Monday, November 25, 2013

How to fish for Shortnose Sturgeon in New Brunswick

This year has been very much a learning experience and I've learned a ton, especially with sturgeon fishing at our local hotspot called "Sturgeon Alley". After spending many hours with limited to no success and talking to others, I've finally figured out the tricks to make a sturgeon hunt as successful as possible. These hints are what I have found to work for me, they are not intended to be seen as a lecture on the right way versus the wrong way to fish. I certianly have seen others in boat fishing sturgeon with different techniques than described here with success, so one size may not fit all!

Here are a few of the sturgeon I've caught in the last few months. Even Fynn, my 6 year old has caught a couple now as well!

Recently I've had afternoon's or evenings in kayak where I have landed 5, 6, 10, and even 16 sturgeon in a few hours! With sucess rates like this, I know I must be doing something right.

My technique is to use a medium/heavy rod, and a low profile bait caster reel spooled with 40 pound braid. The braid is very likely far stronger than I'd need, but I'd rather strong versus weak just in case the very rare large Atlantic is lurking out there. For a 6 or 8 foot fish you want to have a strong line! Also, the scutes on the sturgeon are very sharp. If you hook one, and he is a fighter, he could very well rub your line across his body and if your unlucky, cut the line! Finally I like to use braid as it has no stretch and that is quite useful here for setting the hook.

Check out how sharp these protruding bones are... they could easily slice a 15 pound mono line!

Anyhow, at the end of the braid, I use a fairly strong snap swivel, and then about 3 feet of 40 pound mono for my leader. On the leader I use 2 hooks, the first at the end of the leader and the second about half way up. For hooks I use 3/0 or 4/0 red mustad hooks.

The key to sturgeon fishing is to get the bait down to the bottom, so I use the snap from another snap swivel to put a pair of 1 ounch triangle weights onto the braid above the snap swivel. This lets the weights slide freely up and down the line and doesn't affect the sensitivity of when a fish is taking the bait.

Once your line is rigged up you want to get some nice juicy nightcrawlers on your hooks. Now, you can basically throw your line out, let it sink, and then let the waiting game begin.

So up till this point, everything I have said is bascially common knowledge for anyone who has fished for sturgeon before. So now for the hints.

First, make sure to completely cover your hook. Sturgeon have next to no eyesight and use those catfish like hairs under their nose to sense their food. If they sense the metal, they are less likely to go for the bait... at least that's my experience.

Another key one that most people don't do is to have 2 hooks on the leader. I have actually caught 2 sturgeon this year, without hooking them at all, but rather lasoo'ing them! The 2 hooks somehow have twice wrapped around the sturgeon and hooked back around the leader effectively making a noose! Typically the 2 hooks help to really increase the number of fish you jig through the fin, nose, back.... etc, but being about to catch a fish without hooking them at all is great for the fish! You could have 3 hooks, but then your really going to run through your bait fast, and you could get more in tangles than makes it worth it. 2 works great for me.

Next, tight lines! Keep the rod in your hand and keep the line tight. You want to really feel for any fish nibbling, swimming by and knocking into the line and so on. Sturgeon can bite hard, but they can alse be amazingly soft. You may have your bait in the sturgeon's mouth and not even realize it unless you are holding the rod and feeling for it.

Related to the last hint, don't cast far. I never cast more than 5 or 10 feet from my kayak, and often times just drop my line directly under me. The less line you have out, the more sensitive your line is, and the better you can set your hook.

I find the best time to fish is the 2 hours before and after high slack tide. I typically don't even bother outside that window anymore. So when is high slack tide at sturgeon alley? About 4 hours 10 minutes after high slack tide in Saint John according to this website: Saint John Tides.

Now here's the key hint... don't wait for a bite! If your line has been out for 2 - 3 min, lightly lift the rod from horizontal to 45 degrees. If it brings up into something solid, lift it hard up to 90 degrees and then start reeling! I would estimate about 1/2 of the sturgeon I've caught this year have been this way. By doing this, and especially with the pair of hooks on your leader, you really increase your chance of setting the hook in a fish that is sucking the worm off softly, or jigging one that is sniffing around but not biting. I've caught 48 inch sturgeon this past couple weeks that I never knew were there till I did exactly this trick.

If you are like me and fish from a kayak, you may have a moment of panic if you hook a big one, get it next to your kayak and think... what now? What you don't want to do is lift it out of the water by the hook. I lost a potential 48 incher just that way the other night... DOH! What you want to do is grab the line with you hand (wear gloves), and get your rod back in a rod holder or out of the way. Then manouver the line so that the stugeon's tail is within reach. The scutes (bone protrusions) are not sharp back by the tail and he is not at all slippery so it's easy to get a good grip. Get a hold of him at the tail and lift from there as your primary point of leverage, then lift the line as well as you need. I have found even for the 4 foot sturgeon, I have little trouble getting them into the kayak once I have hold of the tail.

Finally my last one, is use 2 rods. In sturgeon alley you are in tidal water and are allowed several lines in at once. I like to keep one rod in each hand, feeling at all times for any activity and periodically raising one rod then the other in hopes of hitting a fish. This is why I really like the low profile baitcasters; they are lighter on the arms and easier to operate with 1 hand until you need to reel one in.

What's really fun is when you end up with a sturgeon on both rods at the same time as happened here. Note, for both of these fish, there were no bites, just a random hit from raising the rod:

Anyway, I hope this has been a fun read for you! Let me know what you think and if you have any success with these hints!

Oh, and if you want to keep a sturgeon, keep in mind the minimum size is 120cm or 47.25 inches total length. To measure a sturgeon for total length, lay him down flat on his belly, and fold the tail down sideways. Then measure from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. Sturgeon are considered endangered so I don't know why there is any limit at all. To be honest, I did keep one this year, and made use of internet research to figure out how to fillet and cook it. After soaking it in brine for 3 hours and then smoking it on my Big Green Egg for another 3 hours, I have to say it tasted excellent! I may keep one a year, but that will be all I ever keep, and then I'll cook it for a meal with fellow anglers and their families to experience, cutting down on the total number of sturgeon we keep in total.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent read and info Joe. I tried sturgeon fishing once in Freddy but was unsuccessful. I plan on catching one next season for sure and I will be using your techniques. If I don't catch one I can blame you,haha. Thanks again!!