I hit the lower Willamette River this past Saturday (day before Cinco de Mayo) with the plan being to split the day between sturgeon and bass. I was anchored up and fishing by 7:00am. I felt I had anchored up in the perfect spot where I was sitting right on the edge of an eddy. I figured the fish would be stacked up right along the current seam. After a ½ hour of no action I realized my original idea was wrong, but I decided to toss into the middle of the eddy before giving up on the spot.
That was a good decision. Within a minute of my anchovy hitting the bottom I felt that familiar tap, tap, tap. I started reeling hard to set the circle hook and I knew I had a good fish on! I was using a new Okuma rod with my Shimano Cardiff 400 reel. The drag was peeling and the rod was doing its job.
After a good battle I was able to wrestle this nice keeper sized up to the kayak.
I cast back out again and in very short order I had another great fighter on. Man those fish fought like demons on Sunday! After about a 10 minute battle I was able to bring the fish alongside the kayak. This fish looked to about 5’, maybe an inch or two less.
I tossed back out and wham, another big fish on! I was leaning on that rod hard, keeping as much pressure as I could on that fish.
I knew this was a huge fish. After about 15 minutes I finally got the fish moving off the bottom, I see bubbles, I am feeling good when all of a sudden that fish makes a tremendous power dive, the drag is screaming as it dives for the bottom. I give everything I have got to try and stop the fish. I am pushing hard on the reel handle when disaster hits. The gears start slipping on the reel. Here is what happened:
The handle assembly pulled out of the reel! I have not taken the reel apart to see what happened. I am guessing a retaining clip broke. Well, I still have the fish on. So I fight it in by using my thumb to hold the spool while I pump the fish up. On the drop I push the reel handle against the side plate to get it to catch just enough to wind in the low tension line. After what seemed like an eternity I get the fish back to the surface. It is about a 5.5’ fish. With the broken reel it is all I can do to get it unhooked.
I look at my destroyed reel and sigh. I pedal over and take my wounded warrior up to the truck. Fortunately I had brought my Tiger Stik/Saltist combo for backup. I get the big rod out and I am ready for revenge.
I anchor back up and catch nice keeper sized after nice keeper sized. A bunch of fish in the 4’ range and they all fight just incredibly hard. Every fish I hook takes a good chunk of line from a tight drag. A lot of fish in this size range:
I was having a great day and I did could not imagine it getting better. I tightened up on another fish and I was immediately hammered with a series of monstrous head shakes and then that fish took off like a rocket.
Each time I got over top of the fish and started to lift it would respond with a long sizzling run. (I know it is weird to use sizzling run for sturgeon, but this was one hot fish). Finally, after a hard 20 minute battle I was able to get the fish to the side of the kayak. Thanks to a fellow name Jeff for stopping on his jet ski to watch the battle and take a picture. He said that for a while he thought I was just hung on the bottom. This picture is deceptive, the fish looks small here due to the angle, but based upon my reach measurement it was about 6’ long and had the ugliest and most beat up lip I have seen on a sturgeon.
The good bite lasted until almost noon. I was really surprised since the outgoing ended around 10am. After the bite had slowed down (it never stopped completely) I got to chat with some nice guys in a boat who anchored up nearby. I lowered my last anchovy down and it soaked for a while when a fish just picked it up and swam off. No nibbling, no messing around. I tightened up on the fish and it was not happy. I felt some massive head shakes and then it took off. I clamped down and the line snapped. I had noticed the line was a little frayed after the previous fish, but I was lazy and did not re-tie since it was my last bait. I paid the price with the loss of a big fish.
So between 7am and 1pm I landed 15 sturgeon: 3 oversized, 10 in the slot and two good sized shakers. The smallest fish I caught all day was well over 30”, many of the keepers were towards the upper end of the slot. When I pulled up anchor at 1pm I was pretty tired (and was sore the next day).
I decided that since it was early I would give the smallmouth a try. The wind made the fishing tough and I fished from about 1pm-5:30pm and only caught one little one for all that effort.
Still, I left the river completely satisfied. I did not realize how tired I was until I pulled my loaded kayak up the ramp. I was exhausted, but I just could not stop grinning like an idiot the whole drive home.
Fish tremble when they hear my name
A ship in harbor is safe -- but that is not what ships are built for.
--John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928