. You have fished enough to know to follow your fish, keep him in front of you at all times. The fish is running with the current and as you watch your line starts to rise, about then he makes his first big jump. As his whole body comes completely out of the water we can see you have a large fish. He is now far enough away from the boat so I am going to leave my line in the water for awhile, we may get lucky and get another hook up. I tell you to keep as much pressure on him as you can, try to get his body sideways. When he is swimming straight away from you he has the best chance to cut your line with his body or become wrapped in the line. Now he turns and heads back at the boat and you must reel as fast as possible to regain line and keep it tight. As he slows and moves from one side of the back of the boat to the other you keep a tight line and he becomes airborn twice more. We now see he is about 55” and you decide you want to keep him to eat. I take my line out of the water and make sure the back decks are clear. Now it is just you and him, this is what it is all about. You will continue to follow him from side to side, under the boat, up to the bow and back again, he is the leader and you are the follower. The trick is to keep pressure so he will keep moving and hopefully get tired before you do. You do not want to rush and try to land a green fish. After all, the fun is in the battle. After about 25 minutes we see he is slowing down, and making a feeble effort to swim away. At this time I want to say I do not net Sturgeon, and we know it is illegal to gaff or shoot them. I do not use a net because I do not like to have the net torn up by the fish and also get the leader and weight tangled in the net. Most of my fish are released at boat side, but if I do decide to keep one to be eaten it is landed with a hand snare. The snare consists of a 4’ length of 3/16 stainless cable. On one end is a 2” loop and on the other end is a 6” loop. Any sail boat rigging shop can supply the parts and crimp the loops on for you. As the fish gets tired he will usually blow bubbles and either turn belly up or come along side with head up and tail straight down. I take the snare and pass it around your line and pass the large loop thru the small loop to for a lasso. I pass the snare down over the fishes head and when it is just behind the two large fins in one motion I pull the loop closed and continue to pull the fish over the gunwale and into the boat. While this is going on you put your reel into free spool and engage the clicker. Next we unsnap the leader from the main line. Since we are going to eat this fish it is best to bleed it now, or at least while it is still alive so it will pump the blood out. The most humane thing is to knock the fish out and put it on a rope thru the mouth and gills and hang over the side and cut the gills. A word of caution here is if there are shark or rays in the area this will attract them, so you may want to wait until just before you are ready to go home to bleed it.
We decide we have had a successful day and are going to go home and clean and dress the fish and regroup for tomorrow.
At home I make some phone calls and find there has been a herring spawn friday at Hina basin (next to SBC park) so we decide to fish out of San Leandro Marina tomorrow.
The next day.
We leave San Leandro Marina at day break. As we travel in the well marked channel I caution you that we need to go two miles to the entrance to the channel at #1 and #2 markers before we turn out of the channel.
We know there has been a herring spawn Friday but it will take two or three days for the Sturgeon to find the spawn. The scent is carried by the currents and the Sturgeon will follow these scents to the spawn. They will be migrating out of the south end of the bay and they have two major paths they will be following. They will migrate along the main channel on the south/west side of the bay. Or they will migrate along the edge of the north east side of the bay. Knowing this we have a lot of options for areas to fish. But being realistic we know we have to make a choice. This is now Sunday and we know the bulk of the fish have not reached the spawn yet. No need to travel all the way across the bay so we opt to fish off the Oakland airport or bay farm island area. We are on the last of the incoming tide this morning so we are going to fish an area known to the locals as the worm hole. There are two pipe lines that run from the Oakland airport to the San Francisco airport. These are shown on the NOAA chart. The bottom is mounded up over these pipes and are a holding area for bait, and the mud is a breeding ground for worms. The incoming tide is small so we will not have a lot of current but the fish will be feeding here, and will move again on the next tide witch is a big outgo. We anchor approx. three miles off the Oakland airport runway in 16’ of water.
We know these fish have herring on there mind, and also there is an abundance of ghost shrimp along the beaches here. So with that in mind that is what we are going to use for bait today. I would like to say here again I prefer live ghost shrimp but frozen will work very well also. I do not hunt for fresh herring and herring roe. Over the years I have learned frozen herring works just as well and is much easier to use and store. I know I will get a lot of disagreement here but this is what works well for me.
We fish with the same tackle we used yesterday. Baiting with herring fillets on one hook and ghost shrimp on the other. 8 oz. Pyramid sinkers for weight.
Just as the tide is topping out you get a tapping on your rod, it is maybe a junk fish but remembering what I said yesterday you slide the rod forward and out of the rod holder. With your thumb on the spool and rod pointing at the fish you wait a second and you feel a steady pull on your rod tip. You set the hook hard, and again, and, again. Start reeling and you are hooked up. We already decided we are going to release anything we catch today so all the fun is in the battle. He makes a couple of leaps, a couple of long runs, and then like a pro you have him under control. You bring him along side and he is tired and belly up. We are able to get a couple of pictures and I reach over with needle nose pliers and remove the hooks. As he swims away we both feel good about the catch but feel better about the release.
We fish a little longer and as the tide starts to go out we know with a 6’ outgo we are going to have a good current and the fish are going to migrate towards the herring spawn. We move north, and about 3 miles outside of the bay farm island ferry slip we use the depth finder to locate a slight bottom change. We anchor in this small channel at about 12’ deep. Knowing Sturgeon use these depressions as travel ways we will sit and wait them out. We could run around and try to mark fish but if we did they are going to be on the move and that is not as effective. So I believe studying and understanding migration patterns is helpful to try and intercept the fish.
As the current starts to pick up I get a classic pull down. As I start to remove my rod from the holder line starts to peel off my reel. I remove the rod and set the hook three times and the fish comes straight up out of the water. We see it is a monster. I hand you the rod, and I reel your line in. I explain to you that this is why I fish a heavy drag and use rod holders. This fish sucked up the bait and when he felt resistance he started to run away and hooked himself. After a lot of runs and a few leaps the fish is getting as tired as you are. About forty minutes of battle and you bring him along side the boat belly up. We can see he is about 80” long so we get his tail even with the transom of the boat and reach over and mark the side of the boat with a grease pencil at his nose. That way we can measure it when we put the boat on the trailer. Once again we take pictures and reach over with the needle nose pliers and remove the hook and do high fives as the fish swims away. We decide we have had another perfect day and go home feeling good that we were successful and yet did not hurt the Sturgeon fishery.
I am often asked how I would compare the Sturgeon fishery of the early sixties with the Sturgeon fishery of today?
I have to reply that I am very optimistic. With the slot limits (46”to72”) and the big emphasis put on catch and release I believe the Sturgeon fishery is healthy.
Sturgeon fishing was re-opened in the early 50,s after being closed since about 1920. It was closed due to the very low number of fish left due to poaching, over fishing, and right out slaughter of the species. After being closed for so many years there was very little interest in the fishery, until the early 60’s. Since Sturgeon grow very slowly and live to about 90 years old we had very few large fish to be caught at that time. The minimum size was 40” with no maximum size limit, and 1 fish a day. Limits were the rule of the day, and most days we were hooking and releasing many more fish. The average size keeper was about 42”to 50”. It was very rare to hear of a 100# Sturgeon being caught. Over the years the fish grew larger and we started to see more large fish being caught. In the late 80’s CalF&G put on a slot limit with a maximum of 72”, and the minimum increasing in increments from 40” to 46”. Today we hear of more and more fish released over the 72” size which indicates there are many large breeders in our system. I believe the slot limit was the best thing that has happened to protect the species. Along with the emphasis put on hook and release I believe we have and will have for the future a very strong Sturgeon fishery.
I still catch as many Sturgeon annually as I have over the last 40 plus years. The average size has increased greatly, and I release more fish over the slot limit than I ever have. I believe this holds true for most hard core Sturgeon fisherman that are patient, and understand and are willing to fish the migration patterns of Sturgeon.
In conclusion I would like to thank you for letting me share with you some of what I have learned over the years. When I was asked to write this article I had no idea how to do it, but I also new I had a lot of years of experience to share. This is probably one of the hardest things I have ever attempted. Trying to put into words and having someone understand your thoughts is a real challenge. I escaped high school with a c- in English and I type with one finger. I know I left a lot of information out of this article, and a lot of it some of you will not agree what I have written.. I would love to answer any questions anyone has, and debate any disagreements as long as they are friendly. Once again thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope you have learned something from it.