Oregon Sturgeon Fishing: All You Need to Know
Oct 8, 2021 | 8 minute read Comments
Reading Time: 8 minutes

An Oregon Sturgeon fishing adventure really is a thing of magic. These creatures are pretty rare, which has given them somewhat of a mythical reputation throughout North America. It also adds to their desirability as an angling target! After all, who wouldn’t want the brag-worthy achievement of battling and conquering such a majestic species?

Two men stand on a charter boat after fishing for Sturgeon in Oregon holding a large fish with the water behind them

As well as their rarity, another reason why fishing for Sturgeon in Oregon is so exciting is the pure size of this species. These ancient monsters can grow over a whopping 7 feet and weigh in at hundreds of pounds. Although they initially bite lightly, when they commit to taking your bait, you’ll definitely feel it. They’re also prone to leaping out of the water!

Oregon boasts a variety of Sturgeon-rich fisheries and is one of the few places in North America where you can still actively target them. Be aware, though, that the vast majority of Sturgeon action in this state is strictly catch-and-release. Conserving these fish is of great importance, and releasing them at the end of your trip doesn’t dampen the incredible angling experience they provide!

Before you head out on your Oregon Sturgeon adventure, take a look below. We’ve delved into where exactly you can find these beasts, how to catch ’em, and everything else you need to know…

A Little Bit about Oregon Sturgeon

Before we cover how and where you can fish for Sturgeon in the Beaver State, let us give you a little background on these creatures. Sturgeon come in a range of varieties, and the specific ones you’ll find in Oregon are White Sturgeon. They’re the largest game fish in the area and inhabit Oregon’s rivers, coastal bays, and estuaries.

When it comes to appearance, there’s no mistaking a White Sturgeon! These fish are large, in charge, and truly primitive-looking. Catch a glimpse of one, and you’ll easily see why some of the bigger varieties are nicknamed “dinosaurs.” They have long, flat snouts with barbels, bony plates running up and down their backs, and deeply-forked tails.

A girl holds a Sturgeon aboard a charter vessel with the water behind her

White Sturgeon are native to the West Coast of North America. They generally can’t be found or targeted outside of the Pacific Northwest. Several of the area’s rivers, which drain into the Pacific Ocean, boast native populations of these fish. One of them? Oregon’s very own Columbia River, as well as its major tributary, the Willamette. Where better to battle these beasts than on their very own turf?

When it comes to some fish, the techniques you’ll use are what leads to a fruitful day on the water. For others, it comes down to when you choose to fish. For Sturgeon, it’s all about location, location, location. And Oregon is the perfect place to cast a line for these prehistoric creatures! Speaking of which…

Where can I fish for Sturgeon in Oregon?

Whether you want to explore the coastal bays or hit the rivers, there are plenty of places to fish for Sturgeon in Oregon. These fish tend to move between salt and freshwaters, which widens the variety of waterways you’ll find them in.

The Columbia River

A view of the Columbia River at sunset with mountains and trees

You really can’t go wrong on a Sturgeon fishing trip along the Columbia River. It’s the most productive fishery for this species in the entire Pacific Northwest, after all. Here are some of our favorite spots:

  • Bonneville Dam: Located at the meeting point of Washington and Oregon, this is where you’ll find some of the river’s biggest Sturgeon specimens. Visit in springtime when they start to spawn, or late fall. This is when trophy-sized varieties inhabit these waters.
  • Astoria: This city is perfectly positioned for a Sturgeon fishing adventure, as it’s where the Columbia River empties out into the Pacific. From June–September, these monsters flock here to gorge on the bait fish that enter the river in summer.
  • Desdemona Sands: Located in the Columbia Estuary, the sands are essentially a collection of shallow waters that boast huge Sturgeon in late spring and early summer. This part of the river is home to sand shrimp, clams, crabs, and other smaller fish that Sturgeon love to feast on!

The Willamette River

A view of the Willamette River, a top Sturgeon fishing location in Oregon, on a sunny day

The Columbia River’s major tributary is also an excellent Sturgeon fishing location in its own right. In fact, many local anglers like to say that, at certain times of the year, the Willamette River actually offers the best Sturgeon fishing in the entire Pacific Northwest. Here’s where you should go:

  • Portland: Oregon’s most vibrant city is also where the Willamette and Columbia Rivers meet. Kelley Point Park, which provides direct access to the Willamette, is a must-visit spot if you’re looking to battle some Sturgeon. The waters here are brushy and sandy, and provide the perfect habitat for these prehistoric predators.
  • Multnomah Channel: This distributary of the Columbia River boasts a good number of Sturgeon, thanks to the many holes that line its floor. Head downriver from Portland between fall and spring for the best results. Make sure you keep an eye on when you can fish here, as the rules are subject to change.

The Coastal Bays

A view of Tillamook Bay, one of Oregon's top Sturgeon fishing locations, with waves crashing and mountains in the background

The rivers may steal the spotlight slightly when it comes to Sturgeon fishing in Oregon, but they’re not the only places you can cast a line. There are plenty of coastal bays that hold these creatures, too! Here are some of our top picks:

  • Tillamook Bay: The biggest bay along North Oregon’s coast provides some of the biggest Sturgeon. These fish usually move out of the bays during summer and fall, so head here in February and March for the best results. The West Channel is an especially popular spot.
  • Nehalem Bay: Less well-known for its Sturgeon population than Tillamook, you’ll find a good number of these fish here in the winter and spring months. Focus your attention on the bay proper, as well as the tidewater stretch above the town of Nehalem.
  • Winchester Bay: Located on Oregon’s Central Coast, this bay is positioned right where the Umpqua River empties out into the Pacific. This mix of waters is the perfect habitat for bait fish that Sturgeon love to feast on! Again, as is the case with the rest of the coastal bays, you’ll want to visit here from fall to spring.

Oregon Sturgeon Fishing Techniques

When it comes to casting a line for your Sturgeon, the “how-to” is actually pretty simple. The biggest reason why is down to this creature’s feeding habits. Unlike other large-and-in-charge fish, they don’t like to chase their bait. They feast almost entirely on slow-moving or freshly killed prey, which means the most effective way of targeting them is rigging up your bait fish of choice and casting out.

A woman stands aboard a charter vessel with two children holding a Sturgeon

If that’s all there was to it, though, many more people in Oregon would be hooking into huge Sturgeon! There are still some skills and technical know-how involved, especially once you get your fish to bite. Because of this, the most common way to target them is alongside an Oregon Sturgeon fishing guide. These guys are brimming with local knowledge, and know exactly how to approach this state’s immense fisheries.

Bait and Lures

Sturgeon have one other main preference when it comes to their prey: the smellier, the better. Because of this, using live or cut bait is the best way to lure ’em in. They love to munch on eels, worms, clams, and small fish, which is why Oregon is such a hotspot for them. Plenty of the fisheries in this area boast large numbers of their ideal prey.

When fishing for Sturgeon, locals like to get their hands on bait fish such as squid, shad, smelt, herring, or shrimp. As you can see, you have a pretty big list to pick from. And if you’d rather fish with artificials? No problem. Just remember that Sturgeon are attracted to scent rather than appearance or movement. A top tip from local anglers is to smear shrimp, sardine, or shad oil on whatever lures you decide to use.

Rods and Reels

A collection of brightly colored lures, tackle, and fishing gear arranged on a wooden table

You can use your standard 6–9′ fishing rod when it comes to battling Sturgeon, as long as it’s light tipped. Despite their size and power, these fish are pretty light biters. You want to be able to feel their initial chomp – and see it, too! Your rod needs to be capable of holding at least 80 pounds in weight, as well as running enough line, usually around the 250-yard mark.

The hooks you use are also important. Sturgeon have leathery thick mouths, and you want to choose something that’ll penetrate them. Local anglers in Oregon tend to use circle or octopus hooks, usually around the size of 5/0 to 9/0. Tie a heavy swivel to your main line and add around 18 inches of leader, with your hook attached at the end. Attach a slider and a sinker above your swivel, but make sure your sinker isn’t too heavy. Sturgeon won’t take the bait if this is the case.

Casting Your Line

Finally, it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! You’ve been keeping a firm eye on your rod, and you’ve noticed it bouncing. So what happens next? Firstly, grab your rod. When you feel a harder tug, you’ll want to set the hook as firmly as possible. This basically involves gripping the rod as tightly as you can and standing your ground.

Two men holding a Sturgeon safely in the river

From there, it’s all about tiring your fish out. Make sure your drag is set as tight as possible while still allowing your fish to make runs and use up all of its energy. When this happens, you can choose to either bring your fish close to your vessel or the shore, or use a large net to pull it entirely out of the water. We don’t recommend the latter, as it can cause damage to your Sturgeon, and we want this fishery to keep on thriving! Don’t forget that oversized Sturgeon should never be completely taken out of the water.

You’ll be able to get up close and personal with your Sturgeon when practicing catch and release. This is also a great time for a photo opportunity. Just make sure you keep your hands away from this species’ sharp gill plates as you release the hook. A local tip from Oregon anglers? Before you get close to your catch, give it a quick poke with your rod to make sure it’s really as tired as it seems. This will save you from any potential Sturgeon-related injuries!

Anything else I need to know?

A blue infographic showing the Oregon state flag, the text "Oregon Sturgeon Fishing Rules: What You Need to Know" and an icon of a charter boat

In general, Oregon as a state is very big on conservation and protecting its local fish species. Sturgeon are no different. Any angler over the age of 12 will need to purchase a valid license to fish for them, and chances are you’ll need to purchase a Columbia River Basin Endorsement, too. You can find out more about the costs and which license combination you’ll need in our handy guide.

Generally, the vast majority of Sturgeon in Oregon are catch and release only. There are some open seasons when you can fish for “keeper” Sturgeon, usually in the summertime, but they usually only last for a week or so. We’d recommend catching and releasing your Sturgeon no matter when you visit, in order to preserve this one-of-a-kind fishery. You can find out more about open and closed seasons on the Oregon Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.

Oregon Sturgeon Fishing: A Prehistoric Adventure

Fishing for Sturgeon in Oregon is a truly unique experience. Combining a rare prehistoric fish, thousands of miles of waterways, and some of the most stunning scenery this side of the US, how could it not lead to the adventure of a lifetime? Grab your rods and reels and get ready for a battle that’ll go down in the history books!

A man and woman stand on a charter boat holding a large Sturgeon

Have you ever been fishing for Sturgeon in Oregon? Any tips, tricks, or local advice to share with us? Comment below – we love hearing from you!

Comments (2)
  • Mike Haag

    Oct 8, 2021

    Use of lamprey as bait is illegal in Oregon…Great article, great tips, but don’t want to see anyone in trouble for illegal baits…also note oversized sturgeon are not to be removed from water.

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      Oct 8, 2021

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for reading, I’m glad you found the article useful. Also, thanks for the heads-up about Lamprey, we removed it from the list of allowed-to-use bait. We also added a sentence about never taking big Sturgeon out of the water.

      All the best!

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