Sturgeon Fishing Tutorial
If there is a fish that is coveted above all fish in the San Francisco and bay delta system, it has to be the white sturgeon. This prehistoric animal is one of the most elusive fish in the California bay delta system, and is on many many anglers bucket list.
Sturgeon fishing is mainly considered a winter fishery; perhaps that is why it is considered such a frustrating one. While most anglers prefer the warm comforts of their heated homes and beds, there are few die hards that will fish year round. (To those die hards, I dedicate this tutorial)
There are few personality traits that are essential to fishing sturgeon.
Know How (Increase fish IQ here)
One fisherman waited 25 years to spear fish a sturgeon through an ice opening at Lake Winnebego in Wisconsin, but on average it takes 2-3 years of fishing before an angler gets a fish; for me it took 5 years. There is a learning curve to every fishery, and landing the first fish will increase the time between catches.
Tides, Rain and Environmental Triggers.
Sturgeon will bite through the tide but there are a few times during the tide wing when the fish are more active. Typically the last two hours of an outgoing tide is considered the best time. Negative and big king tides drive the sturgeon to feed.
Fast moving tides are the best time to target Sturgeon. (Full and new moons w/ a negative tide are best). The strong moving tides lift feed from the mud floor of the bay and delta and dispersing them along the channels and contours. This environmental trigger signals sturgeon to go on the bite as they scour the bottom foraging for food.
During a middle of a tide change it is typical to see sturgeon float through the water column. These are not feeding fish but rather passing fish. The feeding fish are found large red arches on the bottom of a fish finder.
Fishing Ledges, Shipping Channels and Holes
Finding contours changes, fishing along shipping channels and deep water holes are excellent places to locate sturgeon. The shallows in San Pablo bay are a popular location for sturgeon as well.
Sturgeon feed on a plethora of bait through out the year as they scour the muddy bottom of the bay and delta searching for food. Here is a list of common sturgeon baits that has proven to work for these prehistoric dinosaurs.
Each location and season has its preferred bait. For example in the January-February, with the arrival of the herring spawn, sturgeon in the south bay can be found gorging on herring and herring roe. The Sturgeon descend from San Pablo bay to feed on the abundance of food, and feeding them the right bait will increase strikes
Alternatively anglers in San Pablo bay prefer to fish shrimp baits. (Mud, Ghost, and Grass) around the famed pump house while anglers in the delta prefer using Roe when the salmon are migrating through the river system. Eel and worms are an excellent combination when bait-stealing critters are actively feeding in the water or there is a scarcity in shrimp baits.
The bottom line is that all the baits work; however, there are times when the sturgeon key in on a preferred bait. It is best to go with what they are actively feeding on.
According to the 2016-2017 California DFG Handout
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.”
**Fork Length: The measurement from the tip of the nose of the fish to the fork of the tail.**
Getting properly anchored is critical to catching sturgeon. I spent many years learning different techniques, and researching a plethora of methods to anchor my kayak properly. If the kayak is not anchored properly forget about hooking up with a sturgeon. (Seriously). Most anglers anchor at the bow or the stern (Personal Preference here)
Here are two systems that many kayak anglers use.
QRAS( Quick Release Anchor System)
QRAS system as explained on NCKA
QRAS system post
I don’t like to drill holes in my kayak so here is a method I use to attach an anchor trolly that is drill less. It works well for me.
I use a 3-5lb anchor and a galvanized chain (Bigger the better) that attaches to the anchor and main line. The Anchor keeps the chain from
The sturgeon bite
The soft bite of the sturgeon is unique to this fish as its potential large size.
For such a large fish the sturgeon has a very subtle bite that escapes most fisherman attention. Unlike the strike of a salmon, strip bass or halibut (All predator and ambush fish), the slurping of a white sturgeon can be easily missed or mistaken for bait fish. If a bite is suspect
SWING FOR THE FENCES!!!
Lift the rod from the holder and face it in the direction of the fish; Take back any slack line; wait for the pull (Sucking action) and set the hook. Keep the rod tip high and reel to set the hook. Sturgeons have leathery mouths so make sure to get a solid hook set!
It is important to keep the rod tips straight and in the direction of the current in order to keep the bait laying on the bottom. Bouncing bait along the bottom will dramatically decrease strikes. Veteran sturgeon anglers deploy drift chutes to straighten the bow of the boat and keep it straight. Using a bait bucket will suffice for this on a kayak while keeping the bait fresh. Here are two types of bites that I have encountered.
Suicide Runner. (Typically in the middle of a tide)
Soft taps and pulls (Towards the end of the tide)
At the end of a fight a sturgeon typically will give off the “surrender bubbles”. This is pretty typical behavior of the diamond back. This sign is a good indicator that the fish is ready to be netted. Make sure to keep all oversized in the water and practice safe releasing.
Popular Locations in California:
San Pablo Bay (Pump House or near rat rock)
China Camp State Park
Alviso Slough and Coyote Creek (Power lines)
South Bay Sturgeon Fishing Tips
Fishing for sturgeon has been personally one of my biggest challenges as a Kayak fisherman. By pure determination, patience, and will power I was able to push myself along when all good sense told me to throw in the towel. The cold alone will deter most anglers. However, for the determined and persistent, the pure joy of landing the first fish will eclipse the years of agony and pain –Instantly. To those anglers, I dedicate this article. Keep trying ! there is a Dinosaur that is looking for your bait. Tight Lines—The Lost Anchovy.