This article addresses the question of When is the best time of year for sturgeon fishing here on the Columbia River and Willamette Rivers?
White Sturgeon can be caught year around on both of these rivers but there are definitely certain periods of the year that are better than others.
The Willamette fishes extremely well from late fall to early spring so this would generally be the November to April time frame. Keep in mind however that the season for retaining fish on this river is typically only a short window during January through March and ends when the quota of fish has been caught. The rest of the year is catch and release only.
The best time to fish the Columbia season hands down is during late may through late July on the lower Columbia out of Astoria, Oregon in the Columbia River Estuary. July is a little better than June and it provides the best fishing, but the majority of this month is catch and release opportunity only and it is truly incredible!
Every year is different but lately it seems that all of the other sturgeon fishing opportunity is marginal compared to what the above two seasons can provide.
If you’re in the Columbia River estuary, i.e. the lower 25 miles of the Columbia River near Astoria, then there is no best time, the sturgeon are always on the bite (during June and July) but the incoming tide may definitely have an advantage over the outgoing tide.
When fishing outside of the estuary you will find that sturgeon show a strong preference toward feeding heavily in the morning and then tapering off significantly after late morning to early afternoon. Most days the bite will drop off sometime between 10:30 and 1:00.
What do you do now? You can stay in the spot where you’ve been catching them because you know you’re in a good location, you will definitely catch an occasional fish, or you can move to another good location where you know the fish haven’t been bothered that day.
If it’s this late in the day and you’re in a good spot, catching fish (albeit a reduced number since the morning) and you don’t have a “go-to” spot in mind, then I would stay put and not go prospecting. Moving around during the afternoon can be pretty fruitless because the sturgeon are already full and they don’t bite well. However if you weren’t into the fish in the morning, you don’t have anything to loose and you better get moving!
Longview, Washington is where the Cowlitz River enters the Columbia. Below this confluence is a great location to anchor for fall Chinook salmon. To access this water, a boater can launch from Rainier, Oregon; Gearhart Gardens on the Cowlitz (very shallow water); from the town of Kalama, Washington and run downstream to Longview; or from Willow Grove Boat Launch which is several miles downstream.
Steelhead are also caught in good numbers from within the mouth of the Cowlitz River as well as off of local Columbia River beaches. The beaches at Willow Grove, County Line Park, and Kalama Bar are all productive bank steelhead locations.
Sturgeon can be caught in this area as well.
Keep your bait fresh, don’t try to make your herring, prawns etc last too long. When in doubt change it out! 45 minutes or less is a about right for herring. 45-60 minutes for prawns but you want to inject them with scent half way through.
Use lead for trolling on a short 12? dropper, and forget about divers.
Use a three hook rig for trolling bait (check your regulations).
Anchor fishing with wobblers; tune your wobblers to get the desired action. Don’t just assume that the action they come out of the package with is the only action they are capable of. Bend them to change the action. Slather lots of scent on them too.
Run line counter reels so you can duplicate success, and so you can add measurable variation to your spread of rods.
Get a really good digital combo gps/fish finder.
Wait for the fish to take it! The rod should be doubled over hard and line coming off the reel before you grab it. Way too many anglers grab the rod too fast and either don’t hook the fish or lose him on the way to the boat.
Stop fighting the fish so hard. Just keep the line tight and let them run against a moderate drag. Pump up and reel down to get him in. When he pulls give to him. Remember … they aren’t always hooked well! When they are well hooked they won’t come off and you don’t need to horse them, when they aren’t well hooked you will appreciate having not pressured them too much.