BOB MAINDELLE: Catch the biggest freshwater fish in North America | Outdoor sports

In last week’s column, I described the first of two days of fishing my wife and I went on when we visited Oregon to see a plethora of waterfalls and in the process cross something off the list of my wife’s things to do.

This first trip, made with professional fishing guide Jeremy Eubank of Stotts’ Fishing, targeted walleye and smallmouth bass in the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington.

Our second and final day of fishing, also guided by Eubank, was quite different. Instead of a large number of small game, we set out in pursuit of the largest freshwater game in North America, the white sturgeon.

Our 8 hour trip started at 6:45 am As with walleye and smallmouth fishing, we fished a stretch of river between McNary Dam upstream and John Day Dam downstream, our efforts focusing on the body of water located less than one kilometer downstream. McNary Dam in 30 to 60 feet of water.

After a long closure from May to the end of August to allow the sturgeon to spawn, the season reopened on September 1.

The sturgeon is a benthic species which collects at the bottom of the river all that is edible. Since the Columbia River is host to a number of migratory species that live in saltwater but spawn in freshwater, and since fish ladders allow these species to pass around various dams, sturgeon has a choice of several food options during an annual cycle.

American Shad, Rainbow Trout, King Salmon, and Lamprey are all abundant migrants that provide food for sturgeon. Eubank was therefore ready to offer cut baits made from these different species.

Plus, he brought another favorite sturgeon bait – pickled squid.

As with any way of fishing for any species, we first had to locate the fish. This is where Eubank’s years of experience came in. We focused on the topography of the bottom which reduced the strength of the current which was much stronger in this area than in the areas we fished further downstream the day before.

Like the catfish, the sturgeon locate its prey primarily by smell using organs embedded in its nose and in barbs located near its tube-shaped mouth.

We were limited by regulations to fishing one rod per angler, so after anchoring with a heavy and strong stainless steel anchor and chain, we set up three rods with a mix of baits.

About eight ounces of weight was needed to hold the baits to the bottom and prevent excessive arching from developing in the lines.

Once the baits were impaled on 7/0 hooks attached to 30 inch monofilament leaders, the rods were placed in rod holders and the wait began.

Our first strike came quickly. We all kept a close and constant watch on the braided line tips and rods to telegraph any bites we received, so we all jumped into action once the first fish hit.

Although not required, Eubank uses barbless circle hooks to eliminate collateral damage caused by barbs and J-hooks.

It was the ladies first after Eubank put the hook on with a long side sweep of the rod. He handed my wife the stiff, thick rod, which looked more like something you might see used in chasing saltwater species.

It was all she could do to hold the rod with both hands as the fish resisted capture by digging to the bottom. Every now and then the fish would give way and allow him to make a few turns on the handle of the reel. This went on for several minutes, during which time we placed a combat belt over her, secured with a hook-and-loop closure behind her back and around her waist.

Due to my wife’s small frame, the combat belt moved the rod and reel too far forward for it to be ergonomically positioned correctly, so we quickly reverted to standing combat with no props.

After several minutes, the fish approached the surface, allowing Eubank to grab the leader and control the sturgeon.

This first fish was just under 4 feet long, and after her scuffle with this fish, Rebecca was exhausted.

We wondered what an entanglement with an even bigger fish could look like.

We moved every time we were without action for about 20 minutes. Until 10 a.m. I landed three other smaller sturgeons as well as two 5-6 pound blue catfish.

Around 10:30 am, things really started to move quickly. Another boat anchored about 100 yards to the north hooked up a fish about 4.5 feet long. A few minutes after this event, the rod and reel on the port side of our boat collided. I took the rod in hand and was waiting for another shot before putting the hook when held in the starboard rod holder, a Penn Squall 40LD bolted to an Edge HLR71050-1, a conventional 7ft 10in rod , was affected. hard.

As I had yet another rod in hand, Eubank placed the hook on the starboard rod and connected. I put the rod I was holding in the rod holder and grabbed the rod with the hooked fish. It was a very big fish.

Meanwhile, the other boat near us caught a second fish, and our second and third rods were both hit. Our plate being already full, Eubank chose to roll up the other two lines and concentrate on the hanging fish.

I had a hard time controlling the fish, partly because of the power of the fish, and partly because I really didn’t have much experience with such heavy gear. The fight was extraordinary. It reminded me of being off Mustang Island in South Texas and hanging out on a big yellowfin tuna.

With my left arm gripping the padded top handle of the cane, all I could do was hang on. I realized that my right arm wasn’t really “in the fight” as it mostly turned the reel handle on the rare occasion when the fish changed angles and gave a few inches of line.

I tried putting both hands on the front grip, slowly raising the rod to gain some thread, then quickly moving my right hand towards the handle of the reel to wrap until the tip of the rod was at. again near the water, then I repeated this process and started to progress little by little.

With barbless hooks it is essential to maintain constant pressure on the line so when coiling I had to avoid dropping the tip of the rod suddenly. Doing so would risk allowing the ring hook to dislodge, and would also allow the fish to adopt a stinging attitude and allow the current to help them move up to the bottom.

This give and take lasted for what seemed like an eternity until, finally, beneath the surface of the clear, green water, I could see the lighter coloring of the fish’s nose and the leading edges of the fish. its pectoral fins. The leader was almost close enough that Eubank grabbed him.

As the last seconds of the fight passed, I walked towards the bow of the boat from the port position I had been in for most of the fight. Eubank was able to grab the leader, then immediately rolled the fish onto its left side and grabbed the sturgeon by the mouth. He then inverted the fish, at which point he became completely docile, allowing me to grab the fish by the mouth.

We left the ring hook in place while we worked on taking quick, quality photos of the fish without ever taking them out of the water to ensure their safe release.

We measured the fish, which Eubank estimated at 100 pounds, from the tip of its nose to the fork of the tail. The fish measured 64 inches. It was the second largest fish I had ever landed in a lifetime of fishing, and the largest fish I had ever caught in freshwater.

The ring hook slipped easily out of the leathery mouth, then I started to rotate the fish into the belly down position. Instantly, the fish sprang to life, and with a single, powerful swipe of its tail, rang to the bottom as its gray form disappeared into the green depths. Unbelievable!

As the adrenaline started to subside, I realized I was sweaty. My polarized glasses were fogged up, I was dripping with sweat, my hands were red, my forearms were outstretched, and I had a sore spot between my belt and my left thigh where I had planted the butt of the rod for most of it. of the fight.

We had caught what we had come for, a giant white sturgeon from the Columbia River. The next 90 minutes were trivial. It was as if someone had flipped a light switch after that crazy 15 minute spike in activity.

Between Rebecca’s condition, my satisfaction with such a big catch, and the slowing bite, we decided to take a lunch break and then spend our last two hours on the Columbia chasing walleye and bass at small mouth.

Each year, I commit to moving away from my comfort zone of working Central Texas reservoirs for white bass and hybrid striper to explore other fisheries with other guides. This is my self-imposed form of continuing education.

Some of the things I was exposed to again on this trip included reading the current, anchoring considerations, using a bottom bumper platform, and dozens of little sightings and Navigation and navigation tips that will find their way back into my own operations and make me and my clients more efficient and successful in the years to come, God willing.

About Marco C. Nichols

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