Portland, Oregon is weird. In fact a lot people love the city for its weirdness. I’ve had had my commute to the fishing grounds interrupted by hordes of naked bike rides, random people walking around in pirate costumes, and long lines at the doughnut store waiting to grab a doll shaped doughnut with a pretzel sticking out of it. There is also a vegan strip club…if you are into that kind of thing.
I do not consider myself particularly weird and am willing to look past Portlandia’s eccentricities. For one it has more breweries, nearly 40 at last count, within its city limits than any other city of its size. Additionally, it is bracketed by two major Pacific Northwest rivers that support a world class salmon fishery. However, to me, one of the city’s greatest treasures are the dinosaurs that lurk in the turbid waters of the Willamette River, which bisects the city.
Growing to nearly 20 feet in length and exceeding 1000 lbs these dinosaurs have remained virtually unchanged for the last 175 million years. Their flanks and backs are lined with bony scoots of armor and tipped with razor sharp hooks. A long, powerful, asymmetrically sickle shaped tail drives these mammoths along the bottoms of the rivers where they use barbells packed with sensors to detect prey and food items in the murky depths. These are, of course, not real dinosaurs but White Sturgeon.
Since retention of sturgeon on the Willamette River was closed in the past few years interest in this fishery has waned. However, a thriving catch-and-release fishery remains in the lower river year-round. I nearly always expect to connect with at least a few fish on a slow day and well over 25 on a good day. Frequently I will have the water all to myself. Three and four foot long fish, weighing 15 to 30 lbs, are abundant and if you put in a full day you should expect to connect with at least one 5’+ fish pushing 60 or more pounds.
They are not terribly difficult to catch requiring nothing more than a medium heavy action level wind or spinning setup loaded with 50+ lb line. Use a sliding pyramid weight on your mainline, ranging from 2 to 14 oz depending on the current, tied to a large barrel swivel. From the barrel swivel use a 100+ lb Dacron leader tied to a 4/0 or 7/0 barbless (required) octopus or circle hook. For bait use fresh herring, smelt, sand shrimp, cut bait shad, salmon eggs, or squid or some combination wrapped onto the hook using stretchy thread to secure it.
Look for sturgeon to be holding in deep water holes, 30 to 80’ deep, under Portland’s many bridges, along steep drop-offs, and in backwater bays like Swan Island Basin. Drop your gear to the bottom, leave it stationary, and wait for an unimpressive bite. Sturgeon lack teeth and instead have a large tube shaped mouth that they use to hoover up food off the bottom of the river. You need to let them roll the bait around in their mouth before giving a solid hook set. The thrill is that a 2 foot 5 lb fish bites feel exactly like a 7 foot 100 lb fish so you never really know what you are getting into until after you’ve driven the hook home. Then you simply hold on for dear life.
Sturgeon can be caught from the bank or boat but to me there is no greater way to catch these fish than from a kayak. Their size and strength literally allows them to pull you around on a sleigh ride. It can often take several minutes up to an hour, depending on the size of the fish, for the kayak angler to get the upper hand in a sturgeon fight. An abundance of water access sites makes accessing the sturgeon fishing grounds very easy for even the most inexperienced kayaker and large numbers of fish make it likely you will encounter at least one of these aquatic dinosaurs.
So I guess I lied. Maybe I don’t ride my bike naked or dine regularly at food carts but I do like battling giant aquatic dinosaurs from tiny little plastic boats. I guess that makes me weird too. Plus you can always enjoy a slew of tasty beers in the Rose City after a day fighting one of America’s most ancient and powerful fish.
For the do-it-yourself angler, kayaks can be rented from the Next Adventure paddle center https://nextadventure.net/community/kayaks-sup-rentals-portland for $30-$60 a day. For those wanting a guided kayak sturgeon fishing trip contact Michael Rischer the only licensed Oregon kayak fishing guide at Oregon Kayak Fishing http://www.kayakfishingoregon.com/. For more information on kayak fishing in the Portland area join the Lower Columbia Kayak Anglers Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/lowercolumbiakayakanglers/