To be a successful sturgeon angler, the gear you use is very critical. From my experience, you can fish the best sturgeon area on a given body of water, and still have poor success without the correct rod and reel setup. We will start with the rod, since that is the most important. Baitcasting gear is a must for sturgeon fishing. This is one species where it’s best to leave the spinning tackle at home. Because sturgeon don’t “hit and run” like some other fish, a rod with a soft tip yet plenty of backbone is needed. I recommend a rod in the 7-8′ length, in a medium-heavy power, preferably with a faster action. Essentially, a musky rod with a soft tip is perfect for the job. St. Croix makes several great rods suited for this application in the Premier Musky series.
The longer length of an 8′ rod serves many purposes. First of all, longer rods typically have softer tips than shorter rods. This is very important, since many sturgeon hits are detected visually, more so than by feel. Whether you like to hold the rod, or place it in a rod holder, you must pay careful attention to that telltale tapping of the rod tip.When you see this, it’s best to set the hook immediately, rather than let them take it. The bait is already in their mouth, and its important to reduce the risk of a swallowed hook. Second, a longer rod allows for quicker line pick-up in both the hook set, or when a sturgeon takes a run or jump. Finally, it is also more forgiving with the no-stretch braided lines that are recommended for this type of fishing.
Keep in mind that sturgeon can reach very large sizes and are typically found in areas of heavy current. This requires not only a heavier rod and reel setup, but the line used must be made to match. In terms of braided VS monofilament lines, braided is clearly the line of choice. Matching your line to the size of the fish in your body of water is usually the way to go, so in most cases, 50 – 80lb test is preferred. You don’t want to use too thin a braid however, as you run the risk of cutting off on structure. The no-stretch factor allows for instant, powerful hook sets, while the reduced line diameter allows you get you bait to the bottom in heavier current with less weight due to less drag and friction on the line. I use 80lb PowerPro as it is very smooth to cast and has incredible abrasion resistance.
As far as reels go, a reliable drag is a must. The reel must also have a spool large enough to hold at least 150 yards of heavy braided line. I would also recommend paying close attention to the gear ratio of the reel. A low gear ratio should be used to take advantage of the additional cranking power. A reel with a high gear ratio may not have adequate torque to bring in a big sturgeon. Choosing a reel in the 5.2:1 and lower range is ideal. Another consideration is to purchase a reel equipped with a power handle. This will make reeling in large fish much easier with considerably less fatigue on the angler. Finally, a line counter reel is a great tool for knowing precisely how close the fish is to the surface, and is excellent for ensuring your bait is exactly where you want it to be. Being able to read off to your boat partner when the fish is coming up to be landed can make the landing process much smoother. I’ve found the Shimano Tekota 500LC to be the ideal sturgeon reel. It has a powerful smooth drag system, plenty of line capacity, line counter, and a low gear ratio to allow for maximum torque.
Rigs & Bait:
Fishing for sturgeon is as basic as it gets. There are no expensive lures to buy, or complicated rigs to tie up. All you need is a quality ball bearing swivel, a sinker, a spool of heavy mono, and a large single hook. A sturgeon rig is nothing more than a heavy duty catfish rig, or even a modified lindy rig if you will. You’ll want your leader to be anywhere from 18 – 48″ depending on the amount of current you’re fishing. A good rule of thumb is to use a shorter snell for faster current. Experiment with what works best and you’ll find a length that works for you. For the snell, 40 – 50lb monofilament will work just fine. Tie the swivel to one end of your snell and your hook to the other. That’s essentially your rig. Select a sinker heavy enough to get you to the bottom. Typically this will be anywhere from 2 – 10oz. I prefer a no-roll sinker as its flat sides prevent rolling in the current, and it doesn’t seem to fray the line. Thread your main line through the sinker and tie directly to the swivel. Now all that’s left is to bait up the hook. Hook size depends on the bait you’re using but 3/0 – 6/0 are the most common sizes. Bait varies by region. Everything from cut bait, shrimp, and commercially available dough will work, however it’s hard to beat frozen minnows or nightcrawlers. Load up the hook and send it to the bottom!
Sturgeon are found in many rivers and lakes across Canada and the United States. Typically sturgeon favor areas of heavy current that are close to deeper water, particularly following the spawn which takes place in mid-May to the beginning of June when the water temps are in the mid-50’s. Depths vary greatly but begin your search looking for areas where sturgeon would spawn. Typically these areas will be rocky with a mix of large and small boulders located in current areas, in depths of 5-10′. Fish the deeper water around these areas and you will find your active fish. As the season progresses, the larger fish will typically move and spread out into deeper water. Generally this is indicated when the smaller fish move into the areas initially holding the larger fish. Seems as the large fish move deeper, the smaller sturgeon are spooked into the shallower areas. These fish can still be caught, all you have to do is find them. This can be accomplished by fishing current breaks or deeper holes. In many cases, you’ll be able to mark the sturgeon in these holes, or you’ll see them jumping. Why they do this is still a mystery, but it makes locating them very easy at times.
Handling and Release:
Sturgeon are literally living dinosaurs.Despite their large size and rough exterior, they are relatively fragile animals and great care should be give to avoid injury to the fish.To land sturgeon, a large treated landing net can be used, or they can simply be landed by hand.The easiest way to grab a sturgeon is to grab them at the base of the tail with one hand, and under the mid-section with the other.You don’t want to lift them up vertically by either the gills or the tail, as this can damage the spinal cord and result in delayed mortality to the fish.As with all fish, getting them back in the water quickly is critical, so a quick measure and photo session shouldn’t take more than a minute.These fish are very slow growing and take many years to mature, so it is extremely important to put these fish back so that we can all enjoy these tremendous fish for generations to come
Andrew Klassen guides the waters of Lake of the Woods, Winnipeg River and Red River in Ontario and Manitoba Canada for trophy channel catfish, sturgeon, northern pike & muskies. For more information please visit Andrew’s web site at andrewklassen.com.