The Fish Sniffer - Eleventh Hour Sturgeon Highlights With Captain Chris Smith
Eleventh Hour Sturgeon Highlights With Captain Chris Smith

Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 6, 2014
Species: Saltwater Sturgeon Sturgeon Stripers Saltwater Stripers
Location: Suisun Bay, Sacramento River- Delta, San Joaquin Delta,

Eleventh Hour Sturgeon Highlights With Captain Chris Smith
Eleventh Hour Sturgeon Highlights With Captain Chris Smith Eleventh Hour Sturgeon Highlights With Captain Chris Smith
Eleventh Hour Sturgeon Highlights With Captain Chris Smith

I’ve been out on some sturgeon trips where I’ve experienced wide-open action. Heck, I took my wife Gena out on Suisun Slough one evening and we nailed five sturgeon all in the 50 to 70 inch class. We’d toss out our eel, wait for the bite that we knew was coming, set the hook and get our fight on…Awesome!

When you have a sturgeon outing like that, it is remembered for a long time because sturgeon fishing rarely offers wide-open action. Instead it’s a waiting game where determination and mental acuity play major roles. Such was the case during the most recent Cal Kellogg School of Fishing event on February 21.

Sturgeon fishing in the upper bays and Delta is generally pretty productive during late February and March, so I typically kick off the Cal Kellogg School of Fishing Season with a few trips focused on Delta style sturgeon and striper fishing.

Last year we started things off with a trip with Captain David Hammond of Delta Pro Fishing. We fished out of the Martinez Marina and ended up boating a keeper sturgeon. This year Captain Chris Smith of Captain Hook Sportfishing was our host. Once again our port of call was Martinez.

Chris’s knowledge of Norcal’s coastal waters is unsurpassed. He’s a top rate angler and skipper, with a lifetime of experience dating back to his childhood. It doesn’t matter if your target is sturgeon, stripers, halibut, salmon, lingcod, rockfish or big sharks, Chris is one of the top skippers to call!

We got off to an early start on February 21 with Chris motoring the Captain Hook out of the marina around 6:30. We had five Fish Sniffer supporters aboard and a good supply of salmon roe and lamprey eel ready for action.

Almost as soon as we cleared the breakwater we started marking sturgeon on the sonar….lots of them.

Marking sturgeon is the first step in catching them, but the question always remains, will they bite?

With such impressive marks on the screen and the incoming tide dying, Chris quickly dropped the anchor 1000 yards south of the Benicia Bridge and we were fishing. This must have made the crabs in the area happy, because it didn’t take them long to devour all of our bait.

With that we were off to spot No. 2. After motoring around a bit we ended up in the shallows near Ryer Island. We marked lots of fish, but they weren’t biters. At least there were no crabs.

When that spot didn’t pay off we moved to the shallows near the lower mouth of Montezuma Slough. It looked like our luck was turning when we started getting a few small bites on eel. Heck we even managed to hook, land and release a 30 inch shaker sturgeon. We’d broken the ice!

Another hour of waiting near Montezuma failed to produce another hook up, so we started to work our way down to toward the Mothball Fleet. Our first stop was above the fleet in the midst of a couple dozen private and charter boats, which were also chasing diamondbacks.

From the talk over the radio we knew that a few fish were being caught. Jay Lopes of Right Hook Sportfishing had a pair of keepers. Chris’s brother James had a keeper on the California Dawn and even Chris Smith’s son Jonathan had busted a keeper pushing the 60 inch mark aboard a private boat. Yet most folks were experiencing the same slow action and frustration that we felt aboard the Captain Hook.

While we waited for a bite at the top of the fleet, Chris broke out his stainless steel BBQ and grilled everyone up an awesome lunch consisting of brautz, chicken, potato salad and all the fixings. When you fish aboard the Captain Hook lunch is included in the trip. A good hot meal is always awesome on the water and it’s even better when you’re waiting out a sturgeon hook up.

With lunch wrapped up we fished out the end of the outgoing tide. We got a few bites, but none of them played out long enough to set a hook.

“Guys we know there are good numbers of fish near the bridge. We are going to make one more move and get set up down toward the bridge for the start of the incoming tide. That’s going to be our last shot at a fish,” Chris related before pulling the anchor.

As we reeled in our rods we joked about boating limits at the next spot, but in reality we knew there was no way that was going to happen. Yet by then we were driven by collective determination. You know, sort of like soldiers in a prisoner of war camp. Not everyone is going home, but the prisoners are determined that someone is going to make it.

In our case we knew that most of us were going to get blanked, but we were focused on putting at least one keeper on the board for the boat.

After setting up in about 30 feet of water, the baits went back out. As soon as the current started to move we started getting hit on both eel and roe. For whatever reason we missed the first couple decent bites. And then Joe’s Augustine’s rod pumped to life.

Despite hours of waiting, Joe was ready. He slipped the rod out of the holder and when the fish came back Joe slammed the hook into solid weight. The fight was on….

Joe kept his cool and kept the pressure on the fish. For a moment it looked as if the sturgeon was going to jump, but instead it swam just beneath the surface and created a couple of magnum boils.

We glimpsed the fish and could tell that it was going to fall within the slot. It was a keeper all we needed to do is get it into the boat. Joe’s cool nerves and trusty Ugly Stick rod were a winning combination and ultimately Chris scooped the handsome fish into the net. The sturgeon measured 42 inches to the fork and probably weighed around 35 pounds.

Victory with an 11th hour keeper! If the excitement of that last minute sturgeon during the inaugural 2014 Cal Kellogg School of Fishing trip is any indication, we’ve got an exciting School of Fishing season to come…I can’t wait.

The Cal Kellogg School of Fishing is sponsored by Penn, Berkley, Abu Garcia and others. Anglers that fished during our trip aboard the Captain Hook all took home brand new Ugly Stik Tiger sturgeon rods!

If you’d like to book a trip with Captain Chris, give him a call at (510) 322-0493. He’ll do his best to make your sturgeon and striper dreams come true and he’ll also make you lunch!

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