The Pacific Northwest is known for its beauty and for the stereotype of constant rain. I had heard that the perpetual rain was just a myth, formulated to keep away outsiders. Unluckily for me, it rained four out of the five days I was in Oregon and Washington, and any attempt to keep people away did not seem to work because the traffic around Portland was the worst of any of my trips with the exception of Chicago. However, it was all worth it because Oregon is truly beautiful (even when it is 55 degrees and raining) and the fishing trip was one of the best of my life.
I chose Buddy Dupell (https://columbiariverfishingadventures.com) because of his amazing white sturgeon photos and because he is one of the few guides in the area who allows you to reserve the boat for yourself without paying a fortune. We fished the Willamette River for “oversized” white sturgeon (white sturgeon over five feet long). [Readers of a certain age will recognize the name “Willamette” as the destination in the Oregon Trail game of old, and, of course, of the real Oregon Trail. I fortunately made it to Oregon without dying of dysentery or having to kill several bison, only to be able to take back 100 pounds of meat.]
I must admit that I was not prepared for these monster fish. My first oversize sturgeon was a seven-foot, 180-pounder, which is pedestrian as trophy sturgeon go. The drag was set so tight that no person could pull it, but this sturgeon peeled off line so fast that we had to remove the anchor and turn on the engine to follow it downstream. Apparently, this is normal. Forget trying to gain on these fish; you are mostly holding on to the rod for dear life. I finally thought I was winning the battle when Buddy calmly informed me that the fish was just coming to the surface to jump. That’s right, these monster fish jump out of the water. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally brought the fish next to the boat. You are not allowed to take these fish out of the water, but we were still able to enjoy it for a minute before it swam off to fight another day.
I wondered what could possibly be done for an encore, as we still had several hours to fish and that fish was easily the biggest fish of my life to that point. So imagine my surprise when another, bigger sturgeon grabs the bait. This fight lasted even longer, but yielded my biggest freshwater fish ever, a nine-foot, 400-pound beauty that Buddy referred to as simply “a nice fish,” which demonstrates how unbelievably big these fish can actually get. (Since then, I have read about a 1,100-pound white sturgeon being caught and released.)
Thankfully for my forearms, the next three fish I caught were what are called “keeper” sturgeon, which are sturgeon between 3.5 and 5 feet in length. These fish still offer an awesome fight and you can take them out of the water for pictures. (I do not believe there is an open season on the Willamette during which you can actually keep keeper sturgeon.)
Just when we were wrapping up, we had another bait take off. By this time my arms had recovered, but this fight was different and harder because the fish took many more runs toward shoreline structure than the previous two oversized sturgeon had. I finally was able to bring the 6.5-foot, 145-pound sturgeon in for a picture before releasing it.
I still get excited thinking about this trip, as shown by my rather lengthy recount of it, and it has been a while since I was out there. It will always rank as one of the greatest fishing times of my life.
I also want to acknowledge publicly the great conservation efforts taking place in Oregon. The rules prohibiting harvesting sturgeon are rigidly enforced and, despite many anglers on the water on any given day, everyone seemed to be obeying the rules. This is a pleasant change from the overfishing and blatant disregard for conservation that takes place in many of the southern and eastern waters that I fish and love so much.