Tillamook Bay - Sturgeon Quest

A calm morning fishing for sturgeon on Tillamook Bay.

In my desire for new adventures in the kayak, one topping the list is catching a sturgeon on a fly rod from my kayak. I have told many fellow anglers about this quest and most looked surprised, skeptical or intrigued. None have laughed.
      It's a complicated task and there are many people, including me, who have caught large sturgeon from their kayaks. There is even a handful of people catching sturgeon on fly rods in British Columbia on the Fraser River. However, I have yet to find anyone combining the two.
       With the Willamette so close to home, I have ventured several times to the "willy" in hopes of catching one of these ancients on my 12 weight. Last summer I had identified the "perfect low tide" and marked the calendar. On that beautiful fall morning I launched my kayak from the Milwaukie boat ramp a couple hours before the low tide. With the low water and the low tide, I had determined this was the best possible opportunity to get my line on the bottom of the river. The location was one of my favorite sturgeon holes and at only 45 feet deep that day, I thought "this is going to be it." You can see the results in my video, Dinos and Bass.
       Most of my Willamette trips were practice for my main destination - fishing Tillamook Bay. All the Oregon coast bays have sturgeon, but the Tillamook is the one best known for sturgeon fishing. The problem is that the bay can turn from calm to a whitecaps in an hour and the sturgeon holes are well-kept secrets. In December I made a resolution to reach out through the Northwest kayak anglers website and ask someone to help me learn the bay. In February, I was successful in finding a kayak angler who knew the water, had caught sturgeon in the bay and was a safe kayaker - all important aspects of fishing the bay.
         The best sturgeon fishing is in the spring during extremely low tides. After a couple unsuccessful attempts to find a date (bad weather, bad timing) we agreed on a Saturday in March at the end of spring break. The day proved unbelievable with calm wind, blue skies and a morning minus tide. We launched by dragging our Hobie kayaks through a creek bed that provided a fairly easy way to move the boats to the bay without going through the muck.
        We arrived at destination about two hours before low tide. One guy was already fishing from a 15-foot Smokercraft. Rodney quickly identified his spot and anchored up. I decided to peddle around and look for a hole. The deepest hole I found was 10 feet. The rest of the area average 5 feet. I realized how shallow this bay is. I also found out how fast thousands of cubic feet of water can drain from the bay as my 3 pound claw anchor with 1-foot 1/4 inch chain failed to grab time and time again. I finally had to let out 60-feet of line to get enough scope to get the anchor to hold. I decided to use conventional sturgeon gear first and tied on a shrimp Rodney had pumped the day before. I tossed it in the "hole" which was about 6 feet deep. After an hour, and no bites, I switched to my 12-weight and tossed the 15-foot 800 grain shooting head into the water. It immediately was on the bottom. I finally felt like I was fishing with my fly gear. I must point out that sturgeon are not sight feeders. Instead, they really on smell to find their food, usually clams and shrimp in the bay. I had tied on a shrimp hoping to get a bite before moving to my "fly" a sponge soaked in juice. I will not pretend this is a purist fly sport.
        The tide moved through the low. I saw, what I thought, was another line tangled on mine. Instead, it was my leader coming back towards me as the tide started its incoming cycle. Rodney and I pulled up and because the weather was perfect and the bay calm, we decided to kayak across the bay. We went over several channels and our trip varied from water 4 inches to 8 feet. We found another hole in the west channel, anchored up and started fishing the incoming tide. We fished for about two hours and I had one good hit, while Rodney had a couple. About 2:30 p.m., the wind was picking up a little and we decided to head back. The trip back was about three miles and in the last mile the waves were starting to whitecap. We had made a good decision to leave. About 200 yards from the takeout, a 5-foot sturgeon rolled 15 feet from our kayaks, in water no deeper than 10 feet. I took it as a message to come back and try again. And I certainly will.


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