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December 23, 2013

California Sturgeon: Shallow Water Dinosaurs

San Pablo Bay offers anglers a prehistoric adversary: the formidable white sturgeon.

Critical Tides

Incoming tides produce, but by far the strong outgoing tides bring more action on the shallow flats of the San Pablo. Study the tide tables, and when you find a period that predicts incoming tides of 5.0 or better, followed by strong outgoing tides for the late afternoon, it’s time to go. If it coincides with a break after a storm has passed, so much the better.

One of my favorite spots is located off China Camp, on the west side of the bay. The shell bank here covers a lot of property, and depths can vary from 6 to 11 feet during the high tide. When approaching this stretch, I ease in slowly to avoid spooking any fish. A slow approach also gives me time to pick up marks on my fish finder or even see a jumping sturgeon. I don’t know why they jump, but if you see more jumpers or targets on the depth finder, quietly anchor on this general line of movement. It would be smart to mark the location with your GPS because the fish might hold there for a few days. If I don’t see an obvious sign, I’ll anchor where I see a gradual rise coming off the bottom. Sturgeon will feed on these rising beds just as the current kicks in.

Once the anchor line comes tight, fan-cast the baits over a wide area. By doing that, you’ll cover potential feeding lanes as the sturgeon pass by. Also, once your sinker settles in, pick up any slack on the line, allowing for only slight tension on the rod tip.

Small sharks, sculpins, white croakers, and crabs will take your bait, and their unwanted presence will show when the rod tip bounces with sharp taps. Make it a point to check and rebait when necessary.

Generally, the best bite period takes place on the first good push of the outgoing tide, and toward the bottom of the low, as the current begins to slow down. This is evident when swirling current eddies begin to appear on the surface of the water. Stay ready when these subtle changes in the tide develop.

Sturgeon bite softly, and when they show up for a snack, typically the rod tip begins to pump slowly and methodically. When that happens, hit that fish as hard as you can. If you connect, be prepared for some shallow-water fireworks.