With summer on the lower Columbia River quickly approaching, I have been hearing lots of stories of the have’s, and have-not’s of sturgeon fishing. Some boats are already reporting 30+ fish days and others are reporting how some boats only touched one fish all day long. Having spent the last nine June and July’s in the Columbia River estuary chasing these dinosaurs, I want to share some ideas of where to find sturgeon in this vast area of water and how not to upset other sturgeon anglers in the process.
Rule 1 – Move your boat with the tide. Sturgeon are lazy; they flush back and fourth on the tide, scouring the bottom of the river for food. This is where the rule of “edges and ledges” come in. Find those natural funneling ditches & edges and you will find fish. I tend to move down towards the bridge in search of fish on the outgo, then move back up towards Tongue Point on the incoming, anchoring in promising spots along the way.
Rule 2 – Your goal is to intercept the fish as they flush back and forth. I can see “lines” of sturgeon come through an area on my fish finder. I will fish water from three feet deep to 40 feet deep, depending on where I am seeing fish. If you don’t have side scan sonar, you will need to vary your depth to find the fish. Beginning of the incoming tide, I tend to find them in deeper water and/or the upstream side of sand bars, and then shallower as we approach max flood. After the tide changes I start shallower, then work out deeper. Don’t be afraid of shallow water, but also know which way the tide is going. More than once in the summer I have seen the tide drop out from underneath boats, leaving them high & dry until the next tide change.
Rule 3 – Set the timer. Sturgeon fishing can be a rigorous sport if you are searching for fish. Max time I will spend in any one spot is 30 minutes without a bite. Once the time limit has expired, I start working my pattern searching for sturgeon in a different depth of water or near different structure.
Rule 4 – Change your bait often. Again, I start rotating baits about every 30 minutes if we aren’t getting bit. If the belly of your anchovy is blown out, change it. All of the rods got bit but one didn’t? Change the bait on that rod, there is a reason it didn’t get bit. No sturgeon has ever complained about the bait being too fresh. I plan for 1 pound of anchovy per person, then one extra pound for the boat. You never know when you will be catching allot more sturgeon than usual or having bad issues with trash fish eating your bait. Don’t be cheap, take enough bait and then some, you’ve gone through allot of effort to go fishing, don’t cut yourself short on bait.
Rule 5 – Don’t “CORK” someone. I was told that “corking” is an old gillnetter’s term used to describe a fisherman who sets up above another fisherman and intercepts that boats fish as they flush back by on the tide. I could care less if someone anchors below me, just don’t anchor above me. It seems counter intuitive at first, but going back to rule #1 & #2, those fish are flushing through on the tide and tend to come through in lines. Be courteous, give other anglers room.
Rule 6 – The exception of rule 5; you can anchor below other boats, but not too close. The reason is this … if you’re below me and I hook a hot oversize sturgeon (6-11 foot fish), she will undoubtedly get into your anchor rope and cause all sorts of chaos.
The Columbia River estuary isn’t the Willamette or the mouth of the Cowlitz, there is no need to hog line down here. We often have to leave our anchor to chase big fish. Dropping off anchor just to have to try to maneuver past another boat directly below us isn’t much fun. 300 pound fish go where they want and often that means they will wipe out all of your lines and wrap up in your anchor rope. Do everyone a favor and be courteous by allowing extra space between your boat and others.