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A sturgeon can be hard to catch
The Back Forty
By Roger Pond

Itís only a matter of time now. Spring is here, and the bass and crappies should be biting pretty soon. Finally, Iím going to get some fish to eat.

I get really hungry for white-meat fish during the winter, and Iím surely not going to buy any at the store. That would be admitting defeat.

Iíve been fishing for sturgeon for months, but they are really hard to come by. Catching a sturgeon isnít all that difficult, but getting one of a legal size is a bit of a chore.

Keeper-size sturgeon are hard to get because the Department of Fish and Wildlife came up with a diabolical slot limit years ago. Then, they kept narrowing it down until now a fish with any sense at all is going to be too small or too large to keep.

This led one old-timer to comment, ďYou know, the game department says you canít eat those little sturgeon. But you can. Theyíre just as good as the bigger ones.Ē

The minimum length for these fish is 48 inches and the maximum is 60 inches in the part of the Columbia River where I commonly fish. Obviously, the sturgeon know this. Iíve seen them shrink four inches or stretch eight inches right beside the boat!

A sturgeon can be growing an inch or two a year for 25 years. Then when they get to 47 inches, they suddenly grow 14 inches overnight. Then theyíre too big to keep.

Once these fish get too big, you canít throw them back like you would a bass. We have to just ask them to leave.

Even the bait a sturgeon fisherman uses is mysterious. Some folks say you need the freshest bait you can find, while others recommend the most rotten, foul-smelling concoctions one can imagine.

Iím kind of in the middle. I like the pickled stuff: Pickled squid, pickled salmon, pickled herring. It doesnít look very good, but the mixture of fish and vinegar, spices, and onions smells great.

Once in awhile one of my fishing friends will open a jar of pickled bait and say it smells good enough to eat. That leads me to one of two conclusions. Either I have really good bait or really bad friends.

The sturgeonís ability to grow so big and their strange looking appearance leads to all sorts of tales about their habits and lifestyle. Thereís an old story, for example, about a man who caught a huge sturgeon in the Snake River around 1920. He tied a rope on the fish and hooked up a team of horses to pull it out of the river.

Once the sturgeon realized what was happening, it got a sudden burst of energy and drowned both horses.

And there was the fish that used to climb out of the Columbia River at Sauvie Island, Oregon and eat apples off the trees. I donít know if any of thatís true, but it probably doesnít matter. A fish like that wouldnít fit the slot limit, anyway.

This farm news was published in the May 3, 2006 issue of Farm World.