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Won the battle, not the war

Bill Adelman, author photo,

By Bill Adelman
01/17/16 -- If muskies are the fish of a thousand casts, then sturgeon are the fish of 100 hours. My initial forays into chasing these monsters began in the early 70's, no, not the 1870's! This fishery has seen many changes over the years, except the 100 hour thingy. We've had awesome trips, our best with 6 friends on a charter was 5 keeper sturgeon and one legal striper. A bunch of the outings have been skunks, without the white stripe. A few times one legal fish sent everyone home with a few fillets. So why go just to sit and watch a few rod tips, where if you're 3 seconds too late on the hookset, it's over? Anticipation, and not the song. Once that tasty morsel is hooked, the battle is well worth the 100 hours. Sturgeon are not the easiest fish to land, as now we're compelled to use a single barbless hook. If it makes a quick U-turn and you don't keep up with it, IE: everyone else yelling, "don't give it any slack, keep it tight, reel, reel, give it drag" or any other number of unsolicited comments, it just slides off the hook and you call home and advise to take something out of the freezer for that night's dinner.

Sunrise on Suisun Bay, photo courtesy of Bill Adelman
Sunrise on Suisun Bay, photos courtesy of Bill Adelman

The latest attempt to add fillets to the coffer took place on Friday, the 15th. This was a full day break in the rain, a 5 foot outgoing tide starting at 8 AM and perfect conditions. There were 4 anglers leaving out of Suisun City Marina at 7 AM with Fishhookers Sportfishing. (916-777-6498) We ventured completely through Suisun Slough to the bay and headed for the north end of what's left of the Mothball Fleet, all 11 ships.

The Mothball fleet, photo courtisy of Bill Adelman
What's left of the Mothball fleet

As we checked out the deeper water, about 28-32 feet, sturgeon were everywhere. Captain Jeff was beside himself as we marked so many fish it was difficult to pick a lane. After the third pass through the area he dropped the hook in 31 feet of water and about 200 yards below the heaviest concentration of fish. Get the net ready.

Lowrance screen showing sturgeon, photo courtesty of Bill Adelman
This is what a screen full of sturgeon looks like

About an hour later my rod tip ticked ever so slightly and as I lifted the rod from the balancer and directed it slightly forward to eliminate pressure, nothing happened. We'll usually just hold the rod for up to 2 minutes, and if nothing happens, place it back on the balancer, which I did. Just as I turned to say something to one of the other anglers, everyone yelled my name simultaneously. When I spun around to see what caused the commotion, my rod tip was bouncing like a brand new super ball. FISH ON ! I had just a few minutes earlier been discussing the softness of the grab, indicating that suicide sturgeon were few and far between. It didn't take long to determine that this was probably not a keeper, which is a fish that measures 40 inches from nose to the fork.

Rods at ready on balancers, photo courtesy of Bill Adelman
Rods at ready on balancers

As my fish came towards the boat the fight was still fun, but not exciting. Suddenly the fish dove and 3-4 times the pressure of the fish became evident. YES. It had finally decided to quit swimming towards us and reversed its direction. When it dove close to the boat, tension cut the air. My 7 foot rotator wrap rod was bent double and I had to relieve the pressure by pulling line off the spool by hand. Jeff put his landing glove away and grabbed the big net. When the fish was finally visible, the air deflation was quite noticeable. A shaker, with the leader and line wrapped twice around its body, putting all the tension sideways rather than head forward. He still netted it and the solid tape said 37 inches.

Captain Jeff with my monster shaker
Captain Jeff with my monster shaker

Thus, I won the battle, but not the war. As the day wore on, one of the others got a shaker striper on eel and a 7/0 hook. We possibly had a few more pumps, but they didn't hang on even long enough to lift the rod from the balancer. Thus, as a once not so capable governor uttered. "I'll be back". And I will. There's just something magic about staring at rod tips all day.

Bill Adelman is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of California. His work has appeared in the Fish Sniffer newspaper and MarketPlace magazine. He was a full time freshwater fishing guide for 20 years. Now retired he still likes to serve as a flyfishing instructor, rod builder, outdoor photographer and hunting mentor.

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