First Person: Tips on Sturgeon

First Person Report: Tips for catching tail-walking giant sturgeon

BY VIRGINIA SALVADOR/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Dec 20, 2017

MARTINEZ — Sturgeon are incredibly elusive and highly sought after here in Northern California. Being that sturgeon are the largest species of fish in our waters, people can’t get enough of the backbreaking but exhilarating fight sturgeon fishing brings to the table.

Although I enjoy fishing for all salt and freshwater species, white sturgeon has stolen the biggest part of my heart. There is something magical about catching an 8-foot tail-walking giant that is capable of thriving in our saltwater bays, Delta and rivers.

In order to become more successful at sturgeon fishing, I began working with the top captains in California’s Bay Area. One captain in particular who’s had the biggest influence on my sturgeon fishing is Capt. Zack Medinas of Martinez. After spending a season fishing with him, I began to understand many of the core principles necessary to consistently catch not just one, but multiple slot and oversized sturgeon per trip.

Here are some helpful tips and tactics that can help you catch more sturgeon.

Prior to leaving the harbor, we formulate a tentative mental list of at least a half dozen spots frequented by sturgeon. Next, we begin systematically graphing these locations with our sonar to determine which location has the largest concentration of fish. To familiarize yourself with graph readings, one must first decide what a slot or oversized sturgeon mark looks like. Another consideration when reading your sonar unit is understanding scale. For instance, if a sturgeon arch in 30 feet of water is expressed on your sonar screen at 1/4-inch thickness, then in 60 feet of water, this same sturgeon arch will be expressed with a 50-percent scale reduction of 1/8-inch thickness.

Fish arches on or near the bottom of your graph do not necessarily mean the fish are feeding, but are given more priority because this allows your baits to deliver a concentrated scent trail in the range of the fish. This is why freshening up your bait every 45 to 60 minutes is pivotal to attracting fish back to your offerings.

tips_usinganUSING AN 8-foot rod with a soft tip and a strong back bone to be ideal. For line, it is best to spool your reels with 65- to 80-pound braid on a reel that has a line capacity of at least 300 yards.

Sturgeon possess a sense of smell capable of finding bait the size of a grape in ripping tidal current. This is why selecting quality bait and maintaining its freshness is crucial. Their sense of taste is far superior to anything we humans can imagine. Unlike what many would have you believe, sturgeon are not an animal that is willing to accept whatever is offered. In fact the opposite is true, as sturgeon are highly selective in deciding what they will ingest. Whether it is shrimp, eel, pile worms or salmon roe, it is of the upmost importance to treat your bait as food.

Adequate terminal tackle is vital to the success of landing these powerful dinosaurs. For leaders, we use 100-pound monofilament approximately 18 to 20 inches long that is attached to a snelled 7/0 Owner K-hook with a 1/2-ounce sliding egg weight and ending with a perfection loop. For rods, we have found that using an 8-foot rod with a soft tip and a strong backbone to be ideal. For line, it is best to spool your reels with 65- to 80-pound braid on a reel that has a line capacity of at least 300 yards.

There are many reel selections that will work on the market, however, we prefer Accurate’s Boss Extreme 400X reels. We have found this to be an excellent reel for sturgeon with its silky smooth drag and powerful torque. Another key element to this reel is its fast 6:1 retrieve. Each crank literally collects 38 inches of line, which allows fish to be landed quickly without overly exhausting them. Landing a sturgeon as quickly as possible is very important to fish mortality if you intend to release.

After we have decided upon a location, we drop anchor slightly below our target fish and allow the tide to bring sturgeon to our spread. A sturgeon bite can look like a rhythmic pumping action, or it can generally be very soft subtle nibbles. In both scenarios, we set the hook hard to bury the hook into the sturgeon’s tough mouth and begin our battle with this prehistoric beast. Once we hook up, many anglers will clear the rods, reeling in all the additional lines to avoid tangles. However, we feel this is a mistake because sturgeon often travel in pods.

tips_salvadorsaysSALVADOR SAYS STURGEON are highly selective in deciding what they will ingest. “Whether it is shrimp, eel, pile worms or salmon roe, it is of the utmost importance to treat your bait as food.” PHOTOS BY VIRGINIA SALVADOR

If you clear all the other lines out of the water, you will have zero chance of hooking any additional sturgeon passing under your boat. Not reeling in the additional lines has been a key tactic to obtaining more double and triple hookups than I can count. If after 60 to 90 minutes we do not get a solid bite or hookup we will make a move and continue to hunt for greener pastures.

Many sturgeon anglers often overlook very intricate details that can make the world of difference in the success of catching sturgeon. Adequate terminal tackle, selecting and preserving quality bait, leaving lines in the water, and proper use of sonar are all key essentials to the success of your fishing trip. Success isn’t always gauged by the size or quantity of fish caught, but by all the unforgettable memories forever etched into our hearts.

Fishing is a science that is constantly evolving and forever captivating my attention. So get out there, apply these tactics and begin to understand many of the core principles necessary to consistently catching, not one, but multiple slot size and oversized sturgeon per trip.

Virginia Salvador lives and fishes around the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to her love of fishing she has a strong passion for science and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. Although she is most known for skiff sturgeon fishing in Northern California, she regularly travels and fishes for a variety of species all over the world.

captainzackCAPTAIN ZACK MEDINAS of Martinez and the author, Virginia Salvador.

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