Sturgeon Fishing in Northern California

So, you’ve decided to go after sturgeon. Good luck with that.


That’s not to dissuade you from trying, but you should know that sturgeon are the largest freshwater fish in North America—these prehistoric beasts can grow to be a whopping 1000 pounds. They thrive in the brackish waters of saltwater bays, deltas, lakes, and rivers. The Sacramento River, San Francisco Estuary, San Pablo Bay, and California Delta are all great places to look for sturgeon. You can even catch sturgeon off of a pier in the San Francisco and Humboldt Bays. Though there are many different species of sturgeon, white and green sturgeon are native to California and can often be found coexisting in the same habitat.


Open season is all year long, though experts would recommend the ideal time is the beginning of winter through early summer when the waters are the murkiest. Sturgeon like to hang out in deeper areas of estuaries. Like many other fish, sturgeon move from saltwater to freshwater to spawn. They reach maturity after 15 years. This may seem like a long time, but it makes more sense when you realize how long they live—sturgeon can live to be 100 years old, and older. Even so, the fact that they have a late sexual maturity and only spawn every 2 to 4 years has left the sturgeon population particularly vulnerable. The survival of the species relies largely on conservation efforts.


High-quality bait is important if you’re looking for sturgeon. They have a strong sense of smell and taste, and are able to find even the tiniest pieces of bait. But they won’t accept just anything you give them; it better be fresh if you want them to bite. Sturgeon are highly sought after due to their elusive nature. They’re very large and tough to reel in because they put up a hell of a fight. Though they’ve been known to bite soft, fighting a sturgeon is no easy feat. They’ll jump, struggle, and run for the hills. All you can do is hold on tight, wait for them to tire, and reel in your catch.


There are many sturgeon regulations you should be aware of. First and foremost, you’ll need a sport fishing license (this will cost you between $40 and $110 depending on your resident status) and a sturgeon report card. Anglers are required to write the date, time, location, and length on a tag after retaining a white sturgeon. You can only take white sturgeon between 40 and 60 inches from nose to tail. The bag limit is one white sturgeon per day, and three per year. Possession limit is one fish and only single barbless hooks may be used—snares are prohibited. There are certain spots where you can’t take white sturgeon, like Yolo Bypass, Toe Drain Canal, and the Tile Canal upstream of Lisbon Weir. Green sturgeon are a totally different story from white sturgeon—they may not be removed from the water at all. If you accidentally reel one in thinking it’s a white sturgeon, it should be released immediately.


Unregulated fishing of sturgeon in the 19th century almost drove them to extinction, so current regulations should be adhered to loyally. If you plan to book a guide or charter to fish sturgeon, they’ll be able to give you in-depth information all about the do’s and don’ts of sturgeon sport fishing. The white sturgeon takes the prize as California’s largest resident fish, and should thus be respected throughout your exhilarating fight.

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