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Anglers are asked to help in survival of sturgeon

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Sturgeon are big fish, a specie that dates to prehistoric times. It’s a fish that certainly won’t win any beauty contests. In fact, they’re quite ugly.

It’s one of the few fish that doesn’t have a bone in its body. Instead of scales covering their outer surface, there are bony plates. The spine is a cartilage-type material.

Sturgeon roam salt and freshwater regions, commonly caught in San Pablo and Suisun bays and a long stretch of the Sacramento River. There are two species of this large fish in these waters — the white and green sturgeon.

The green sturgeon’s population is so low it’s a threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. If you catch one, you’re required to release it immediately. White sturgeon numbers aren’t great either.

Catching a sturgeon is a thrill of a lifetime. Some anglers try for years to hook one of these elusive fish and never do.

Sturgeon meat is prized by anybody who’s been fortunate enough to try it. Sadly, there are people who will illegally take as many as they can, sell the meat and process the roe into caviar, a practice that has seriously affected the population.

In Russia, where certain brands of caviar are treasured, sturgeon has been wiped out.

In the old days, there were no restrictions on sturgeon fishing in California. I remember in the late 1950s when Joe at Joe’s Place, just below the confluence of the Sacramento-Feather rivers, fishing just out from his resort, landed a sturgeon nearly 11 feet long.

The State of California, recognizing the decreasing number of these fish, has instituted numerous rules and regulations over the years.

One main restriction is putting a slot size limit on the fish, along with a maximum number of fish daily and annually. First and foremost, you’re required to possess a Sturgeon Report Card.

While you can fish for sturgeon year-round, you’re allowed one fish per day and three per year. And then the slot size limit comes in, where no fish shorter than 46 inches or greater than 66 inches may be possessed.

Those limits can present a danger to the fish. It means if you hook one, you have to measure it, and to do so, most anglers remove the fish from the water.

Bad idea. If the fish starts thrashing, it can do a great deal of damage to you and your boat. Secondly, removing the fish from the water puts it under a great deal of stress, and with females, that can be devastating.

It’s been found that when egg-laden females are removed from the water, even for a few minutes, they lose their eggs. Their body winds up absorbing the eggs, and it can take several years to recover.

Therefore, it’s strongly recommended you leave the fish in the water, right beside the boat. If the fish is tired, it will go belly up. Quickly measure the fish, remove the hook if it’s under or over sized, ensure the fish is revived, and let it go.

Sturgeon fishing can be among the most boring activity possible. Watch this column for the how-to in case you’ve never been.

Current fishing

While we’re way behind in the average for rainfall and snow, there’s plenty of winter left. A clear sky makes it great for anglers, but that lack of rainfall has affected the sturgeon fishery.

While sturgeon are in places like San Pablo and Suisun bays year-round, so are numerous unwanted species such as crab, kingfish and rays that will happily munch on your expensive bait.

However, those dropping anchor in the Pumphouse region of San Pablo Bay are finding sturgeon. For those launching at Martinez for the short run to all the hot spots in Suisun Bay, catching sturgeon and stripers has been fair to good. Shrimp baits are doing best for sturgeon.

Ocean waters: Boats out of the Bay Area and Bodega Bay ports are hammering sack-load limits of rock cod, and everybody coming off the boat also has limits of large Dungeness crab. Boneless, skinless fillets of rock cod are tremendous table fare, and sitting around cracking and eating fresh crab is wonderful. Go now.

American River: Not many are trying for salmon, although good numbers of decent-looking fish are still going up the ladders into the Nimbus Hatchery. The good news is a lot of steelhead are going up the ladders, and many are more than 10 pounds. The river doesn’t open to full fishing for another couple of weeks, but you can work the open section of the river below the cables at Goethe Park and find decent rod-bending action for steelies. Roe, crawlers and numerous flies should be successful.

Folsom Lake: While trollers are having some success, you can leave the boat at home and fish from shore. Those parking at the shoreline at Granite Bay, from the boat ramp to Beak’s Bite and from the point at Beal’s Point are scoring on trout. It can be a waiting game, however, for the school to swim by. Eggs and Power Bait will entice a bite. Just be sure to have your rig on a sliding sinker.

Eagle Lake: The lake will close to fishing in a couple of weeks, not to reopen until May 26. For now, the shallower north end of the lake is pretty well closed, as ice has taken over. The south end is open. Catching big Eagle Lake rainbows is common this time of year. Most anglers don’t want to fight the cold, but if you go, what you put in the ice chest will be well worth it. It’s been awhile since there has been snow, but take tire chains to ensure you’ll get up and down the potentially ice-covered boat ramp.

Contact George deVilbiss at GeorgesColumn@aol.com.