Columbia River Sturgeon Fishing Guides
Total Fisherman Guide Service is a local Columbia River Sturgeon Fishing guide service specializing in catching BIG sturgeon! We fish from Astoria, Oregon to Bonneville Dam on the lower Columbia River as well as the Willamette River.
The Columbia River and its tributaries are home to the largest population of White Sturgeon in the world! Over 1 million sturgeon exist in these waters and under the right conditions it’s possible for them to grow up to 20 feet in length!
Columbia River Sturgeon Fishing Guides are incredibly lucky to be able to pursue these fish and guide their clients to catch the largest freshwater fish in North America. A typical trip doesn’t just mean catching a few sturgeon, the norm is catching 15 or more sturgeon, with some of them often being over 5 feet in length!
Columbia River Fishing Areas that hold Sturgeon
In our Columbia River Sturgeon fishing discussion we’re going to talk about the waters from the Pacific Ocean near Astoria Oregon, and the 137 miles to Bonneville dam. We're also going to discuss Willamette River Sturgeon Fishing.
Columbia River Sturgeon Guides are able to find sturgeon year around, but they may have to travel a little bit in order to do so. Columbia River Sturgeon fishing means you have to be willing to move because these sturgeon are migratory fish that swim up and down the river in order to find comfortable conditions and abundant sources of food. If you’re not where they want to be, you’re not going to have the best trip possible.
During winter and spring the best location for sturgeon fishing is on the lower Willamette River from the falls at Oregon City to the mouth near Portland Oregon. This area is included in our discussion because the Willamette River flows into the Columbia and allows easy migration of sturgeon between the Columbia’s waters and the Willamette River. The abundance of food, warmer water temperatures and lack of predatory Sea Lions makes this the favored location for our sturgeon to spend their winter and spring months.
As April, May and June arrive we start finding sturgeon moving out of the Willamette and into the main-stem Columbia. Three things drive this migration. The Columbia River’s waters are warming during these months. American Shad are starting their spawning run from the Pacific Ocean to Bonneville Dam, and anchovies are entering the lower Columbia River near Astoria.
After leaving the Willamette some of these fish will swim upstream toward Bonneville Dam and its fast waters where they will gorge themselves on American shad. During this time they may also possibly spawn.
Other sturgeon will hang a left after leaving the Willamette River and head downstream 90 miles into the Columbia River Estuary where they will spend the late spring and summer months foraging for shrimp, anchovies and a variety of other small fish and crustaceans.
So now you know where sturgeon go, when they go, and why they go there ...
Now the trick is to catch one of these amazing fish! To do this you’re going to need some sturgeon gear.
What type of sturgeon rod?
Where you’re fishing often times dictates what type of equipment you will use to pursue these fish.
The majority of the Columbia River including the Willamette and Columbia’s estuary waters can be adequately fished with a heavy salmon rod 8 ½ to 9 feet long. This rod should be rated to handle up to six or eight ounces of lead and 20 to 40 pound line. A medium action or medium fast action is preferred.
You may find yourself casting heavier lead than six or eight ounces and I recommend using 65 pound braided line, so the above guidelines for the rod are there just to help you pick out what you will need. A rod that is actually rated for 16 ounces of lead and 65 pound line would just be too heavy of an action for these waters. Combine this with a Shimano Tekota 500 reel and you’re set!
One of the most important things to look for when selecting a rod is a fairly flexible tip. This allows you to see a sturgeon’s subtle bite without spooking the fish because it feels too much resistance from a rod that is too stiff.
If you find yourself in the fast moving waters near Bonneville dam (when it’s open, make sure to check the fishing regulations) then you will need a much heavier rod that can handle larger baits and heavier lead. A rod length of 6 to 8 feet that can handle 65 to 80 pound braided line and up to 36 ounces of lead is the ideal set up. Pair this rod with a Shimano TLD or Shimano Tyrnos reel and you may just have the upper hand on some BIG sturgeon!
What type of reel for sturgeon fishing?
As I mentioned, we prefer Shimano Reels for their reliability and performance. As professional Columbia River Sturgeon Guides we can’t afford to take chances on low quality equipment, so Shimano is the choice for us.
When we fish on the Willamette or the lower Columbia River’s estuary out of Astoria, Shimano Tekota 500’s find themselves pulling double duty as either salmon reels or sturgeon reels . They hold a little over 200 yards of 65 pound braided line and have enough drag to handle larger 6 to 8 foot fish. Keep in mind these reels are typically meant for much smaller fish than these (Salmon, Steelhead etc.), but if you’re like many anglers and can only afford to buy one good quality reel, then this is a good compromise that allows you to have one reel that can perform well for both sturgeon and salmon.
Now if you've really caught the sturgeon fishing bug and you’re planning to have a rod that is just dedicated to sturgeon fishing, then I would highly recommend using one of Shimano’s TLD, Tyrnos or Talica reels. These reels are going to be able to handle the heavy drag that large sturgeon require, and they will also hold enough braided line to allow you to stay on anchor and not have to chase as many fish with the boat.
Sturgeon Fishing Tackle
Main Line: We exclusively use Maxima braided main line. Its strength, flexibility, abrasion resistance, and great casting characteristics make it the perfect line for sturgeon fishing. Anywhere outside of the Bonneville Dam area finds 65 pound line on our reels, and up at Bonneville we fish with 80 pound line.
Leaders: Leader material can either be braided Dacron or standard braided fishing line. We prefer 130 pound braided fishing line for our leaders. The braided line lasts and lasts, typically surviving longer then our hooks!
Hooks: We prefer to use size 7/0 or 8/0 circle hooks from Gamakatsu and on our leaders. The circle hook’s unique shape keeps the sturgeon from ingesting the hook deeply, and they also are much harder for them to shake out of their mouth during a jump. Switching to circle hooks has made a huge difference for us.
The technique that is used with circle hooks is a little bit different when fishing for sturgeon. Just because you see the rod moving and the tip bouncing doesn’t mean it’s time to grab the rod and start swinging, trying to set the hook! Just wait until you see a steady poll and the rod is loaded up, this means the fish has hooked itself. Now it’s time to give a smooth, firm hook set, and you will have them on the line. With circle hooks it’s all about letting the sturgeon hook themselves. And trust me once they are hooked they aren’t coming off.
Other Gear: The only items left to get are heavy duty snap swivels to attach your main line to your leader, and a plastic slider with a clip to attach your lead to the mainline.
What type of bait should I use to catch sturgeon?
Sturgeon like to eat. However that doesn’t mean that they’re willing to eat just anything. As sturgeon fishing guides we get told a lot of stories; one of the ones that we’ve heard the most is how somebody’s great great grandpa left a dead chicken/opossum/goat etc. in the backyard under the hot sun for two weeks and then threw it out on a rope attached to a grappling hook and caught a sturgeon so big it took a team of six horses to pull it in!
Now it’s not too hard to imagine needing horses to pull in a sturgeon over 15 feet in length, especially back then, but the nasty rotten bait being used? That’s just not reality. Why? Because sturgeon like fresh food. Live, or recently killed prey have a higher nutritional value and certainly taste better than old nasty stuff. Our experience is that sturgeon want fresh bait, and the fresher the better. Some baits mentioned below are only available frozen, but they still produce well because they were quality baits when they were frozen and haven’t sat in the freezer forever.
Go-To sturgeon baits include: Squid, Smelt, Anchovies, Herring, Sand Shrimp, Shad, Night Crawlers, Salmon Eggs/Roe, Octopus, and Clams.
In the Columbia River Estuary, meaning the lower 20 miles of the Columbia River, anchovies and Sand Shrimp seem to be the best baits with some of the above-mentioned baits not getting even as much as a sniff from sturgeon. When you get outside of the estuary it seems like all of the baits catch their fair share of fish with some producing better than others during certain times and in certain areas.
To rig a bait you typically just stick the hook through its head or lower extremity with the hook point showing and then throw a couple half hitches of the leader around the upper part of the bait. If this doesn’t hold it securely, consider using some stretchy string to tie it down to the hook.
What is a guided sturgeon fishing trip like?
First and foremost, a sturgeon fishing trip is all about having fun! All of our sturgeon fishing on the lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers is catch and release only. Which means it’s a great fishery for people that don’t need to kill something to have a good time. Catching big fish and a lot of them is the ultimate goal!
Guided fishing trips are all about expectations. The coolest thing about Columbia River sturgeon fishing is … no matter how high your expectations are … it’s probably achievable, especially if you go during the right time of year. Dream big! Fish of that size do exist! And they definitely fight as hard as you hoped they would, maybe even harder! During our guided Columbia River sturgeon fishing trips, Total Fisherman Guide Service targets sturgeon primarily during the first half of the year, from January through July.
January through May finds us on the Willamette River and Columbia River near Portland Oregon. This is a time when we catch high numbers of fish with the average size being between 30 and 50 inches. Oversize sturgeon, meaning a fish over 5 feet in length, do show up in the catch but aren’t prolific. This time of year is all about numbers and a typical day means we are landing 25 to 50 or more fish for the boat.
June and July, finds us in the Columbia River Estuary out of Astoria Oregon fishing the tidal flats for big big sturgeon! This is in our opinion the best sturgeon fishing of the year. Columbia River sturgeon have migrated down from the Bonneville Dam area and have also migrated into the river from the Pacific Ocean to take advantage of the abundant food sources that the estuary has to offer.
Water temperatures are perfect, and the sturgeon have a high metabolism which means they are willing biters and incredibly hard fighters!
We prefer to catch these fish in relatively shallow water, from 4 to 12 feet deep. Sometimes shallower, and occasionally as deep as 35 feet. Either way it’s a light tackle show, meaning we are using heavy salmon rods and light lead to catch fish that average 55 to 65 inches in length.
A typical day sees us bring more than 20 sturgeon to the boat with several of them being over 5 feet in length and an occasional fish being 7 to 9 feet in length. Small fish in this area are 35 to 40 inches in length! Not small by anyone’s standard.
Nothing is better than casting out a 6 inch anchovy, setting the hook five minutes later, and seeing a 6 foot sturgeon blast skyward out of the Columbia River!
We love it here. Columbia River sturgeon fishing gets in your blood! For Columbia River Sturgeon Fishing Guides it’s not just something that you do, it’s something that you are, and we love sharing this with our customers.
Give us a call or shoot us an email. We love answering questions and we look forward to fishing with you or seeing you on the Columbia River!
The Total Fisherman Philosophy
We believe that:
- Spending your life doing something you love is the secret to happiness.
- Attention to detail and being absolutely driven, catches fish and creates success.
- A focused effort catches more fish and bigger fish. Just going through the motions is for other people.
- Spending extra time and effort toward making your day successful is important and makes a difference.
- We believe that cutting corners on expenses and effort isn't something you do, even if nobody else will know.
- We believe we should expect the most from every day on the water and hold ourselves to a higher standard.
- We should give back as much and as often as we possibly can.
- It's our job to act as stewards of the resource and as consummate professionals who know that our actions speak louder than words.
Giving 100% every day is the norm, because Buoy 10 or Estuary sturgeon or whatever season we happen to be in only comes around once a year, and in a few weeks it will be over. Let's be realistic ... every one of us has to have a last day on the water. We never know when that day will come, so we are absolutely going to make every day our best day.
We don't have gimmicks like "Fish Catch Guarantees". We won't tell you that we're catching 50 pound salmon every week, or tell you the fishing is red hot when it's not, or any of the other assorted things that guides tell prospective clients to get them on their boats. We're honest and we have integrity.
We provide high quality fishing trips at the median price for guides in the NW. We could charge more or we could charge less, but we don't want you to come fishing with us because your decision is based on price. We want you to come fishing with us because you think we run a first class operation, that we are going to treat you well, and because we catch fish.
We're not the Dollar Store of fishing guides and we certainly aren't the Four Seasons. Our pricing is middle of the road. We believe in charging enough so that we can use high quality equipment, maintain this equipment, and not have to cut corners. We also believe that charging the average price will hopefully allow you to come back more often.
We really take fishing seriously, it's our passion and we certainly want to catch fish just as much as you do; that's why we go during the best times to the best locations and spend extra time, effort, and money to make your trip the best that it can be. We want you to have a successful trip so you come back fishing with us, we also want to be successful so we maintain our reputation as top notch guides.
We take a lot of pride in our fish catching ability and we do everything in our power to put fish in the box, while at the same time having fun, and keeping you safe.
Our approach to life and to fishing isn't standard, and it would certainly be "easier" for us if we weren't worried about these things, but the easy route and the safe bet aren't what we're after. We care about you and we care about your experience on our boats.
We believe our customers, peers and fellow fishermen know that we hold this philosophy close to our hearts and that they know we are out there every day living it. We believe it's important to not let them down.
Kevin & Lacey - Total Fisherman