On our last day in Oregon, my dad and I met up with guide Charlie Foster
who spends his whole year fishing on the Columbia for sturgeon. He takes people out for what they call keeper sturgeon (4-5ft) about 2/3rds of the year, but during this magical time he guides exclusively for what I can now say with all seriousness - Oversize Sturgeon.
As per the norm, we met Charlie at a dock called The Fishery
around 6:00am just west of the Bonneville Damn. He actually reminded me a lot of our last guide Scott - quiet, light hearted, but with a slightly serious edge. I guess when you fish for waterbound Buicks all day long you kind of have to be?
We got a great view of the area from the second we put out on the water. This was a much more lush environment than Astoria. Removed some distance from the cold ocean winds, this place looked like the island from King Kong. Giant trees, a wide rolling river with dark green water and mountains covered in mist. It was the perfect place to house a monster.
The fishing gear didn't look nearly as big as some of the rigs I'd used offshore, but the poles looked disturbingly thick at the base. The actual rigging was 75lb test braided line with a 3lb lead ball followed by a 150lb nylon shock leader wrapped around and thread into a full 12" shinier with a big barbless hook. After anchoring, Charlie floated these rigs down the river behind the boat using a second pole that clipped a massive bell shaped foam bobber to the main line. When the bait was far enough back, someone yanked on the float line and the weight/bait dropped straight down at that spot and stayed there. Another place, another Darwinian setup.
As soon as we yanked the float off of the 2nd line, Charlie said "3 minutes
" with kind of a wry smile. Unbelievably - 2 minutes and 50 seconds later one of the poles started to bounce and a few seconds later I set the hook.
At first, it didn't seem like that big a fish. I could feel some weight as well as the vibration from him swimming around. Then all of the sudden this beast breaches 150 feet behind the boat. "Its about an 8 footer" Charlie says nonchalantly and my dad starts yelling where's your camera!? Meanwhile I start to wonder what the hell I just got myself into as I fumbled the camera out of my jacket pocket with an adrenaline clenched hand.
When the fish decided it wanted to go downstream, the line screamed out against the drag and Charlie cut loose the anchor line to follow. It was all I could do to hang on, and for a while the fish had the rod pinned to the edge of the boat. The handle of the pole was digging into my stomach with each move the fish made so I was only too thrilled that Charlie offered me a fighting belt. When my dad finally got that situated the fish had turned its head and I took the opportunity to try and take back some line.
I knew what I was supposed to do -- rear back then reel down. Only the fish was too heavy to pull back on. Every move I made was made twice again by the fish. I managed a few feet here or there but my back was quickly tiring and within about 10 minutes I was in trouble and my lower back was burnt up. I had a plan though - crouch in the corner and use my legs and the side of the boat for leverage. It worked and over the next half an hour I was able to battle the thing back toward the boat and eventually get back on my feet.
All said and done Charlie estimated the fish at a stout 250lbs. Above average but not completely unusual(says him!). We snapped a few pictures, released my opponent and I tried to figure out what on earth I would do if we caught something bigger? At some point I just wouldn't have enough strength to pull back and then what... get beaten? Fortunately it was my dads turn next.
It took a little over an hour before he hooked up with a monster as well - a 6 1/2ft dinosaur that also flew straight out of the water right after getting hooked. My dad was consumed and at 68 he stood there toe to toe with that fish only stumbling a few times when a run caught him off guard. A bad back, bad knees and a nasty tennis elbow were all forgotten. This is what we came here to do and damned if he didn't take care of business. About 30 minutes later with a smile from ear to ear he pulled the sturgeon boatside. Another impressive fish that weighed in around 150lbs. How Charlie could be the only guide there that day is beyond me. We had each had the experience of a lifetime and it was only 8am.
As it turned out, the rest of the day slowed down quite a bit. I caught a few smaller fish between 3 and 4 feet, as did my dad. Then just after lunch, my father hooked up with a 7 footer. This one gave him only slightly more trouble as it was heavier (@175 lbs) and ran out a ton of line at first, but Charlie was great at maneuvering the boat into a good position to help fight the fish. I have some great video of him fighting this second fish and will hopefully have it up soon. Its impossible to get a good photo of them boatside as they are too heavy to lift and too long to fit in the lens from within the boat.
What I really needed for the day to be absolutely perfect was to catch just 1 more oversized goliath. All dogs have their day and this was mine fortunately, as that's exactly what happened. Right before our trip was to end, I hooked into a solid 7ft fish that was fresh from the ocean and full of piss and vinegar. It jumped completely out of water twice before shooting straight to the bottom then running us sideways towards shore. These fish put you in a corner and keep you there, but I'm proud to say I didn't have to resort to any tricks this time. Following my dads example I stood tall and got pulled down only once when it finally saw the boat and made a long run back.
This is the kind of experience that I could gush about for days. Its pointless though really.... its something you have to experience for yourself and something that every fisherman should do at least once. Thank you Charlie for a great day I'll never forget, and thanks dad for being there. I couldn't ask for a better fishing buddy :)