White sturgeon are the largest gamefish found in Oregon, and one of the largest anywhere in the world. Anglers frequently catch and release sturgeon of 10 feet or more on the Columbia River.
A sturgeon's diet includes fish, clams, eels, worms and other foods. Common baits include smelt, shad, sand shrimp and squid, among others. Sturgeon seldom move through fish ladders and over waterfalls, unlike salmon and steelhead. But sturgeon with clear access to the ocean move between fresh and salt water, often moving out of the Columbia in the search for food and back to spawn.
Lately white sturgeon numbers have been on the decline, due to factors that include diminished food supplies and increased predation by sea lions. But there still are active (and often excellent) fisheries in the Columbia and Willamette rivers and in a number of coastal estuaries.
Currently, the limit for coastal waters is one sturgeon per day and five per year. To be keeper size, the fish must be from 38 and 54 measured from the tip of the nose to the fork (V-shaped notch) in its tail.
The Columbia and Willamette sturgeon fisheries are managed on a quota system, and different sections of the Columbia (including reservoirs) have different open dates and quotas. Fork length requirements also can vary. Check the ODFW website for current regulations before sturgeon fishing.
There also are green sturgeon in Oregon, especially in coastal estuaries, but populations are depressed and green sturgeon of any size must be released unharmed.
Here are the state's best white sturgeon fishing spots:
The Columbia is far and away Oregon's largest sturgeon fishery, or we should say "fisheries," because there are many.
The estuary and river below Portland offer abundant clams and other food for sturgeon, which are found here in the highest numbers starting in about May or June. Catches continue well into July when allowed.
The Columbia above Portland, including the Columbia River gorge, offer very good spring fishing. Many of the river's largest sturgeon spawn below Bonneville Dam. Catch and release fishing for those "oversized" fish as well as for keepers gets going in March or April, with good fishing continuing into early summer. October can also offer good fishing here. The gorge offers some of the Portland area's better bank angling for sturgeon.
The reservoirs upriver have their own quotas. The Bonneville Pool, in the gorge area, has a stable sturgeon popular and has become very popular in recent years. Due to increased pressure, the quota disappears quickly. In 2012, ODFW split the quota by allowing some of the fish to be caught at the beginning of the year, when the concentrate in the lower pool, and then saving the remainder of the quota for June.
The Dalles and John Day pools have smaller quotas. In recent years, the keepers have been taken during the first half of the year or so.
This largest tributary of the lower Columbia River offers abundant sturgeon habitat in its deep lower reaches, a roughly 26-mile stretch from the mouth near Portland and Vancouver upriver to Willamette Falls between Oregon City and West Linn.
There are sturgeon in the Willamette year-round, but the highest numbers are found here from fall through early spring.
Due to recent decreases in the quota, the numbers of days when harvest is allowed in the Willamette has fallen dramatically. In 2012, ODFW permitted anglers to keep fish on only two days in February.
Catch and release fishing is often very good when keeper fishing isn't allowed. Take note of the sanctuary below Willamette Falls, where some sturgeon spawn.
The Willamette above the falls has at times been planted with sturgeon, and they can still be caught in a few of the deeper holes. But the catch is very modest.
Sturgeon likely visit almost every Oregon estuary in search of clams, shrimp and other foods. The numbers of fish are often best during the winter through early spring, although sturgeon may be found here anytime of the year.
Here are some of the most popularly fished spots, listed north to south:
- Nehalem Bay: This is a relatively small fishery that the locals like to keep on the hush-hush, but you can catch sturgeon in the bay proper and up into tidewater stretch above the town of Nehalem to where the North Fork Nehalem comes in, and also up farther in the Barn Hole.
- Tillamook Bay: The northern Oregon Coast's largest bay often produces the most reliable sturgeon fishing outside of the Columbia system. Sturgeon are found throughout the bay, with the West Channel a popular spot. Beware of getting caught on the sand flats at low tide. Into summer, when the river flows decrease and the bay is saltier and full of crabs, anglers in the know move into the lower Tillamook River. There's a dock above Bay Ocean Road and also bank access along Frazier Road.
- Yaquina Bay: The tidewater above Newport, including the Toledo area, are increasingly popular among sturgeon anglers.
- Siuslaw Bay: This is a modest sturgeon fishery, and often ignored. In fact, most sturgeon caught here in the Florence area some years come when the bay's great chinook run is going strong in September and October.
- Winchester Bay: The Umpqua River estuary can be among the best fisheries on the Oregon Coast, although catches vary widely year to year. There can be large numbers of green sturgeon closer to the ocean, so know your fish and release all greens unharmed.
- Coos Bay: Oregon's largest bay doesn't get a ton of attention among sturgeon anglers, but those who work at it have a fair shot at them.
For current regulations, consult the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's annual regulations booklet or website.