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Captain David Hammond is one of the best when it comes to finding and hooking sturgeon in the West Delta and Suisun Bay, so I wasn’t surprised when the first sturgeon came knocking only 15 minutes into my most recent School Of Fishing adventure on March 14.
We had seven rods in the water. Two of them were armed with juicy ghost shrimp, while the balance boasted big chunks of salmon roe. The bite came on shrimp and from the slow rubbery pumps there was no doubt that it was the work of a sturgeon.
Using his trademark “reel set” Captain Dave cranked the hook home, slid the heavily bent rod from the holder and passed it off to Fish Sniffer contributor Kathy Wilson.
For a beat the sturgeon remained behind the boat, but then it circled to our starboard side and made a spectacular jump a mere 20 yards from the boat. The sturgeon was big with impressive girth and weight. From the glimpse we got it looked like the fish would be right around the upper end of the slot, maybe a keeper or maybe a bit oversize. However at that moment we weren’t worried about the sturgeon’s length, our primary consideration was wearing the fish down and getting it into the net before it could toss the barbless hook.
After the jump the big fish put up a very determined battle. Thankfully there was no more jumping, but it smoked off on several tackle testing runs and spent a fair amount of time sulking on the bottom. As minutes ticked by the fish moved from starboard to port and back several times.
Kathy is a big fish veteran, but she’d never landed a keeper or oversize sturgeon. The power of the fish totally blew her away. At one point during the 20 minute battle Kathy turned the rod over to her dad, Don Hartsock, so she could rest her arms and shoulders.
Kathy was back on the rod, when the line went vertical off the port corner and the fish weakened. In moments it would be aside the boat. Dave was at Kathy’s side coaching her, so I grabbed the big salmon net and handed it him. Big sturgeon have a way of getting loose at the last possible moment and I wanted to make sure Dave was ready to scoop it at the first opportunity.
When the fish slid to the surface it was deceivingly calm, just holding in the current with the large hook protruding from its odd descending mouth. Dave took his time and when the moment was right he whipped the net around the sturgeon’s head and it’s body collapsed into the mesh. Done deal? Not so much….
Kathy’s rod was still loaded against the weight of the fish. Before Dave could lift the fish over the rail, he needed some slack so I reached up and pulled some line off the reel. What happened next was absolutely amazing and speaks volumes about the power and determination of sturgeon.
There was a violent splash and when I looked down the sturgeon was gone. It happened so fast that Dave and I were stunned and didn’t really understand what had happened.
“Did it flip out of the net,” Dave asked as he lifted the net back into the boat.
“No way,” I replied. “You had him locked up in the bite of the net.
A quick inspection of the brand new net revealed a basketball size hole. Somehow the sturgeon had managed to rip right through the net and snapped Kathy’s 80 pound mono leader in the process!
I’ve spent a lot of time hunting big fish and I can tell you I’ve never seen anything like that before. I have no idea how much pressure it takes to rip out a commercial salmon net, but I can tell you it takes a lot. David and I are both pretty strong guys and we agreed that there was no way we could rip a net like that with our bare hands even if we worked together.
I wish the DFW’s managing Delta biologist could have witnessed the scene of that sturgeon destroying our net, as he operates under the belief that sturgeon are downright delicate and will wilt away if subjected to anything as savage as a barbed hook or worse yet a photograph…
Of course all of us felt as if we’d been kicked in our collective stomachs. The only bright spot was that it was almost certainly an oversize fish. We guessed its weight at 75 to 80 pounds.
Crying over spilled milk and lost sturgeon is pretty much a waste of time, so David put fresh bait on the rods and tossed them back into the river.
Perhaps 10 minutes passed before a rod armed with roe pumped to life. Once again Captain Dave drilled the hook home and handed the rod to Kathy. From the fight it was clear that Kathy was into a smaller fish as compared to the first sturgeon, but when it jumped we could tell right away that it was a keeper.
After the jump the sturgeon surged down to the bottom and put up a bulldog style fight. Ultimately Kathy’s cool head and the resilience of the Seeker rod were too much for the sturgeon.
When it materialized off the starboard corner, David was ready to make the scoop with the zip tie repaired net. This time the net held and Kathy had her first ever keeper sturgeon. The fish measured 47 inches and weighed in at around 35 pounds. Kathy may catch a hundred keepers over her fishing career, but I guarantee that she’ll never forget that first keeper. And of course the one that destroyed Dave’s net will stick in all of our minds for quite a while too!
With two hookups and a keeper in the box during the first 90 minutes of fishing our expectations for the rest of the day were pretty high, but sturgeon being sturgeon the bite slowed dramatically. As morning gave way to the afternoon we boated a 30 plus inch shaker that proved to be the final fish of the day. When we headed back to the launch ramp at Brannan Island, we’d spent 8 hours fishing and had brought three sturgeon to the net. It had been a pretty productive Delta sturgeon outing to be sure…
Since the trip was a Cal Kellogg School of Fishing event, there were plenty of prizes to go around. Each angler that participated in the trip took home a brand new fishing rod courtesy of the folks at Berkley, Fenwick, Tica and Lamiglas.
Big fish, big fun and lots of prizes…there are more Cal Kellogg School of Fishing events coming up. Watch The Fish Sniffer for details!
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