In the depths of the Columbia River lives a primitive fish dating back to the Middle Jurassic era, over 163 million years ago. The White Sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in North America. Though they can reach up to 20 feet long, most rarely get over 10 feet in length. Characterized by large bony plates running down its back, a long flat snout and a deeply-forked tail, it’s impossible to mistake. There are about 29 species in the Northern Hemisphere and most are critically endangered, which means catch and release fishing for the most part; however, once you’ve hooked one of these primitive river monsters it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
In August 2019, April, a friend and fellow adventurer, invited me on a lady’s sturgeon fishing trip. It’s been a bucket list item of mine for some time, so of course I jumped at the opportunity. Plus, nothing beats a day outdoors with other ladies who share your same passion for adventure. I have to say; I was a bit nervous at the idea of hooking a 600 lb fish. Would I even be able to reel it in? I had visions of this giant fish dragging me over the side of the boat, pole in hand. Despite what I now know to be completely irrational fears, I forged ahead.
We boarded the boat around noon. After the boat captain, Greg Gustafson, walked us through the process of hooking a fish, we headed up river toward the dam to collect our bait for the day. Shad are trying to make their way up the dam this time of year to spawn; unfortunately, it’s an impossible feat and the force of the water pushes them back down and many die when they hit the river bottom. This creates a feeding extravaganza for the sturgeon who lay in the currents scavenging the dead shad. For us, it creates an easy, and cheap bait source. We drove around in the boat netting shad and within thirty minutes we had half a dozen in the boat and were ready to start fishing. I was first up.
I expected these giants to hit the bait hard and run, but actually their bite is fairly light. Once I started to see the typical tapping of a fish bite, I slowly moved to the pole and picked it up. I waited for the right moment to set the hook. The sturgeon tapped a few more times, then the pole bent over. With a giant yank the game was on. I’ve never in my life felt this much strength and power at the end of my pole. Holding on with both hands the rest of the crew worked to get the pole belt on me and reel in the other rods. I’d pull up and reel down, but for every two yards I gained it felt like the fish took four. When the fish would run, the captain would follow in the boat to make it easier to gain some ground. For over thirty minutes I did the sturgeon shuffle. I’d pull up on the pole while walking backwards on the boat, then I’d reel as fast as I can as I jogged toward the fish. It looks like a dance step, hence the name, the Sturgeon Shuffle. Back and forth we went until all at once the prehistoric fish emerged from the murky depths. A true monster. Measuring 8 ft long, Greg estimated it weighed over 500 lbs. And, just like that I was no longer a sturgeon virgin.
The bite really picked up in the final hours of daylight. I reeled in two more after that first, a five-footer and an incredible 10-footer. The latter took a joint effort to get to the boat. About 20 minutes into my battle with the 10-footer I needed to give my arms a little rest. My muscles had not stopped contracting since I hooked it. If the other sturgeon had taken four yards for every two I gained, the 10-footer took sixteen yards for every two I gained. I’d make some headway and he’d take off. I’m not sure how long the battle lasted, but when he finally made his way to the surface my jaw dropped. The sturgeon likely weighed between 600 and 700 pounds. The epitome of a river monster.
We fished until the last bit of light faded from the sky. There is nothing more incredible than hooking one of these giants at sunset. Greg Gustafson of Sturgeon River Monsters was a phenomenal guide and I’m so grateful for Amy Spoon, of Outdoor Chic Clique, for putting the trip together. Along with the incredible fishing, we shared a lot of laughs and spent hours talking about our upcoming outdoor adventures.