One of the great things about owning an Oregon Guide Service and living in the Pacific Northwest is the abundant fishing opportunities available on the Columbia River. Among the most renowned of these opportunities is the infamous White Sturgeon fishery. The Columbia River is one of the last bastions in regards keeper sturgeon seasons.
As a result of conservation efforts, opportunities are limited and only immature sturgeon are allowed to be retained. Even though much smaller than their mature counterparts, these fish still offer plenty of fight as well as meat for the dinner table. On average keeper sturgeon weight in at around 30-40 lbs. and the light mild flavor is well worth the effort to catch them.
Sturgeon life cycle
Sturgeon are long-lived, late maturing fish with an average lifespan of 50 to 60 years. Their first spawn does not occur until they are around 15 to 20 years old. Sturgeon are broadcast spawners and do not spawn every year because they require specific spawning conditions. Those requirements may or may not be met every year due to a variety of environmental conditions. For example, the ideal environment in the spring are clear water conditions with shallow rock or gravel where the eggs can adhere.
In addition sturgeon need the proper water temperature and flow for the oxygenation of the eggs. A single female sturgeon can release anywhere from 100,000 to 3 million eggs, but unfortunately not all will be fertilized. After a male sturgeon has fertilized the eggs they become sticky and adhere to the bottom of the river. Eight to fifteen days later the embryos become larva and feed upon their remaining egg sack. Once they begin to swim freely sturgeon fry spend the fist year of their lives feeding on insects larva and crustaceans. More predatory sturgeon migrate to the salt for a time to feed and return back to the Columbia later in their life span. It takes 7 to 12 years before sturgeon will reach a size that they are allowed to be retained. This may seem like a long time, but keep in mind there are sturgeon that have lived to reach 100 years old.
How to catch Keeper Sturgeon
We tend to run lighter gear when fishing for keeper sturgeon. We basically use the same methods as we do for catching Trophy class fish. It’s fairly simple, we anchor the boat at specific locations where we know sturgeon tend to stack up. At that point we like to plunk bait off the bottom. We generally fish in anywhere from 4 feet to 25 feet deep water depending on the section of river and size of fish we’re targeting. Fresh baits like herring, shad, crawfish, or freshwater clams are among the most effective baits to use and it’s not unusual to hook up with over 50 of these fish in a day. Sturgeon or also predatorial and we’ve even had a few occasions where they’ve chased down our bait on the troll. Sturgeon are hard fighting fish and super fun to catch, giving anglers a real thrill when hooking into one of them. Known for volcanic surfaces and aerial acrobatics sturgeon fishing can definitely get the heart pumping.
Keeper Sturgeon Rules
The Columbia River offers the perfect habitat for sturgeon. Fresh clear water and a variety of structures for cover and decent size rock and gravel for the eggs to hatch, grow and thrive. However, green sturgeon in the Pacific Northwest are listed as endangered and not allowed to be retained. If one is caught it must be safely release without removing the fish from the water. In the Columbia River, white sturgeon are still in healthy numbers.
However, to maintain the White Sturgeon populations, keeper sturgeon season are limited and only fish that have not reached an age or size in white they would bear eggs can be kept. For both Washington and Oregon in most sections of the Columbia the legal size for keeper white sturgeon are fish that measure a minimum of 43″ to 54″ from the fork in the tail to the tip of the nose. In both states anglers generally are allowed one fish per day with a maximum of two sturgeon per year. When anglers are allowed to retain them varies largely on the time of year and catch quotas that are attained.
Keeper Sturgeon Seasons
We fish different sections of the Columbia River based on when each zone is open for sturgeon retention. From January till the middle of April our Columbia River guide service spends most if it’s time up above the Bonneville and Dalles dams on the Columbia river. These sections of the Columbia also known as the Columbia River gorge offers great sturgeon fishing in late February through the middle of April.
This is the time of year when the winter season ends and we enter the Spring. This can be a pretty cold time of year with wind rain chilling the bone during this season, but the fishing can be very good. The Dalles Pool which is the stretch of the river from the Bonneville to Dalles Dam on occasion white sturgeon measuring as big a 54″ or 4.5′ may be retained until quotas have been met. Granted it’s only a couple inches larger than typical keepers sizes such as 50″ but it’s still a little big more fish for the trip.
Where to Catch Keeper Sturgeon
In the lower Columbia below the Bonneville pool keeper sturgeon season generally runs from the middle of May to the beginning of July. However, on some occasions the season can end up only being a few days depending on catch rates and quotas allowed by the Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife.
This estuary is known as the Astoria Sturgeon fishery which starts at the mouth at buoy 10 and goes up to the Mainstem of the Columbia River at the Wauna powerlines. Closer to Astoria, we like to fish the Multnomah Channel. This Slough holds some decent numbers of fish and is an excellent place to target Columbia River sturgeon. We tend to fish below the boat launch at Gilbert River (Sauvie Island) to the mouth of the slough at St. Helens.
Also about a mile from the launch at Scappoose Bay, there are some really good holes to fish that hold decent numbers of smaller to mid size sturgeon. We fish this section at about 40 feet or more in-depth for optimal results. There is also a nice little spot just off the sawdust pile that has excellent fishing is 50 to 70 feet deep. In this section Keepers are allowed that range from 44″ to 50″ in length and are one of of a perfect size for the dinner table.
Sturgeon are a very mild and wonderfully flavored fish. It has been compared to having a similar flavor to sword fish, halibut, shark, and even scallops. Since Sturgeon are an exo skeleton the meat is not boney like other species of fish and in regards to texture is similar to chicken or veal.
join us on one of our Oregon sturgeon fishing trips and experience the joy of catching and eating one of the Jurassic delights for yourself. Give is a call at 206-450-7947 and book your trip today. We’ll do our best to provide you and your party the fishing trip of a lifetime. Columbia River Fishing Guides has been offering Oregon Guided Fishing trips for over 30 years.