Catching Sturgeon On Tillamook Bayby: Dennis Dobson
That all of this means to the average angler is that you donít need a bunch of new, expensive gear to catch these fish. If you have basic fall chinook rods, reels and line, you can handle anything the bay is likely to produce. I use nine-foot North River rods rated for 20-50 pound test line, Abu-Garcia 5500 and 6500-series reels and thirty or forty-pound test line. Iíve recently switched lines to Trileneís Big Game 40-pound in bright green. These fish are not at all line shy so the bright color doesnít matter and I find it very easy to see, especially on gray, overcast days. And, as weíll discuss a little later, a lot of successful sturgeon catching is visual, keying on the line for clues to a bite.
catches off as they have a tendency to foul the line when you cast) on the terminal end of your line. Next, slide on a plastic bead and tie the line to a large barrel swivel. Be sure the bead is large enough to protect the knot from the slider. Thatís itís only purpose for being there. Leaders are tied using approximately three feet of 80 to 130-pound braided dacron line and are attached to the open end of the barrel swivel youíve already tied to your main line. Being softer, yet stronger than standard mono or co-polymer lines, they will lay flatter on the bottom, where the fish feed, and resist abrasion by crab claws as the little beasties try to steal your bait. I use two 5/0 or 6/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hooks tied two to three inches apart, one above the other, with bait loop knots (also known as a guideís loop), tandem style. Impale two or three shrimp on the hooks, secure them with elastic thread, add some scent and your bait is ready to go. Depending on how fast the current is moving youíll need anywhere from six to ten or even twelve ounces of weight attached to the clip on the slider. The beauty of this method of rigging is that the fish can pick up the bait and move a short distance with it, thereby letting you see the bite, without feeling the weight.
Virtually any of the flats, or shallow areas, dotting Tillamook Bay will attract sturgeon at one time or another. There are, however, a few favorite, consistent spots you should know. The Dolphins, at Bay City, South Channel - near the oyster beds lining the western edge of the bay - and the Corral, near the center of the bay, are three of the best. Rather than explain here in writing how to find each of these, a daunting task at best, I strongly recommend you visit Sherry Lyster at Lysterís Bait, just a mile north of Garibaldi on Hwy 101. She has good maps of the bay for sale that show these and other favorite areas. She also stocks a complete supply of bait and gear and can answer any questions you might have. Keep in mind that the bay is a tricky, often dangerous piece of water. Each winter and spring flood changes channels and mud bars. Just because you could drive a channel safely last year doesnít mean you can now. The best way to learn the safe channels is to take the time to chart the bay. Just spend a day or two slowly cruising the bay with your depth finder on, marking on your map or in your memory where the water is going to be deep enough at low tide to travel safely. This will also help you find the shrimp flats that attract the fish.
A sturgeon bite and water temperature are closely linked. In cold water, like we have right now - just 44 degrees on Friday, April 9th - they bite very slowly, very tentatively. Much like a hatchery trout, with a series of slow pecks, it can often be difficult to detect. Often mistaken for the weight dragging on bottom due to the current, the easiest way to tell whether itís bite or not is to remember that a dragging weight will make your rod tip move a bit but will do so only once. A sturgeon bite will repeat itself several times. Commonly the fish will suck the bait in and spit it out a few to several times before deciding it wants it. Heís just tasting it and trying to make up his mind. Let him play with it until heís sure he wants it. If you set the hook too soon all youíll do is either pull it away from him entirely or foul hook him. Once heís decided he wants your bait the line will go tight, then slack in a series of a few to several abrupt jerks. If the rod is in the holder, strip a couple of feet of line from the reel before picking up the rod.
Otherwise, the fish will feel the tension and vibration as you handle the rod and heíll drop the bait and go looking for something else that shows less signs of life. Once the rod is in your hands, gently reel up most, but not all, of the slack. The next time the line goes out set the hook. This way you know the fish actually has the bait in his mouth and you are assured of a fair hook up.
In warmer water, above 50 degrees, which we normally see from May through September, the bite will be noticeably more active and often even aggressive. The closer the fish get to spawning, usually in July and August and triggered by warming water temps and longer days, the more aggressive they get. An active bite will look and feel much the same as a cold water bite except that itís quicker and the telltale movements of rod tip and line are much more noticeable. There wonít be much doubt in your mind that itís a bite. A truly aggressive bite is called "freight-training" and is unmistakable, leaving absolutely no doubt in your mind as to whatís going on. After all, when your rod suddenly doubles over without warning, no tap-tap-tap, and you can hear line screaming off the reel itís a reasonable assumption that it isnít the current or a crab toying with your bait. Just set the hook and hang on!
Windy conditions on the bay, a not uncommon occurrence any time of year, can make visually detecting a bite almost impossible. Between the pitching and rocking of the boat and the wind playing tag with exposed line, even the most experienced sturgeon angler has difficulty seeing a subtle bite. This is when it pays to use your sense of touch. With winds any stronger than a mild breeze, I encourage everyone in the boat to hold their rods in their hand. That first tug or two, often too light to see due to wind and waves, can, however, be readily felt. It is your first clue that something noteworthy is happening. Once you feel that first tug, concentrate on seeing as well as feeling the bite. The combination of senses will definitely improve your hook-up ratio in windy weather.
If all of this seems like just too much to remember and use, keep in mind that 99-percent of fishing was designed and developed by a guy named ĎBubbaí. If he could do it, so can you.
Copyright 1999 Dennis Dobson, Oregon Outdoors.
Added: Thu Oct 16 2008
Last Modified: Wed May 27 2009