Chasing One Of California’s Living Fossils

Written By: Bill Adelman, March 13, 2012

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Last time we were still trying to hook up with a sturgeon, one of the few remaining living fossils in California, even though that comparison has been made to me on more than one occasion. This fish dates back to the Jurassic period, so where was the reference in the movie? We have two species of sturgeon in our bay-delta estuary, the white and green.

The sturgie is anadromous, traveling up into the systems from either the ocean or brackish backwaters in order to spawn. Many years ago, while shad fishing way up the Feather River above Marysville, a huge sturgeon just meandered upstream in about 5 feet of crystal clear water. By the way, are crystals truly “clear?”

We were able to observe this great fish, about 60 inches long, for a full five minutes. Being within three feet of our boat didn’t seem to bother it at all.

From the late 1800’s through 1901, a huge commercial sturgeon fishery harvested about 1+ million pounds per year, with a one year take of 1.6 million pounds being the high water mark. White sturgeon range from the Gulf of Alaska to Northern Baja, with the most productive spawning taking place in the Columbia River and the San Francisco Bay -Delta Estuary.

A typical female, reaching about age 15, will spawn around 200,000 eggs every third year of its life cycle. When a young sturgeon reaches the 40+ inch range, they grow around 1-2 ½ inches per year. An 80 inch fish is approximately 30 years old.

Most of us have seen the pictures of sturgeon caught in the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s that are either hanging from a tree or stretched out on the ground, and are in the 400-500 pound range. The most famous one is most likely the fish that was caught with 3 chickens used as bait and a rope tied to a horse, who just drug it ashore after it was hooked. Hmmmmm, a new use for an ATV?

One of our area’s recorded fish weighed in at 468 pounds andwas estimated to be a bit over 60 years of age. Prior to the slot limit, one was recorded at 20 feet and 1387 pounds.

And don’t forget about the required tag. You gotta get one prior to fishing and carry it with your fishing license. Any legal sturgeon that you keep must be tagged immediately, and that means at once, before pictures are taken. An unlucky, or unthinking, angler had a great picture posted in a newspaper, not ours, using a picture that was taken on a boat, where the tag is clearly not visible.

The fish was tagged after pictures, but that didn’t work. An aside to the hunters amongst us, the same applies to a horned animal that requires tagging. Again, a hunter was located and cited for the same violation. They were tracked down for not following the law, even though pictures taken later in the day, did have evidence of the tag in place.

So where are the fish? The expected run that was due after the early February storms didn’t materialize. The south bay, near Dumbarton, had a brief flurry, but the fishery in the Pittsburg area, as of 3/1, has yet to kick in. What few fish being reported have pretty much been caught with a combo bait, eel and grass shrimp.

March has always been my favorite month for sturgeon fishing, probably because my personal history indicates we catch more sturgeon in March than any other month. There are a few caveats, however. It is imperative that I ALWAYS fish the rod furthest to the right and only fish with a rod that is wrapped with pink thread.

This however, does NOT indicate any form of superstition, rather just common sense, as I’ve caught more sturgeon using this rationale than any other. Besides, it’s bad luck to be superstitious, so why would anyone tempt fate?

By now there should be fish in Montezuma and Suisun sloughs. The most productive areas are the clam beds, if you can locate them. Back in the day we located the clams using an extremely basic, yet productive, method. When we pulled the anchor, and clams were hanging on the flutes, we marked the shoreline for a later return to our scientifically located spot.

Questions? The deep holes are also a “let’s try here first” location. This works especially well if it’s a hole where we’ve caught sturgeon in the past. After re-fishing a hole where we’ve not gotten bit since our last fish, 13 years ago, one might consider moving on.

Anyway, let’s get to it. If anyone is in the market for a really super duper, brand new, hand wrapped rotator sturgeon rod, I know where one, or two, can be located. Next time we’ll move on to smallmouth. Seeya then & Tight Lines!!!

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