(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

(map courtesy of Wikipedia)

New Year’s Day 2014 – I was up early to make the roughly 5 hour drive to the Bay Area to meet up with Capt. Sean Daugherty and do some sturgeon fishing.  Sean and I met this summer at ICAST.  I found out he guided and he invited me to come up to fish.  I really wanted to connect to salmon fish with him, but our schedules never worked out.  When salmon season came and went, Sean suggested sturgeon fishing.

I’ve always been intrigued by these prehistoric looking fish, and jumped at the opportunity to do it.  When targeting these fish, you are looking for conditions where a lot of water is flowing.  As it turns out, New Year’s Day was going to be the biggest day of the year in flow from low to high and vice versa, so we settled on the date.

We met at Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael at 10am.  Sean had his skiff in the water ready to go when I arrived.  San Pablo Bay is an estuary on the northern end of San Francisco Bay.  It’s where the freshwater flowing out from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers meets the saltwater of the Pacific Ocean (so semi-salty 😉 ) .  I was surprised to find how shallow it was.  Over the course of the day it never got deeper than about 13 feet and was dramatically lower by day’s end.  Sean’s fishing buddy Dave and his girlfriend Soon joined us for the trip.

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Sean told me he had nice gear, so I didn’t bother to bring any of my own.  His arsenal included rods from Calstar, Seeker and G Loomis.  Reels were a mix of Penn, Shimano, and Accurate.  All the rods had a pretty low line rating.  Mine was a Calstar GX8, rated only 8-20.  All the rigs were setup the same…50 lb. braid to a clip swivel with 80 lb. mono leaders.  We used pyramid style sinkers on a sliding clip above the swivel.  The pyramid sinkers work well here on the muddy flats of this bay.  The mono leader was terminated with a special 7/0 hook to match our bait of live mud shrimp that are resident to this area and a favorite of the target fish.  We also had smaller grass shrimp as an alternative bait.

It was a short ride out from the marina to the fishing grounds and we anchored up in about 10 feet of water.  It was pretty slow for the first couple hours.  We found ourselves in a slack tide condition, so no water was moving and the fish weren’t biting.

Around 2pm though, conditions started to change and water started flowing.  Soon was the first to capitalize and connected on a nice legal sized striped bass.   Not long after, she did it again and caught a “shaker” sized sturgeon (under the minimum size of 40 inches).  Then she did it again with another shaker…all on the grass shrimp.

Before we released Soon’s shakers, Sean took a moment to show me the fish and explain how they feed.  Sturgeon have very poor eyesight.  In this muddy water, they don’t really need it (I tried to take some underwater video and you can’t see a thing).  They rely on their sense of smell and being able to sense movement in the water.  They have catfish-like barbels and their head is packed with highly sensitive nerve endings that help them find their food.  Their mouth is bottom facing and has no teeth.  The mouth has a tongue and a hard palate on the roof that they use to smash their food before swallowing.  The bite is very subtle.  They suck in the food first which given the braid and soft rod tip, gives you an indicator the bait is in play.  You wait to feel that they’ve started to “chew” and then swing hard to set the hook in their leathery mouth.

I was fishing the mud shrimp.  Noting Soon’s success, I was about to switch out.  Sean said, “Stay patient.  You want to fish the mud shrimp.”  As soon as Sean said that, that’s pretty much when all hell broke loose.  First he gets bit, then as he’s fighting that fish, I get bit.  Sean’s was a keeper fish at the upper range of the slot (max size is 60 inches).  

Mine was a substantial fish.  When it first surfaced it left a huge swirl in the water that gave us all an OMG moment.  Since there was no structure (other than the boat) to jeopardize the line integrity, I just hung on and enjoyed the ride.  After about 15 minutes, he was tired and surfaced again near the boat.  Wow.  It looked like a crocodile in the water.  Sean boated the fish and measured it.  It was still squirmy, but it was clearly overslot.  It was about 6 feet long!  We took pics, and it was safely released.  

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Capt. Sean helps me lift the big fish

We caught a few more fish to end the day.  Soon got 2 more keeper size fish.  I got one keeper, a shaker and a short striper to the end the day.  We caught 8 sturgeon and 2 striped bass.  Four keeper sturgeon total, so boat limits had we kept them.  However, all the sturgeon were released.  Most of them we didn’t even take out of the water.  We were very careful in handling the big fish to get the hero shot and quick to get it back in the water.

It was truly an exceptional day of fishing.  Thank you Sean!  If you’d like to fish with Capt. Sean, he can be contacted at CaptSeanD@gmail.com

 

 

 

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