Southwestern Oregon’s Umpqua River has the second-largest tidewater (after the Columbia River), but at times while fishing there you almost think you’re in Alaska.
“It’s just kind of a cool place to spend the day,” said longtime area fishing guide Todd Harrington, who will sometimes drop crab pots while he fishes and take a lunch break in the town of Winchester Bay during the slow part of the bite.
Big white sturgeon typically will spawn in larger West Coast rivers but come to the Umpqua for one thing: abundant food.
Green sturgeon, which may spawn a bit here, also primarily show up for the endless buffet of shellfish and other foods the Umpqua delivers.
More white sturgeon are caught overall, but the greens show up in good numbers in the lower 10 miles during the late spring and early summer.
For some years now, both white and green sturgeon may not be harvested in the Umpqua system and throughout the Oregon Coast’s rivers and estuaries. Watch the ODFW website for additional updates.
Most sturgeon caught in the Umpqua are mature adults, and often giants, all of which must be released.
There aren’t as many of what sturgeon anglers who fish for keepers consider “shakers” (undersized fish) here as in the Columbia (which has occasional harvests), so the action isn’t as brisk but the catch rates for larger fish are excellent for anglers who know this fishery.
The lower Umpqua near Reedsport is between Florence to the north and Coos Bay farther south and is easily reached from good highways traveling west from Interstate 5, between Roseburg and the Eugene and Springfield areas.
The Umpqua, in ODFW’s Southwest Zone, is open for sturgeon angling all year. Bait is allowed in the tidewater zone where the sturgeon fishing is done. Only one single-point barbless hook may be used.
As mentioned, over the years the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission first banned the retention of green sturgeon, which at times are relatively common in the Umpqua system, and later prohibited the retention for white sturgeon as well.
Consult the current Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations booklet for various bag limits and angling rules for the Umpqua’s many other game species.
When to Go
Harrington said sturgeon fishing on the Umpqua is best at from late fall through spring, especially if the water temperature is at least 41 degrees and one of the following occurs:
- A good storm turns the runoff a chocolate brown and the water level is on the high side, which stirs up the mussels and clams in the lower estuary and also flushes down food from above. “That’s their dinner bell,” he said.
- Minus tides from April through June, because strong tides also churn up food sources.
As river flows drop, and particularly by mid-summer, the salinity level in the lower end of tidewater increases, allowing crabs to carpet the bottom.
Crabs will strip bait from hooks immediately, making sturgeon fishing tough even though the sturgeon are there.
If you try fishing when crab populations are high, at least try it during a strong tidal exchange, when crabs tend to hunker down, and expect to use lots of bait.
Also, salmon trollers take over the tidewater zone Aug. 15.
On a given day, Harrington said the best fishing often occurs in a three-hour window, roughly an hour and a half on either side of a low or high slack tide. However, catching sturgeon is possible on any tide.
Where to Fish Sturgeon
The Umpqua’s tidewater zone is about 20 miles from the mouth up to Scottsburg, with many of the favorite sturgeon spots in the lower portion of that area.
Harrington recommends anchoring in the areas around Buoys 12, 19 and 25, as well as near the Highway 101 Bridge (between Reedsport and Gardiner) and upriver off the Dean Creek State Wildlife Area, an elk-viewing spot.
Generally, stick to water that is 8 to 30 feet deep. The deepest holes in the Umpqua’s tidewater zone are less fruitful because they contain little food.
A good boat ramp in Reedsport is centrally located in the sturgeon-fishing area. Also, the ramp in Winchester Bay allows boaters to easily run up to the 12 and 19 buoy areas.
Smaller boats can be used to fish sturgeon safely in these areas, as long as their operators pay close attention to conditions.
While most sturgeon anglers use boats, there is a fairly productive bank-fishing area along Highway 38. Look for the large gravel area a couple miles east of the Umpqua Wayside.
How to Catch Sturgeon
Harrington said sturgeon coming to the Umpqua want one thing: the best bait available.
“It has to be fresh, not frozen,” he said. “You need to fish fillet mignon.”
For a sturgeon in the Umpqua, fillet mignon means live sand shrimp or freshly caught bait fish such as herring or sardines. Sand shrimp is most popular because it’s caught locally and always available fresh.
The Umpqua has a great shad run, but fewer sturgeon fishermen used these oversized herring cousins for bait here because the shad spawn so far upstream that they aren’t very often in the sturgeon diet.
However, Harrington has found that a strip of shad meat combined with a fresh sand shrimp works better than shad alone.
Harrington uses a 100-pound Dacron leader and a 65-pound braided mainline for sturgeon, with a heavy salmon rod. He recommends 5/0 to 7/0 hooks (must be barbless) and 3 to 8 ounces of weight, depending on conditions.
Want more instruction on how to catch these giant sport fish? Take a look at the simplified methods covered in our sturgeon fishing techniques article.
If All Else Fails
Sturgeon anglers fishing the Umpqua for the first time often make the mistake of moving around too much.
Instead, choose one of the areas Harrington recommends and stick it out.
Soaking good bait for a few hours will create a scent trail that often brings the sturgeon right to you. By moving around too much, you run the risk of never finding groups of fish.
“They’re like herds of cattle,” he said. “They just go around and graze.”
Find more Sturgeon fishing in Oregon
Guide Todd Harrington has guided on the Umpqua River since 1998, primarily through his Living Waters Guide Service. Harrington offers catch-and-release trips for smallmouth bass from March through November and also guides clients after salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, shad and striped bass.