Team Fish Sniffer Experiences Epic Sturgeon Action With David Hammond And Jay Lopes!
There isn’t another fish swimming Northern California waters that creates as much excitement and frustration for anglers as the white sturgeon. Of course the excitement comes in the form of the dogged battles and aerial displays when a sturgeon is hooked. The frustrating part is trying to get the aforementioned hook into one of these fickle beasts mouths.
White sturgeon are unique. For starters they are the largest North American freshwater fish, attaining weights in excess of 1,000 pounds. Unlike most fish, sturgeon have no scales. Instead they have five rows of bony diamonds called “scutes” running from the gill plates to the tail. Like members of the shark family, sturgeon have a skeleton composed of cartilage.
For the angler a lot of questions about sturgeon fishing can be answered by looking at a sturgeon’s snout. Of course the first thing you’ll notice is the odd extendible vacuum like mouth. This isn’t a mouth intended to inhale live baitfish, like the mouth you find on a largemouth or striper. It’s a mouth designed to suck up tidbits lying on or buried in the mud.
For finding and evaluating its food, the sturgeon has taste buds outside the mouth, so it can taste a morsel without actually picking it up. In addition to it’s external taste buds there are feelers on the snout that are used for feeling along the bottom, presumably for shrimp, marine worms and other forage.
Why do sturgeon prefer ghost shrimp to grass shrimp one day and the next day shun ghost in favor of grass? Why will they gobble salmon roe from the Feather River with enthusiasm while ignoring roe from Alaska?
It’s those darn external taste buds and this is when the frustration kicks in. We aren’t dealing with your average bottom feeder boys. We are trying to convince a graduate level bottom diner with a very discerning attitude to sample our hook adorned bait…Not a simple task for even the best angler.
Over my years of success (sometimes) and failure (mostly) targeting sturgeon I’ve come to a couple conclusions. First certain times of the year are better for hooking sturgeon than others. Second there are some guides that really have a knack for finding and hooking sturgeon.
A lot of folks buy into the propaganda that says January and February are the best times of the year for sturgeon fishing. Most of the time this isn’t the case. The only time the sturgeon fishing is really productive in the winter is when we have WARM storms. Cold water makes sturgeon lethargic and tough to catch.
Year in year out the best and most consistent time to try to hook a sturgeon in Suisun Bay or the West Delta is during the early fall (September and October) and early spring (March and April). At these times the water temperature is correct and the sturgeon are on the move. The metabolism of the fish is at a yearly high and as a result this is when the most robust feeding takes place.
At the Fish Sniffer we all love catching sturgeon, but what we enjoy even more is setting up situations for our readers to catch sturgeon. It just so happens that Fish Sniffer staffer Ernie Marlan and I work closely with a couple of the state’s best sturgeon skippers, Jay Lopes of Right Hook Sportfishing and David Hammond of Delta Pro Fishing so it only seemed natural to put together a Fish Sniffer reader trip during the peak of the fall sturgeon bite.
A couple phone calls later and we had the enthusiastic cooperation of both Jay and David and we even had a date…October 9. Two boats, two talented sturgeon skippers, a group of Sniffer supporters, a bunch of prizes courtesy of Penn and a perfect tide. The stage was set for something epic!
The evening before the trip we determined that Ernie would be joining David on his big North River with five Sniffer supporters. They would depart from Brannan Island and head down to Pittsburg via water.
I met Jay Lopes at the Pittsburg Marina at 6:30. As soon as our four Fish Sniffer readers, Jerry Borchers, Kenny Dretzka, Tom Rhodes and Ray Clemes arrived, we motored out of the harbor in search of sturgeon. First we cruised the mouth of Broad Slough scanning the bottom for sturgeon with the sonar.
Not finding enough fish we headed down to the deep hole off the Pittsburg PG&E plant. The further down below the plant we got the more fish we marked. With only an hour of the incoming tide remaining, it was time to get our gear into the water.
I’d like to say we got action right away, but we were sturgeon fishing. We got a few little taps before the income died, but that was it. Yet we weren’t worried. There were plenty of fish around. We saw them on the sonar and we saw them jump occasionally. Figuring where the fish would end up when the outgoing tide started, Jay repositioned the boat. As soon as we had current, out went our rods baited with big globs of salmon roe.
It only took a few minutes for Tom’s rod to wiggle to life. Hook Up! What a difference a tide change can make! Tom fought the fish, Jay got ready with the net and I shot video. The battle was a standard give and take affair. The only question was whether or not it would be a keeper. When the fish surfaced off the port corner we could see it was a quality keeper in the high 40-inch class.
Jay slid the net under the fish and we had a fat keeper sturgeon on deck, but the action wasn’t over. Before we could do anything Jerry got hit and found himself locked up with our second sturgeon in 10 minutes.
Jerry’s fish went absolutely crazy. It made blistering runs and several high jumps, all of which I got captured on video. From the way the fish fought and from the big explosions of white water when it jumped, we convinced ourselves that the fish was oversize. However as Jerry worked the fish closer we started to think it might be within the slot.
Playing the rambunctious fish like a pro, Jerry wore it down and slid it into the net. Jay’s tape revealed that the sturgeon was just over 54 inches long, a solid keeper. What blew us away about the fish was its girth and weight. It bottomed out a 50 pound scale with ease. As near as we could tell it weighed about 70 pounds! I’ve caught 54 inchers that weighed half that much. It was a monster!
We had a few more sturgeon pumps in the afternoon, but our hook sets didn’t connect. Kenny picked up a small keeper size striper that he quickly released. Ray caught a beautiful 10 pound striper that he planned to convert into fish tacos!
Four anglers, two keeper sturgeon and a pair of keeper stripers. That’s why Jay Lopes has earned the reputation of being one of Norcal’s most talented Bay and Delta skippers!
Now We Join Ernie Marlan And Captain David Hammond…
And epic it was. Now let me set the stage for you on this particular day. It was a beautiful morning with the morning temperatures in the 50’s with about 5-10 mile an hour winds.
I was fishing with David and I know that our boat was feeling very confident because we knew David had a couple successful days of sturgeon fishing earlier in the week. With these reports and the good weather on our side, we knew there was a good chance of hooking a keeper sturgeon.
I have really paid attention to the fall sturgeon reports and stories that Captain David has told me over the last few years, which increased my confidence tremendously. There is no doubt in my mind that he understands the patterns of these sturgeon. I have fished with David enough to know that when I fish with him I can have high hopes of catching the targeted fish.
One of the questions that I always have as a sturgeon angler, is how do you decide on where to anchor. This is where the best anglers set themselves apart from one another. Understanding how the sturgeon use the tide to feed and what direction they will be moving is critical to catching them. As Captain David made decisions throughout the day, he made sure to explain exactly what he was looking at on his electronics and why we were going to anchor where we did.
The bottom line is that David understands the feeding habits and movements of a sturgeon and sets his boat up accordingly. Reminding me that catching a sturgeon is not by accident but by a very methodical process that starts with understanding the tides and the feeding habits of a sturgeon.
Another important fact that David reminded me of time and again, was that when you are sturgeon fishing you have limited opportunities and you have to make the most out of each opportunity. Sometimes you have only a couple of opportunities (bites) and other times you have a bigger handful of them. What you do with each of these opportunities is the determining factor on whether you catch sturgeon or just enjoy the beautiful California Delta.
It was about a 20 minute boat ride down river from Brannan Island to our first fishing location. We set the anchor in approximately 40-50 feet of water. The Phenix Rods teamed up with Shimano Tekota Reels and 50 pound braided line with all of them baited with salmon roe were sure to do the trick. As many of you know, over the last few years salmon roe has been nicknamed sturgeon candy.
Using this sturgeon candy, and after marking several fish, it didn’t take long to get that classic sturgeon pump that every sturgeon fisherman wants to see. After a fantastic battle a beautiful keeper sized fish was landed by Richard Arevlo.
Now you could say, the skunk was off the boat and the pressure of producing a keeper sturgeon was off as well. Shortly after landing the fish, we moved to our second fishing location. What? We moved shortly after catching a fish?
Yes, that is right. We moved. This is what I am trying to explain to you; Captain David Hammond understands sturgeon and tides and how the sturgeon use the tides to feed and he puts his boat in the best location an angler would want to catch a sturgeon.
Just as we were hoping, the moved paid off with some action. We were able to catch a couple more sturgeon that unfortunately were too small to keep but were definitely big enough to keep our attention and keep us happy.
We made a couple more moves and ended up near our first location. The move paid off once again, because we caught yet another shaker. Finally, when our time on the boat was coming to an end, the classic sturgeon pump came and Anthony Bridges was able to celebrate his 35th Birthday with a beautiful keeper sturgeon.
Another fantastic day on the water ended with 2 keeper sturgeon, several shakers, many laughs, new friends and an overall great experience with Captain David Hammond with DeltaPro Fishing. So much so, that we will soon plan a trip to a locally owned restaurant in Modesto, CA called Gervasoni’s On the Alley. Special thanks to Rosalie and Brandon Clark, owners of Gervasoni’s.
If you would like to fish with Capt. Jay Lopes with Right Hook Sportfishing, give him a call at 916-417-5670 http://www.righthooksportfishing.com or Capt. David Hammond at 916-479-3492 or http://www.deltaprofishing.com
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