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A Dinosaur of a Fish

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

kgw.com

Posted on June 26, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM

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It is a fact of Pacific Northwest angling life that few fish species that swim in our rivers or streams can match the massive size and strength of the prehistoric fish called "sturgeon."

Sturgeon can exceed ten feet in length and weigh more than four hundred pounds, so few would argue that the fish provide a terrific angling challenge.

WATCH THE VIDEO

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At this time of year, one of the best places to try your luck with hook and line to catch a sturgeon is the Columbia River estuary near Astoria.

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That's the setting for this week's "Grant's Getaway" adventure - fishing for a dinosaur of a fish species - Columbia River sturgeon.

A slate-gray morning rises across the powerful Columbia River.

The otherwise drab gray sunrise touched the shore and only dully lightened the dark skyline as Joe Salvey, of Fish Hawk Adventures, motored his boat away from the placid port at Astoria, Oregon.

Salvey is one of the regular Oregon Fishing Guides who takes newcomers and experienced anglers alike across the lower Columbia River each day.

The anglers who joined us for this adventure included Leroy Howe, Ed Bruser, longtime fishing partner Trey Carskadon and the father-son team of Richard and David Parker.

Each anticipated an exciting day of angling fun for a fish species as old as time.

You see, sturgeon have been swimming across the planet's waters for more than a hundred million years - long before the age of dinosaurs.

Joe noted that we had much to look forward to: "Right now, the sturgeon fish are coming in out of the ocean to eat the anchovies that are coming in here to spawn - this best time of year to catch a big one."

Joe is a fishing specialist who knows just where to be on a fast falling tide in the vast salt chuck near Astoria.

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The fish that live here are big - so is the gear: nine-foot rods, heavy duty reels loaded with 65-pound test line, large hooks that held sand shrimp or whole anchovy for bait. All of that terminal gear was held on the bottom with 8 ounces of lead weight.

As he smoothly cast each of our lines to create a half moon shaped array of baited lines whose rods were firmly mounted in rod holders.

Salvey noted that we were in the right place at the right time: "We don't get a lot of small fish down here - in fact, the average fish is usually four to four and a half feet long - and we've certainly come to sturgeon central for there are lots of fish in this part of the river."

I glanced over to Trey Carskadon who was intently watching his rod tip dance - down-two-three-four - up-two three-four - in a quick time motion, like an Irish jig.

"Trey!" shouted Salvey. "Get ready! It's a fish bite."

Carskadon's rod danced the two-step one more time before he reared back and with the arcing graphite rod, firmly set the hook in the fish.

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He left no doubt to all of us that watched that his sturgeon was firmly a fish on!

"That's a big fish right there," noted Salvey.

That much was certain as the line played out from the sturgeon that seemed to have one thing on its mind - get back to the ocean - and fast!

Carskadon held his ground and let the fish run away from the boat for twenty, thirty, forty yards before he slowly worked the sturgeon back toward the boat.

He told me, "Right here in the Columbia River is the largest population of white sturgeon on the planet. Biologists figure that the population is about one million fish below Bonneville Dam."

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But the fact is sturgeon fishing wasn't always so popular!

Carskadon said that while the ancient fish have been swimming in the Columbia River for thousands of years, most Pacific Northwest anglers have looked them down on until recently.

"Around the late 1980's, when our salmon fishery slowed down a bit and suddenly sturgeon fishing became a go-to fishery. People caught on to the magic of catching these wonderful fish."

"Nice and easy Trey," coached Salvey. "Don't forget to breathe. That's a good fish."

It was a huge fish too - easily four feet long - perhaps much longer - and perhaps reached forty pounds - or more.

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Salvey's net dipped as Carskadon pulled the rod back and the fish slid into the mesh - "in the bag" as they like to say.

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"Good fish!"

As the morning tide reached full ebb, each angler had similar opportunities to repeat what Carksadon enjoyed: hooking and releasing or landing and tagging a legal limit of one sturgeon per licensed Oregon angler between 41 and 54 inches in length.

My turn came as my fishing rod doubled over and throbbed down hard.

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I wrestled it from the rod holder and held on for dear life.

"Oh, it's a nice one, Joe," was all I could mumble as I prayed the hook would hold tight.

"Oh, look at the size of that one Grant! Biggest one of the day," shouted Salvey.

Finally, time and patience held as I brought the large sturgeon to the side of the boat. Salvey slipped the net under the 38-pound fish.

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"Wow! Now that's some kind of a keeper!" I noted with a huge smile.

There were plenty of smiles and plenty of sturgeon to go around as we all agreed that the sturgeon's strength was unmatched.

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Ed Bruser, another longtime angler and frequent client on-board Salvey's adventures, may have summed it up best: "I always describe it as standing on the side of the freeway and hooking the back of an F-350 doing 75 miles per hour. It's exciting to catch these fish."

You might even consider making the "Dinosaur of a Fish" adventure a part of your entry in a unique travel contest. It's called the Oregon 150 Challenge and it offers a unique dream vacation as a grand prize.

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