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News / Sports / Outdoors

White sturgeon up for grabs in Bonneville pool beginning New Year’s Day

Season lasts until quota is met, which could go fast

By Terry Otto, Columbian freelance outdoors writer
Published: December 30, 2023, 6:05am
3 Photos
Fishing guide Camaeron Black, left, and a client hold a keeper sturgeon that bit just as the boat was being checked by the state patrol last year. The fish was taken in the Bonneville Pool.
Fishing guide Camaeron Black, left, and a client hold a keeper sturgeon that bit just as the boat was being checked by the state patrol last year. The fish was taken in the Bonneville Pool. (Gone Catchiní Outfitters photo) Photo Gallery

Anglers will have a rare chance to retain white sturgeon in the Bonneville Pool of the Columbia River again this year, with the fishery starting on Monday, Jan. 1.

The retention of white sturgeon will be allowed three days a week — Monday, Wednesday and Saturday — until the season quota of 675 keeper-sized sturgeon is met.

The Dalles Pool will also be open three days a week for retention until the quota (190) is met, and the John Day Pool will be open seven days a week until that quota (105) is filled.

Sturgeon fishing in the Bonneville Pool has become much more popular in recent years, as other early winter fishing opportunities have been reduced.

“These fisheries have always happened,” explained Cameron Black of Gone Catchin’ Outfitters, “but when they got rid of all the A-run steelhead on the Cowlitz and Lewis Rivers, a bunch of guys were not fishing, so in time they turned to the sturgeon.”

The term “A-run” refers to early returning hatchery winter steelhead that kept guides and anglers busy in December and January. Most of those runs have been replaced in local rivers with later returning steelhead that arrive mostly in February and March.

“On top of that you’ve got the whole lower Columbia River estuary now closed for keepers,” added Black.

According to Ryan Lothrop, the Columbia River fishery manager for the WDFW, the final decision on estuary sturgeon retention has not yet been made. Managers will soon be looking at abundance reports, but prospects are not good.

“I would not expect a shift in abundance,” he said. “Even if we get some recruitment, it would take it takes several years for those fish to grow big enough.”

Lothrop said the sturgeon population in the Bonneville Pool is strongest of the three pools where harvest is allowed.

“The Bonneville population is more robust,” Lothrop said. “Upriver it is less robust. It’s a small population, with very low level of harvest.”

If you go, expect company.

“I won’t be able to launch at Hood River because there will be about a hundred to 150 boats launching there,” he said.

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However, there is plenty of water to target, even if the more popular areas are busy.

“If you find a deep spot on the Columbia, there’s going to be fish there,” Black said. “It’s what they do this time of year. They want to bury in the deepest hole they can find and just chill. There are productive areas from dam to dam.”

When it comes to baits, these sturgeon are not like the ones in the estuary, where the fish key in on one or two food sources, and ignore others.

“In the lower river sturgeon will get keyed in on anchovies and sand shrimp, and you have to match that,” Black said. “But in the Bonneville Pool this time of year? There’s nothing to match.”

His favorites include squid and herring, squid and anchovy, or squid with worms. And, he usually treats it with the Pro-Cure Sturgeon Frenzy scent.

“That stuff is really good up there.”

Black prefers squid because of its staying power.

“You want bait that lasts,” he said. “What’s great about this fishery is you can go and catch 50 to 80 fish a day. You are going to be setting the hook all day long, weeding through the little ones to hopefully find your keepers. It’s fun.”

In can be too much fun. Two years ago, the quota was filled in just six days of fishing, and this year conditions are similar.

“The weather has been real mild,” Black said. “The water temperature above Bonneville Dam is 45 degrees. Those mild temperatures are going to spur a pretty good bite.”

That quick quota led the states to enact the three day a week fishery, which started last year. The idea was to spread the days out and keep it open longer. It also gives fisheries managers time between the open days to analyze catch data and avoid allowing too many fish to be taken.

The biggest concern in this fishery is wind. The Gorge can have plenty of it, and it not only is a safety issue, it can determine where you should fish. For anglers like Black who know the Gorge well, it is not a problem. Depending on wind direction, he can always find a spot that will fish well out of the wind.

He waits until he sees the wind forecast before he decides where to fish for the day. Then he chooses a launch close to those spots, so he is not running for long distances while bucking waves and wind.

The strongest winds will keep many anglers off the water, and for good reason. Newcomers need to be careful to choose their fishing days when the wind is manageable, and avoid any long runs.

“That fishery is all about conditions and knowing the Gorge,” Black said. “There is no messing around up there with the Gorge winds. That river can kill you.”

There are also calm, quiet days, when the wind does not blow. That’s when anglers can relax, enjoy the Gorge scenery, and catch sturgeon.

Just don’t wait too long, the quota could go quickly.

Bonneville Pool size restrictions: Anglers may keep one sturgeon a day between a 38-inch minimum and a 54-inch maximum fork length. Only two sturgeon may be kept in a year.

Always check the regulations and emergency regulation changes before fishing. The retention season may be terminated with short notice.

For emergency regulation changes, check the WDFW website at: wdfw.wa.gov/about/regulations/rule-changes

Guided trips: Cameron Black, Gone Catchin’ Outfitters: 360-921-5079, gonecatchin.com

Columbian freelance outdoors writer