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The sturgeon kept ripping the 80 lb. test braided line off the reel as I struggled to gain some yards on it. I felt the fish shoot up towards the surface as it suddenly made a big leap right near the boat, its glistening green and white colors briefly illuminated by the boat lights before it splashed back into the water.
This was the third time that the fish had jumped out of the water during the 20 minute battle in the Sacramento River about 2 miles below the Tisdale Boat Ramp. I put every bit of pressure I could on the big behemoth to get the fish under control beside the boat, but it had another idea.
Just as I thought the fish was finally subdued, it went on another run downriver. Rob Reimers of Rustic Rob’s Guide Service carefully motored the boat downriver to follow the fish.
The fish was doing everything to get loose, but it was finally starting to get tired. I started to slowly gain line on the fish besides the boat, lifting up on the rod, reeling down to gain some line, and then lifting again.
Finally, finally I got the sturgeon besides the boat. It looked to us like it could be a keeper, but it was hard to tell. Rob carefully netted the fish and measured it.
It turned out to be 67 inches fork length, 7 inches above the current size limit. He carefully released the sturgeon and the fish swam away into the muddy, rain-swollen river.
It was a male that Reimers estimated to weigh 80 to 100 pounds. I was whooped, especially since we had brought another even bigger fish up besides the boat – one that broke the rod - earlier in the evening. That fish was well over the maximum legal slot length, an estimated 7 feet long.
Reimers also briefly hooked and lost another sturgeon during our fishing adventure, while I landed a Sacramento pike-minnow that hit the bait like a sturgeon.
We fished two rods with ghost shrimp/nightcrawler combinations and one with eel on barbless 9/0 Gamakatsu hooks. We started at 3:00 pm and ended at 10 pm, with our three sturgeon hooked at 5:45 pm., 8:00 pm and 9:45 pm.
I work out regularly with weights in the gym, but no amount of training can make fighting a big sturgeon easy. These two fights with big fish had me sore and tired like no other fish that I can think of.
I have battled dorado and striped marlin in the Sea of Cortez, yellowfin tuna off the coast of Baja California and huge tarpon in the Caribbean off Costa Rica. While a dorado makes faster runs, a yellowfin pulls harder and a tarpon makes more leaps, no fish fights with more persistence than a hot sturgeon. The sturgeon’s battle is a combination of fast runs, frequent leaps and relentless bulldogging that makes it the most exciting fish to hook in fresh or saltwater, in my opinion.
This has been a very good year for sturgeon, in spite of the low water conditions in December and January. Since the beginning of 2014, Reimers reported hooking 14 sturgeon, catching 10 and losing 4, on the 12 times he’s been out. “We landed three keepers in the 50 to 57 inch range, while the rest were oversized fish.”
We had tried to pick what Reimers considers the best conditions for catching sturgeon, when a weather front is coming in rather than the backside of the front, but the front came a day early, so were forced to fish on the front’s backside.
Reimers has fished sturgeon on the Sacramento for over 30 years, so he has a number of spots from Knights Landing to Colusa that he likes to fish, depending on river levels. “I would have liked to take you fishing above the Colusa, but the water is too high to fish that spot, so I decided to try my low water spot,” he explained.
It was good to see the water high and muddy, a welcome change from the low water conditions of December and January.
“March is always the best month for sturgeon for me,” he noted. “Lot of years I have to stop sturgeon fishing even though it’s still good because the striper run starts.”
As somebody who spends many nights sturgeon fishing on the river, Reimers believes the population is relatively healthy.
“The numbers I’m seeing now are about the same that I saw over a decade ago,” he noted. “Also, the drought doesn’t stop the sturgeon fishing; they just come up the system a little later when the river is low.”
Why does Reimers like to pursue sturgeon so much?” It’s peaceful out on the river, you are able to kick back and let your troubles go away and then when you hook one, you really enjoy the fight,” he explained.
He also savors the challenge of hooking sturgeon. “Another thing I enjoy about sturgeon fishing is that catching these fish is so difficult. And nothing is more thrilling than getting a big sturgeon right besides the boat,” he added.
I agree. While the fish are hard to hook and hard to subdue, the battles that sturgeon provide put many other hard-fighting fish to shame. The two fish I battled that evening rank among the top five most exciting fish I’ve ever battled. And every one of those three other fish was a sturgeon also.
After sturgeon season, Reimers will be fishing for stripers and then for salmon on the Sacramento and Feather Rivers once the salmon season begins on July 16. For more information about fishing with Rob Reimers of Rustic Rob’s Guide Service, contact: (530) 632-0051, http://www.rusticrob.com.
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