The white sturgeon is sought as a tough-fighting sport fish, and for their white boneless meat. The Sacramento River and adjoining tributaries are the primary spawning grounds for the white sturgeon population. The Sacramento River is the largest river in the state of California. The 375-mile-long river drains 26,300 square miles of the northern Central Valley. The river begins at the base of Mount Shasta, 60 miles north of Redding and ends joining the San Joaquin River emptying into the Suisun Bay which is north of the San Francisco Bay.
The white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus) ranges from Alaska to Ensenada, Mexico, but in California exists primarily in the Sacramento River region and the San Francisco Bay area. Fisherman can only catch legally the white sturgeon. Its close cousin the green sturgeon has been placed on the endangered species list. The white sturgeon has a large head with a wide and toothless mouth that has four barbels or barbs protruding on either end of the mouth. The body has no scales but scutes. Scutes surround the body like armor. In general the sturgeon is the oldest species of fish in the world going back 200 million years. The white sturgeon grows to lengths of 20 feet and reaches weights approaching one ton, making this fish the largest North American freshwater fish. Fish coloration ranges from light gray to dark gray, light brown and an olive color with white bottoms.
When to Fish
During spawning season a majority of the adults head up the Sacramento River to spawn during the months from February to late May. You might also find sturgeon in the upper parts of the San Joaquin River and the Feather River. Spawning will take place in rocky areas with swift currents north of Sacramento in the town Knights Landing to 55 miles north around Colusa, California. The fish are very aggressive due to spawning and will grab the bait ferociously. They will stay in the area till June and then head back down the river to the delta area of the Sacramento River. Fish will hang out till fall in the delta around Antioch, Suisun Bay and the Glomar Buoys. After the fall the large adults return to the sea. During the fall and the winter on the Sacramento River the sturgeon head to the deeper channels of the river.
Sturgeon feed on the bottom. Once you drop your bait in the river stay for about 30 minutes. If you receive no bites then change location. To catch them use fresh bait like fresh craw fish, a gob of worms, fresh shad or any small bait fish. Attach the bait to a size 5/0 or 6/0 hook and let it sit on the bottom of the river in a deep trough in fast-running water.
When fishing the Sacramento River area, use navigation charts to find the deep channels. In Suisun Bay in the delta area these channels will be near the shipping channels but off to the side. Use a seven- to nine-foot pole, preferably all one piece. You will need line that can withstand 90 pounds and a reel that can hold up to 300 yards of line. After hooking your sturgeon monster be aware that they will run first deep and then to the surface. Once at the surface they typically tail walk, shaking their heads from side to side. They also have a spin move in which they try to spin and cut the line with their scutes.
White Sturgeon Regulations
No season exists for white sturgeon in the Sacramento River region. You can take white sturgeon all year long with these exceptions: Daily bag limit of one white sturgeon per day, three fish per year statewide, a size limit of no fish under 46 inches and no fish larger than 66 inches. All sturgeon caught must be by pole and line only; no gaffs, firearms, and nets may be used and there is also no trolling allowed.