Sturgeon on a Fly?


Banned or Parked
Getting one to eat is the hard part. I've heard of a few eating flies, but the only ones I've seen first hand have been foul hooked. Handling one on a fly rod shouldn't be that big a deal unless you're fishing a 5 weight.
A buddy and I must have casted to a 3.5/4 footer crusing a sand bar in the Snohomish river about a hundred times before I got him to take a giant rubber legged bugger dead drifted on the bottom. The 'fight' lasted about a whole 10 seconds before he kicked my ass proper.

Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
I hooked one on the columbia while fishing for steelhead, probably fouled. Anyways, in the current it didnt last long, even with an 8wt. No size est, just saw some color and knew it was so steelhead, a chance it may have been a very large chinook, but doubt it.



Active Member
I don't know if it's possible, but you get kudo's from me just for thinking "outside the box"!

Actually this subject did come up on Ifish in the flyfishing forum a year or so back (try this link ifish sturgeon on a fly). A few adventurous souls attempted this unsuccessfully in the estuary shallows of the lower Columbia. I think it is generally agreed that sturgeon will sight feed under the right conditions (i.e. shallow, relatively clear water). Since there have been rare cases of sturgeon being caught (mouth-hooked) on baitless salmon spinners before, it should be possible to take them on a fly.

Even so, I personally suspect that sturgeon rely so heavily on their tactile senses that having a fly get their visual attention isn't enough. A fly would need to feel like prey or food for them to take it. I would try something soft and pliable like a bunny strip leech, custom cut to give it some serious bulk.

Good luck if you try it.


Active Member
West Sound -
You should remember that using artificial bait for sturgeon in Washington is illegal. Sturgeon fishing is a bait only show by regulation. I believe that the reason is to prevent the snagging of them.

That said a chuck of rabbit fur/yarn liberally soaked in scent, casted out to lay on the bottom in shallow water (Columbia esturary flats in the summer would be the prefect place) could result in a hook ups. I would make sure that the scent can be easily detected with the human nose so that if checked by the local wildlife officer you can easily show that you are using "bait".

Sturgeon are great game fish especially with tackle scaled to the size of the fish. For those sub-legal and legal esturary fish (only fish between 45 and 60 inches are legal to keep in the summer in the lowest portion of the Columbia -check your regulations as it changes) steelhead/salmon would handle most fish. However I would be prepared to brake off the larger fish if they prove too much for the gear being used. The larger issue with fly tackle would be finding a place that one can keep the bait (scented fly) on the bottom for the length of time needed for the fish to find the bait without the current hanging the whole thing up.

Can sturgeon be caught with a fly rod? - I would say so.

Is fishing with bait fly fishing? - I'm not touching that with a spey rod - I'll leave that you each of you to decide.

Tight lines


Workin in a sweet mullet
There is a chapter in a popular book that is written by the editor-in-chief of a local fishing magazine that describes fly-fishing for sturgeon on a Coastal Washington river. It can be done successfully, and he "allegedly" talked to the WDFW and asked about the regualtions of "bait only" and was basically told that if you can fair hook them with flies, then go ahead. The regulations are there to prevent people from snagging them. That doesn't mean that I will be breaking out my 12 wt. anytime soon, but I'm just noting that someone has done it successfully, and even documented it.

I foul-hooked one (I think it was foul hooked) on the lower Stilly a few years back on my 9 wt. It drug me around this little pool for about a half hour before I gave up and broke it off.

Jim Wallace

Smells like low tide.
I have heard that sturgeon will sometimes cruise mudflats at high tide in search of ghost shrimp (sandshrimp) and also maybe because they like the warmer water. As the tide drops, they fall back into the deeper channels.

A close friend of mine caught a sturgeon on a fly while cutthroat fishing three summers ago. Can't say who or where, as that must remain secret, as he was somewhat embarrassed that he kept the fish. It was a keeper, barely legal, but a good 42" long.

His story: He was fishing in the upper tidal reaches of a coastal river for searun cutts with a 6 wt setup, clear intermediate sinktip, 4 # test Maxima tippet, and a beadhead #8 fly (Can't remember the pattern, but he said he wanted to get deep because the tide had only just begun to drop). He was slowly drifting in a wide spot on the river, and casting toward sunken logs/cover along the cut-bank where there was a deeper channel.
He had just made a cast and begun stripping in when his canoe drifted up broadside against an old piling and began to spin off of it in the current.
He stopped stripping in his fly momentarily to handle the canoe, and his fly sunk to the bottom. It is about 5 feet deep at the most there at that phase of the tide. I know the spot well.
Moments later, when he began to strip line again, he immediatlely stripped his fly into what he thought was a snag on the bottom.
The snag moved. "Big Sucker" he thought...and then he saw the greenish gold submarine, and couldn't believe his eyes, he said. To make a long story shorter, He said it made one good line burning run about 60 feet, and then started going back and forth across the river downstream of him. Basically, he "light-lined" the fish for about 20 to 25 minutes until it became tired and he was able to grab it by the tail end and hoist it up and into the canoe.
His fly was stuck just outside the mouth, about where the lower lip would be if a sturgeon had one. (More of an event horizon than a lip).
My friend honestly could not say whether or not the fish took the fly, or was coincidentally foul-hooked when his fly sunk to the bottom, so as it was legal sized, he killed the fish, took it home and smoked it. I got to sample some of the finished product, and it was very tasty! :eek:


Jerry Daschofsky

Staff member
I've heard stories of people catching them on the fly. I haven't tried it, nor wil I ever probably. I've caught alot of sturgeon, and I've found that most are more readily caught on good bait that they can eat for a longer period of time (most will suck them up into their siphon and slowly chomp on it). Most of the places I fish for them (and alot of the places they like to stack up for food) are on the edges of deep slots where it'll start to shallow up going upstream (on the edge of a drop off would've been easier for me to say LOL). Most of these slots are a good 40-60+' deep. Alot of times, we add EXTRA scent to the bait (usually injected) to help form a good scent trail. Most sturgeon have a VERY light bite. In fact, most who hit, usually at first you'd think it was a squawfish hitting (the initial bite that is). Usually once they decide to start inhaling it, then they take off with it. Only on the rare occasion have I had veroscious hits off the get go (usually a smaller sturgeon of maybe 2-3'). So not sure how it'd be on a fly rod, since I'm using glass rods with very sensitive tips to detect the bites.

I know there was an article in STS magazine a couple years ago about a guide in Oregon who flyfished for them. Like mentioned (think Smalma), he used big flies SOAKED in scent. Then mostly a heavy sinking line to get the fly down. I do believe he was running a 12wt for these fish (I know my heavy tuna rods are buckled over when I hit a 12'+ sturgeon). I will say, not sure I'd really want to catch one with a traditional flyrod setup. Unless you had one with a long foregrip you could hold onto. Think it's the big deepwater marlin rods that have them. But that would be ALOT of pressure on your forearm, even with a 10wt with a standard fighting butt and standard foregrip. I would suggest LOTS of backing if you're shore fishing. Had one big sturgeon take me almost into my backing (on our boat rods, we run mono backing then superline for the main line on our gear rods). Had to pull anchor and chase after him (had a good 300 yards of line out). Was fairhooked, but when a big gator (slang for sturgeon amongst gear guys) wants to run, most of the time you'll have a hard time turning him (they are NOT soft mouthed at all).

Jim Kerr

Active Member
I know some salt water mud flats where green sturgen in the 3 to 5 foot range can be spotted on sunny days cruising in just a few feet of water, if you want to try it let me know...I will point you in the right seems to be a july show and its on the peninsula I only know a couple of people who have targeted them, and that was all bait fishing, I bet you could get them to eat a unscented fly if you had alot of paitence.


Active Member
So..biting off more than a you on a fly rod can handle (or worth the time) ..I would say pass...if sturgeon is what you want go conventional with garlic chicken legs smeared in peanutbutter..or something of that nature.

Zen Piscator

Supporting wild steelhead, gravel to gravel.
Porter said:
So..biting off more than a you on a fly rod can handle (or worth the time) ..I would say pass...if sturgeon is what you want go conventional with garlic chicken legs smeared in peanutbutter..or something of that nature.
Just imagine one single hook up. I could probably tolerate 10 or 15 trips if I was casting to sighted fish, even if it was hard to get them to take. Personaly just the thought of it gets me jonesin'


Active Member
I agree. It's about the challenge of doing something new. Beside's there's an element of pre-historic adventure to it, - "Jurassic Flyfishing" if you will.

I know there never will be a following of searching out "strange fish" compared to trout on a river rising to an emerging hatch, however I do like the element of trying to figure it out. This is one reason I love the salt in the Pacific Northwest. There are so little known compared to the salt of the East or the Madisons or Green Rivers of the sipping trout. I guess I will just keep trying to figure out the "lack luster fish" while also fishing for the "famous fish" that everyone loves and respects. I almost think that the "lack luster fish" are sometimes more difficult to catch, with the exception of steelhead. I know areas are open year round, however I hear that sturgeon are better in the summer. Is that right?
Hello, flyfishbums
I have been fishing out of Lincoln Park lately for searun cutts but it has been slow lately so therefore where will u guys recommend a better place to ff for searuns now. I wonder if the heavy runoff from the rainfall into puget sound has an effect on searun cutts?
Take care my friends and have a great happy new year to all of u!!

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