Sturgeon Fishing on the Columbia River: Your Guide

Mar 25, 2022 | 7 minute read
Reading Time: 7 minutes

As the longest river in the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River boasts an impressive ecosystem. And if you decide to fish its depths, you’ll encounter one of the most exciting challenges a freshwater angler can find. Sturgeon fishing on the Columbia River is not for the faint of heart. After all, you’ll be facing one of the toughest sportfish anywhere across the globe.

A man and a woman holding a sizeable Sturgeon they caught fishing on the Columbia River.

If you already know a little about Sturgeon, you’ve probably heard about the epic angling Fraser River offers. However, it’s actually the Columbia River that boasts the larger White Sturgeon population between the two. So if you’d like some tips on how to reel in Columbia River Sturgeon, where to go, and when, read on ahead.

Why Sturgeon?

Before we get into the specifics, it’s worth pointing out just why Sturgeon are so amazing. To begin with, they’re an extremely old species. Sturgeon have been lurking along river bottoms for 200 million years. This means you’ll be fishing for something that’s been in the water at the same time dinosaurs were roaming the Earth.

A big Sturgeon being released in shallow waters.

Sturgeon can also get seriously big. The largest recorded specimen that was caught on the Columbia River was 11.5 feet long and weighed around 900 pounds. Can you picture a fish that big making its way through the water?

But their size and prehistoric looks aren’t even the most impressive things about Sturgeon. These fish can put up a truly intense fight. They’re as acrobatic as Tarpon and capable of leaping several feet into the air when you attempt to reel them in.

A hooked Sturgeon jumping out of the water with one angler fighting it and another one watching.

If you hook into a big Sturgeon, you better be ready for a hard workout. Or, let your fishing buddy take over when you get tired and make catching these monsters a team effort. Either way, it’ll be an unforgettable experience.

How to Go Sturgeon Fishing on the Columbia River

For those who are new to the Pacific Northwest, the easiest way to ensure a productive trip is to hook up with one of the Columbia River Sturgeon guides. They’re people who’ve been fishing these waters for the better part of their lives. Because of this, they’ll know exactly where to take you. Fishing guides will also provide you with all the equipment you need. What’s more, you’ll get to make use of their boat so it’s easier to get to where the fish are.

An angler leaning over the side of a boat, pulling out a huge Sturgeon from the water.

This being said, it’s perfectly possible to catch Sturgeon even from shore. There are many riverbanks along the Columbia River that offer some pretty good fishing. The reason why you’ll usually fare better with a boat is that some of the shore fishing spots are difficult to reach on foot. But as long as you can find an accessible riverbank, you’ll have a decent opportunity to catch a large river Sturgeon.

Columbia River Sturgeon Fishing Techniques

Sturgeon are bottom feeders, so you’ll typically look for them in deep waters. Then, you’ll want to position yourself upstream from the holes you want to fish and lure them in with your bait. As you’ll need to find where Sturgeon congregate, pairing up with a guide really pays off if you’re unfamiliar with the area. However, if you do decide to head out on your own, here are some of the things you should prepare…

Bait, Line, and Hooks

A man holding a big Sturgeon.

Fresh bait typically works best when it comes to Sturgeon fishing. They hunt using their sense of smell, so you’ll want to fish during the tides, when the scent can get to them. You can use anything from crayfish, salmon eggs, shad, or freshwater clams. If you can’t get fresh bait, dead bait will do fine. You’ll just need to add some scent to it, usually by using fish or shrimp oil.

To make sure your line can hold out against big Sturgeon, we recommend anything from 50 to 80 lb test braided line. As Sturgeon can pull quite hard, you’ll also want at least 250 yards of line capacity. Bring along barbless hooks (sizes from 5/0 to 9/0), since regulations only allow you to use those. Finally, keep in mind that the initial bite Sturgeon make can feel very light. So be sure they’ve bitten down solidly before you start reeling and set the hook.

Rods and Reels

Two anglers fishing for Sturgeon using heavy tackle.

As far as rods go, everything between 6 and 9 feet will do the trick. Go for rods with solid backbones and soft tips. They’re more sensitive and make it easier to tell when a Sturgeon bites. However, many anglers fishing the Columbia River also use their Salmon rods to fish for Sturgeon. These work well, as long as you don’t hook into a really big fish.

You can use various types of reels for Sturgeon fishing. You’ll see many anglers use levelwind reels, but spinning reels are also fine, just make sure they’re sturdy enough. Remember, the reason you should use heavy gear is not just because you may end up with a huge fish at the end of your line. It’s also to end the battle as soon as possible. Longer fights exhaust the fish, and many Sturgeon can’t recover if you take too long to reel them in.

Columbia River Sturgeon Fishing Spots

An aerial shot of Bonneville Dam, a famous Sturgeon fishing area on the Columbia River.

There are countless places along the Columbia River and its tributaries where you can go Sturgeon fishing. As a large portion of the river flows along the state border, you’ll get your chance to wrestle these magnificent fish whether you find yourself in Washington or Oregon. With a guide, you won’t have to think too much about where to go. However, let’s go over a few prospective areas you can visit…

  • The Dalles Dam: Located around 90 miles east of Portland and Vancouver, the Dalles Dam offers great Sturgeon action. If you find yourself in this area, you have two options. You can try fishing upriver, towards the John Day Dam and the McNary Dam. Or, you can head downstream and explore the Boneville Pool.
  • Boneville Dam: This area is a little bit easier to reach if you’re starting your adventure from any of the cities west of Boneville. The dam is only about 45 minutes away from Portland. Once you’re there, you’ll have the similar opportunity to explore the Boneville Pool upriver. You can also head downriver but make sure to check where regulations allow you to fish, since a part of the river west of the dam could be closed.
  • Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA: Of course, you don’t necessarily have to leave the city to hook into some Columbia River Sturgeon. The waters near Kelley Point Park, where the Willamette River flows into the Columbia River are a known Sturgeon spot. Willamette River itself, as well as the nearby Multnomah Channel are also excellent places to explore.
  • Astoria, OR: With all these spots in mind, the best Sturgeon fishing on the Columbia River happens in the waters around Astoria. Here, you’ll get to fish the famous Buoy 10 and reel in both Sturgeon and plenty of Salmon. Visit the area during summer and you’ll get to enjoy some of the best fishing in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Upper Columbia River: Of course, there’s some great action even in the upper part of the Columbia River. The waters near Burbank for example, where the Snake River joins the Columbia are a joy to explore. Alternatively, head north, upstream from Richland and you could run across some spots along the bank.

Seasons, Rules, and Regulations

An infographic that says "Columbia River Sturgeon Fishing Regulations" and "What You Need to Know" against a blue background.

While it’s possible to hook into them year-round, Sturgeon season on the Columbia River usually begins around May and lasts all the way until October. But although there may be fish in the water, you still have to make sure you can target them at the location you’ve chosen. The Columbia River is divided into different sections, and regulations can vary between them.

Generally, anglers are allowed to keep two Sturgeon per year and one per day during the keeper season. On the lower Columbia River, downstream from Bonneville Dam and all the way to Buoy 10, the Sturgeon retention season usually takes place sometime in May, June, or July. Above Bonneville Dam, the retention season usually opens at the beginning of each year but closes once the quota is filled.

You can check out the regulations for yourself by visiting the Columbia River eRegulations page. Either way, if you’re fishing from Oregon, you’ll need an angling license, a Combined Angling Tag, and a Columbia River Basin Endorsement. In Washington, you’ll just need to get a fishing license. You can get more details on these in our dedicated Washington and Oregon fishing license guides.

Columbia River: The Sturgeon Fishing Epicenter

An angler on a boat, holding a White Sturgeon reeled in on a Columbia River fishing trip.

Sturgeon are amazing fish and tons of fun to catch. With exotic looks, crazy acrobatics, and delicious taste, they have everything you’d want in a fish. And if you find yourself on the Columbia River, you’ll be in one of the best places in the world to reel in Sturgeon. Just be prepared for a battle and make sure you honor the fish and release it safely. This way, the legendary Sturgeon will continue to roam these waters for years to come.

Have you ever been Sturgeon fishing on the Columbia River? What’s the biggest one you’ve caught? Tap the comment button below and let us know!

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