The most common recreationally caught sturgeon species in the U.S. is the white sturgeon, with directed efforts for this fish on rod and reel occurring mostly in the Columbia and Snake Rivers as well as in San Francisco Bay. White sturgeon are an infrequent accidental catch for anglers fishing for other species, and they are almost always caught by people targeting them by bottom fishing with fairly heavy tackle and large natural baits. Unlike paddlefish, they may not be legally snagged in most areas where they occur. Slot size limits are in effect in some places, and catch-and-release regulations may be in effect in others. It is critically important that anglers take proper measures in the handling and release of sturgeon, as well as in using appropriate equipment when fishing for them.
Essential Sturgeon Gear
Sturgeon are bottom feeders who use their long snouts and barbels to detect food. When young, they consume fish eggs, clams, mussels, crayfish, and worms. As adults, they eat a variety of fish.
Essential sturgeon gear is oriented toward the use of bottom fishing bait rigs, often with sliding sinkers, and fairly stout tackle. Rod-and-reel preferences vary, so there are no best sturgeon fishing rods and reels. But, 6 to 7 ½-foot medium-heavy to heavy rods are common, using heavy-duty conventional levelwind or lever drag reels capable of holding many hundreds of yards of line. Shore-based anglers generally need stouter tackle and greater line capacity, since they can’t chase fish, while boaters (usually anchored) can pull up and chase after larger specimens.
What other gear do you need for sturgeon fishing? Line generally ranges from 30- to 80-pound braid, depending on the size of fish that may be encountered and whether fishing from boat or shore, accompanied by a stronger leader that will withstand abrasion. However, where really large fish (hundreds of pounds) are possible, some anglers go up to 130-pound-test.
The hook used to impale fish baits should be an appropriate size circle version of the non-offset variety. This may be required in some places, so you must check local regulations on this matter for this species. Natural baits vary with what is most prevalent in the local waterway; this might include smelt, anchovies, shad, and other species.
Handling and Releasing Essentials
Given the need to conserve and protect white sturgeon, which have a very slow maturity rate and can live a long time, anglers have to be especially vigilant about handling and releasing them, and about following the generally accepted best practices for proper care of all fish.
Given their size, white sturgeon can be more difficult than other fish to deal with. The Idaho Fish and Game Department has excellent tips about how to ensure that a caught sturgeon can be released unharmed. Among the things they highlight are:
- Don’t remove a fish to be released from the water
- Use barbless hooks to facilitate hook extraction
- Use strong braided line and heavy gear to help land fish quickly
- Don’t use a tail loop or other device to grab the fish’s tail, which can injure a fish if it thrashes about
- Keep fingers out of a sturgeon’s gills when holding and reviving it
- Hold a tired fish by the mouth with the mouth open and facing into the current to allow water to flow over its gills before release