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Summer Sturgeon Fishing !!!

By: Mark Wilson

Get the sturgeon rods ready! Exciting summer sturgeon fishing should continue again this coming summer. June and July are hot summer fishing months for sturgeon in Suisun and San Pablo Bays, including the Napa River. While other fishermen start chasing salmon in the ocean and halibut in San Francisco Bay, I spend time fishing for sturgeon in Suisun and San Pablo Bays on the larger tides.

Believe it or not! There is hardly any fishing pressure on the bays during June and July. But, the Napa River had quite a few sturgeon anglers last year because of the exceptional sturgeon bite that occurred there. And guess what? The STURGEON BITE has already started in Suisun and San Pablo Bays.

There is an enormous population of fish concentrated in the bays. The spring run is over and the spawners have returned to the bays with the rest of the local populations of sturgeon. During June and July the winds can be a factor, but with good planning, you can fish most or all of the morning hours, and some of the early afternoon hours, before getting blown off.

Here are a few of my personal tips:

Bait…Try the various sturgeon baits (grass shrimp, ghost shrimp, mud shrimp, pile worms, herring, roe, etc.) until a pattern can be developed. Two years ago the sturgeon wanted ghost shrimp. Last year, it was grass shrimp. Take along an assorted menu of sturgeon baits on the first few trips. Run a double hook and put different baits on each hook. After a day or two of fishing you will be able to tell which bait the sturgeon prefer (grass and ghost shrimps are the old standbys and dead ghost shrimp does catch fish). Or, you can take all the bait you think you might need. I personally like to use grass shrimp in Suisun Bay and ghost shrimp in San Pablo Bay. I do mix other baits occasionally.

Bait Shops…I reserve my bait at least a couple of days before my trip. I start locally in Sacramento, and then I contact Freeport, West Sacramento, Isleton, Lodi, Rio Vista, Antioch, Vallejo and any other bait shop that might meet my bait needs. Sturgeon bait can be scarce in the summertime. Sometimes I pick up my bait the night before, if it is local.

Rods…I prefer a rod in the 6-1/2' to 7-1/2' range, capable of handling 25# - 40# test (I use 30# test line for sturgeon). You are fishing for large fish, and in some cases, you will have to use heavier sinkers and fish in stronger currents.

Reels… I prefer a reel that has a smooth drag and can handle around 200 - 300 yards of 30# test line. Bait casting or conventional type reels, in my opinion, are smoother and easier to operate that a spinning reel. The drag should work well and the reel should be equipped with a "line out" alarm (clicker). A line guide on the reel is optional, pending personal preference.

Line…The line should be of good quality, fairly new and should test out between 25# to 40#.

Sinkers…I use between 3 oz. - 16 oz. depending upon the current and water depth I'm fishing in.

Leader…My personal preference is a 50# test, good quality, monofilament line or leader. I run the leader length at approximately 18" to 20" to hold the bait closer to bottom without moving and swishing around.

Hooks… I use three different styles of hooks. I use a 5/0 to 7/0 octopus style hook for ghost shrimp, mud shrimp, pile worms and herring. I use a 5/0 to 7/0 kahle or big bend styles hook for grass shrimp. And, I use a treble hook for roe. When I am first exploring which bait to use, I start with a double sturgeon hook setup, where the hooks are on a loop, back to back, with a bead between them. The bead keeps the baited hooks separate of each other. Keep the hooks SHARP! I do not use thread, but thread is optional depending upon personal preference.

Note: Cover the hooks well with the bait.

Boat…The boat should be large and safe enough to handle any bay winds that might come up. Both Suisun and San Pablo Bays can get rough with 15-25 mph winds against the current. Don't gamble on the weather and winds if you are not used to open bay fishing.

Tides…Try and fish the big tides around a full moon and new moon. Look for the dirtiest water if you are fishing shallow. I mean, really dirty, muddy, silty and etc. Fish deeper (25' to 45') on the slower part of the big tides. When the tide is running full, move to shallower water (3' to 15'). Lessor tides on the 1st and 3rd quarter moons will give you less of a chance of catching a sturgeon. I like tides that have at least 4' of movement at the Golden Gate. The sturgeon usually bites the best at the beginning and ending of big tides, whether it is on the top or the bottom of the tides. Exception…The sturgeon can bite throughout the big tides in the shallower parts or mudflats in the bays.

Starting in the early morning, try and fish the last of a big outgo and the first of a big income. The winds (prevailing south to southwesterly) are less early in the morning. When the winds start picking up, the tide has changed to income; the wind should now be at your back. This planning makes the bays a little flatter when the wind is going with the current and will give you a little more fishing time.

Locations…Suisun Bay - Fish the current breaks created by islands and sandbars. Also fish the slopes into deeper water from a sandbar. Try and target 20' to 25' around the sandbars in Suisun Bay. Around the Mothball Fleet in Suisun Bay, you can fish deeper water to 40' or more with success.

San Pablo Bay - I like the edge of the shipping channels on the slower parts of the big tides. Then, I move into shallow water, from 3'- 15' on the harder part of the big tides. I'm looking for real murky, roily water. Keep away from the cleaner looking water. You will be bothered by junk fish like croakers, brown sharks, bullheads, and small stripers. Buoys 5 - 7 south of the "pumphouse" is a good place to fish on the softer part of the tides. Up by the rock wall across from Rodeo is good. The 25' to 30' water right outside Rodeo can be good also. My personal preference is fishing in the dirtiest water of the north side flats between Sonoma Creek and the Petaluma River.

Use a depth/fish finder to find your depths. They will show fish also.

Techniques…I fish a "balanced" rod most of the time. Sometimes, though, I place the rod in a rod holder, the reel is in free spool, with the "clicker" on. I cast a long distance from the boat because sturgeon can be spooky. Watch the rod for any twitching, pumping, or just plain start to leave the boat. In any case, be ready to set the hook hard. Remember, the slower the bite, the bigger the fish. Junk bites will give you a fast rattle and or banging of the rod tip. This bite is not what you are looking for. If the junk fish are eating you up, move to another location.

Boat Ramps…I use only two boat ramps to launch my boat for San Pablo Bay. One is the Vallejo City Public Launch Site across from Mare Island on the Napa River. The other is Loch Lomond in San Rafael. There are other launch sites close to San Pablo Bay located on the Petaluma River under Highway 37, at China Camp off of Highway 101, and at Richmond City Launching facility.

For Suisun Bay, I launch at McEvoys or Harris Marine in West Pittsburg. Or, I launch at the Martinez boat ramp. There are other boat ramps located in Suisun City and Benecia that are close to Suisun Bay also.

Again, the sturgeon bite in the bays has started. Be careful, practice safe boating techniques and go catch a summer sturgeon.

As my sturgeon trips progress, I will report the action in the FishinReport.com's Sacramento Valley section.

      Good Luck,     Mark Wilson

         Practice catch and release!




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