View Full Version : The Sturgeon Are Coming!

06-06-2011, 15:32
Enormous sturgeon crowding into San Pablo Bay

By Alastair Bland
For the Marin Independent Journal
Updated: 06/06/2011 10:22:10 AM PDT

Thousands of the lumbering bottom-feeding fish seem to be gathered in the waters between the Carquinez Strait and the Tiburon Peninsula. Sport anglers, who generally are accustomed to long and tedious hours of fishing to catch just one sturgeon, are deeming 2011 one of the best fishing years in history.

But just why the white sturgeon -- whose smaller and rarer cousin, the green sturgeon, is a threatened species -- are swarming in San Pablo Bay more than elsewhere is uncertain. The season's intense precipitation almost certainly has something to do with the phenomenon. Fishermen generally associate heavy rainfall with increased sturgeon activity. Some anglers say the influx of fresh water into the bay stimulates the fish's appetite.

Keith Fraser, a veteran fisherman and owner of Loch Lomond Bait Shop in San Rafael, speculates that the season's first big downpours "pushed" the sturgeon from higher in the estuary into San Pablo Bay.

"In November, the (sturgeon) fishing was hot up around Pittsburg and Antioch," Fraser said. "Then the rain started, and the fish all came down into our lap." Scientists, though, are dubious. According to state Department of Fish and Game biologist Marty Gingras, the expected response to high rainfall of sturgeon is to move upriver. High river flows, he explains, can trigger sturgeon spawning activity, which takes place between December and June in the Sacramento River. Indeed, decades' worth of data collected by the department show that years of high rainfall are often followed by increased abundance of baby sturgeon. Another biologist, Michael Thomas at the UC Davis, was surprised to hear of the fast fishing action downstream of the Delta. "We'd expect the fish to go upstream when it rains this much," Thomas said.

He has a hypothesis, though: "It's possible that the high river flows in the winter caused the fish to spawn early, and if that's the case, then what we're seeing is a large congregation of post-spawn fish in San Pablo Bay." Whatever the explanation, local fishermen know one thing: The slow and sluggish pastime of catching sturgeon has become one of the fastest games in town.

"The sturgeon fishing now is as good as I've ever seen it," said Jim Cox, a San Rafael sport-fishing captain and operator of the boat Touch of Gray. Cox has been fishing in the Bay Area for three decades. Spurts of good sturgeon fishing arrive periodically but 2011, he said, tops any year he can remember. He has landed keeper-sized sturgeon on nine consecutive outings this spring -- a remarkable streak by sturgeon fishing standards.

A fellow San Rafael party boat captain, Gordon Hough, took 10 clients fishing last month on his boat, the Morning Star, and the group caught -- and mostly released -- 20 fish in an exceptional fishing outing.

Also remarkable for this year is the large size of the fish being caught. Fairfax fisherman Rico Petri, who said sturgeon fishing is usually "really boring," has caught and released 20 sturgeon since November and said 10 were longer than the 5.5-foot maximum size limit. One, Petri said, was 7.5 feet long. Multiple 8-foot fish have been caught, released and reported to bait shops. Fraser tells of a 9-footer. But the biggest of all was caught near China Camp State Park on March 29. The fish was reeled in by a San Francisco man who estimated the fish at more than 12 feet long and roughly 1,000 pounds.

California's official state record for white sturgeon is a 468-pounder caught in 1983, a decade before a maximum size limit made keeping such giants illegal. But the largest sturgeon ever known in state waters may have been a 1,500-pound white hauled from the Sacramento River by a team of horses in the 1880s. The 16-foot-long fish reportedly inhaled a rabbit used as bait on a meat hook. Even bigger fish have come from the waters of the Columbia River system.

Around the turn of the last century, a short-lived commercial industry devastated California's white sturgeon population. The commercial fishery was shut down and has never reopened.

But sport fishing has always been tightly restricted. By state law, anglers can only keep one white sturgeon per day and three per year. A fish must measure 46 to 66 inches long if it is to be kept -- a "slot limit" system that theoretically gives lifelong protection to large fish, though sturgeon poachers regularly violate the law. Despite careful fishery management, the annual sturgeon catch is declining. According to Department of Fish and Game records, Bay Area party boat captains, who must report all sturgeon kept to officials, took an average of 1,900 fish per year from 1966 to 1970, 525 from 1976 to 1980, and 500 from 1986 to 1990. Since 2000, party boat skippers have reported just 240 sturgeon per year. In 2009, their collective tally came to 175 fish -- the second-lowest ever recorded.

Lack of fishing effort may be a factor, Cox said. But Cox warned that the state's white sturgeon population has "definitely dropped," and he blames environmental degradation in the Delta and Sacramento River.

Sean Daugherty, a San Rafael fisherman, believes enforced fishing restrictions could make sturgeon fishing a sustainable recreation.

"People are catching a lot (of sturgeon) this year, but the slot limits should protect the big ones indefinitely," he said.


06-06-2011, 20:54
WOW, That first one is amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you ship?

Sturgeon in awesome, it's also $18-25 per pound-head on, but for chef's PS.Com it more like gifted at $10 per pound, I'll buy whatever you catch and we pay for the airfreight!!!

06-06-2011, 21:21
Chef Penn,

I'm trying to get down there this weekend with my buddy who has the boat.
If this happens and, the Fishing Gods smile, we can definitely work something out, given glimpses of your culinary prowess, I definitely want to be on your good side. ;)

06-07-2011, 03:58
WOW, That first one is amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you ship?

Sturgeon in awesome, it's also $18-25 per pound-head on, but for chef's PS.Com it more like gifted at $10 per pound, I'll buy whatever you catch and we pay for the airfreight!!!

WOW,, You can eat Sturgeon??

When I was a kid living in Poughkeepsie New York (yes, I did pick my toes), the Sturgeon caught in the Shad nets where throws back or chopped up for crab traps.. I did make a BSA project out of the spinal column sheath..


06-07-2011, 07:51
JJ. some of the best fish I have ever eaten. Think Tuna texture, velvet smoothness, seared then slow roasted, or based until finished in a pan.

Fish and Ship.....

Roguish Lawyer
06-08-2011, 02:58
Fort Lewis has tons of them not far away

Roguish Lawyer
06-08-2011, 02:59
Hey Harsey, a buddy has been trying to get me to fish for Sturgeon near Portland. Wanna come? Penn appraently needs fish to cook . . .

06-08-2011, 08:40
Be advised! It against California Fish and Game Regulations to sell sport caught fish...

06-08-2011, 11:27
loophole.......Their are not sport fishing, they have entered into an expressed contract, commercial, to paid for their catch.

06-08-2011, 11:30
Additional note: Plz do not over fish. Only harvest what you need. Giving fish away is usually fish being wasted, particular with this type of fish. Few people know how to cook them properly.

06-13-2011, 11:19
I worked on a trawler up until a few years ago and we caught one, none of us deckhands knew what it was but the Skipper came out and informed us, also said we had to offer it to the Queen, I thought he was taking the P but yep we do, here's a link, (it's not us but a guy from Wales).


(I think we landed ours to market, ssh don't tell her Majesty) :cool:

06-15-2011, 07:28
Never knew you could eat them, hmmmm saw a fishing show several years ago where they were catching them monsters, they creep me out now :)

Habu-MFFI 175
06-18-2011, 19:24
Some great catches. I never had the chance to chase them while at Lewis but wanted to. My stay was 2 short.


06-18-2011, 20:32
Wonderful looking fish.

Any idea if the roe are good? Nothing like some tasty caviar.