By Randy Beck
Are there really dinosaurs roaming the earth even today? The answer is a definite yes. We have these creatures from the past living in many of our waterways right here in British Columbia and their called Sturgeon. These fish are the largest game fish in North America growing to lengths in excess of 19 feet and weights of over 1300 pounds. History proves that sturgeon can be traced back to over 200 million years old.
These amazing fish have survived through two ice ages and continue to flourish in today’s environment. Sturgeon are known to be bottom feeders and zero in on their food source with a row of four wiskers called barbels, once they locate their food they suck the food into their vacuum like mouths called a protrusible mouth.
Sturgeon don’t have any teeth so they just swallow their food whole. Sturgeon don’t have any scales either, they have a rough shark like skin with five rows of sharp spiny spikes called scutes that they use to protect themselves from predators. These incredible creatures don’t have bones in their bodies they have a skeleton of cartilage. The spawning times for these fish is usually May-June. Normally the sturgeon will become ready to spawn around 20 years old. They are known as “broadcast” spawners, as the females release anywhere from 100,000 to 3,000,000 eggs that are fertilized by the males. The eggs then become sticky and attach to the rocks of the river bottom for approx. 3-5 weeks before they hatch.
Sturgeon where harvested commercially in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s, they were also harvested by recreational anglers right up until 1994 when the Provincial government banned any retention and imposed a catch and release only fishery for these fish from the past.
Angling for these brutes from the deep is a complete delight. With the great numbers of Sturgeon, fishing can be done year round, but generally there are two major times when the fishing is at its best. April marks the time when the eulachon run starts in the Fraser river, and the sturgeon hone in on these oily little smelt like fish and simply gorge themselves on them, and then again in the fall, October-November when the migrating salmon have spawned and died and the carcasses wash into the mainstream of the Fraser and the sturgeon once again fill up on the plentiful salmon parts. There is a plethora of other baits that can be used for sturgeon like dew worms, salmon roe, lamprey eels, and ditch eels, salmon parts like hearts, gills and bellies. The addition of bait scents like sturgeon feast or Krill paste is all that is needed sometimes to trigger a take. Try to keep a few different baits on hand to experiment with to find out what they are biting on that day.
There are two ways to fish for sturgeon, from an anchored boat or from shore and the equipment used will vary. Shore anglers will use heavy casting rods in the 11-12ft. range capable of casting a 20oz. lead weight, coupled with large spinning or level wind reels spooled with 100 lb. braided main line (I prefer the Highly Visible. Yellow Tuff line). Where as the boat angler will use a shorter rod in the 6 ½ – 8ft. range complete with large level wind reels spooled with 100 lb braided mainline. Both types of rods must have a very sensitive tip section to detect the most softest of strikes but have enough back bone to handle a large fish. The rods and reels that have proven the test of time are the Penn 320/330, Shimano TLD 20 as for rods I recommend the Shakespeare 12ft. Ugly stick for shore angling and the 8ft. Shimano Technium or Trophy XL sturgeon king for fishing from boats. Although there are countless other combinations these set ups have always stood up and have never faltered. The business end of the gear, Hooks. This is a VERY important part of your terminal tackle. I use sizes 5/0 to 9/0 and only the best hooks get onboard my boat. Mustad Ultrapoints and Gamakatsu. These hooks come right out of the package razor sharp and seem to keep a sharp edge that’s need to stick in the sturgeons hard mouth. I use about two feet of 72lb. sturgeon leader tied to a Kodiak coast lock slider swivel and the wedge weight should be 8-20oz., depending on the river current.
One of the biggest mistakes I see happen is this, the rod tip starts to twitch a little and in all the excitement the angler will run for the rod rip it out of the rod holder and set the hook only to come up empty handed. Setting the hook on a sturgeon can be very tedious. The angler must wait for the tell tale sign that the sturgeon has actually sucked the bait up unto its mouth. This is indicated by a constant pressure and a throbbing feeling on the fishing rod. When you feel this, it is your queue to hammer the hook home and play your fish.
Sturgeon fishing is just like buying real estate; it’s all about LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION and timing. When fishing for sturgeon limit your time in a particular spot. It’s not uncommon to pull anchor 10-20 times a day to try and find your quarry. If you don’t get any takes within 30 minuets pull anchor and change spots. I normally like to start off with finding a deep hole in the river bottom and I’ll anchor just above it and set out the rods, then if I don’t get any takers within the first 30 minutes I work my way down river and fish through the hole, trying to locate the sturgeon. When angling for sturgeon on the lower reaches of the Fraser river, I find the best bites usually happen about 1 ½ -2 hours before and after high tide. So check the tide tables and schedule your fishing times around these tide changes if possible.