Jurassic Monster Fish - Finale
In the previous Jurassic Monster Fish Adventure, I thought the demons of the deep that were spinning around my float tube and breaking my seventeen pound leaders were monsters.....well I was mistaken.
Sturgeon are members of an ancient family of fish that lived when the dinosaurs roamed the earth 200 million years ago. They are armored with bony plates but have smooth skin without scales, which gives them a true prehistoric look.
The Snake River in Idaho has good populations of sturgeon so I put together a trip to see if it would be possible to catch one of these fish on Bear River Tackle flies tied on a very large 8/0 circle hook.
Sturgeon fishing requires specialized knowledge and equipment, so we hired Tim Parish who owns Hammett Valley Fishing Adventures to put us on the fish. Tim provided the boat, rods, and bait (for those not using flies). His number is 208-585-4858.
Tim’s boat reminded me of the mud boats that are used in Louisiana swamps and was equipped with a similar shallow running prop designed to handle the aquatic vegetation and sand bars that are common on many portions of the Snake River.
After trying to catch a sturgeon with flies for most of one day it was clear that fly fishing for sturgeon in this section of the Snake River was not realistic.
The river was 400 yards wide with rafts of aquatic vegetation drifting down with the current and the fish were in holes 50-90 foot deep. I've since discovered that a small number of sturgeon are caught on flies, but only in very clear shallow water where the fishermen can sight cast to the fish and literally put the fly in front of their nose.
At that point I switched to standard cut bait and started getting hits but even then, it was difficult to actually hook a fish.
The bite from a large sturgeon is like a very small bluegill (tap / tap / tap - no exaggeration). In addition, there are various kinds of trash fish in the water that will also peck the bait so the only way you really know you have a sturgeon is if there is a bit of weight on the line. There was no such thing as a solid strike.
Then you don't just set the hook; this will pull the bait out of the fish's mouth. Instead, you start reeling as fast as you can and if there's a sturgeon on your line the circle hook will slide into the corner of the mouth and the fight is on.
For these fish, which are tremendously strong, we were using heavy fiberglass rods with a level wind reel, 100 pound braided line and 8/0 barbless circle hook. Also, everyone wore a fighting belt. Realistically this was ocean fishing gear.
So how did we do? During two days of fishing, I only landed two fish, but both were very large.
The first fish was 94 inches in length and weighed about 230 thirty pounds. The run was powerful, and we had to chase the fish with the boat to have a chance of landing it. I thought this first fish was strong, but it was just a baby.
The second fish was a monster. As soon as it was hooked the fish took off downriver and we started chasing it with the boat to gain back some of the line that was being stripped off the reel.
After four more runs the sturgeon jumped out of the water. Everyone was in shock by the size of the fish and guide shouted, “you will be lucky to land this one”.
Toward the end of the fight, I handed the rod to my friend to give my arm a rest. Within three minutes he handed it back because the strength of the fish was hurting his shoulders and hands. The fight lasted 32 minutes in total before we landed the fish.
This was a female that measured 96 inches (8 foot) but had much larger body size than the first fish. The guide estimated her weight at 275 pounds based on her length and girth.
Following is a picture of the fish being held upside down (which makes it docile) so she could recover before the release.
This trip is being included in the Bear River Tackle Adventure Letters because it demonstrates that we are serious about testing our flies under actual fishing conditions.
This test trip made it clear that fly fishing for sturgeon in large rivers was unrealistic due to the nature of the fish (small eyes and they hunt by smell rather than sight), type of bite (very light), depth of the fish (50-90 feet), vegetation in the water (large rafts of aquatic weeds) and vastness of the habitat (river can be 400 yards wide). As a result, Bear River Tackle will not offer sturgeon flies.
However, it is not every day that you have a chance to catch an 8 foot fish! Even if it not fly fishing, I would recommend this trip to anyone as a truly amazing fishing experience
Picture of the Snake River at sunset
Bear River Tackle