For anyone with a strong interest in history, sturgeon fish have been an integral part of the Earth ecosystem as early as 245 million years ago. Indeed, the earliest identifiable sturgeon fossils date back from the Triassic period. Sturgeon fish are called primitive fish as a result of their unchanged morphological features, which have remained the same since the Late Cretaceous period, approximately 100.5 to 66 million years ago. In other words, catching a sturgeon fish could be similar to catching a living fossil.
Understandably, you will need to prepare for this journey through history if you are considering sturgeon fishing. It’s also important to understand the sturgeon fish life cycle so that you can keep the species safe and prevent risks of extinction. Indeed, some sturgeon species appear to be extinct in the wild. As such, anglers need to understand the preserve this critically endangered species. Below, we’ve explained what you need to know about surgeon fishing and where to catch sturgeon fish.
What is a Sturgeon Fish?
Sturgeon fish are native to subtropical, temperate waters of Eurasia and North America. Sturgeons belong to the Acipenseridae family, which includes 27 species of sturgeons. Fossils record the existence of the Acupenseridae fish family as early as 245 mullion years ago. However, sturgeons as we know them only appear during the Cretaceous period, approximately 100 million years ago. What is remarkable about the species is that sturgeon fish have not gone through an awful lot of morphological transformations. Their slow evolution has earned them the title of living fossil.
Sturgeon fish are unique among bony fish, with an almost completely cartilaginous skeleton derived from their bony ancestors. They have bony plates that cover their heads and similar armored plates along the body. On the underside of the long snout, sturgeon fish have a toothless mouth. Equipped with 4 tactile whiskers (barbels), they sense the bottom of the water body to find food. The fish can be intimidating as its distinctive tail can remain of a shark. Sturgeons can also reach record sizes compared to other freshwater species.
Related to the paddlefish, both species are harvested for roe, which is then processed into caviar. The high demand for caviar has driven more than one species towards extinction. So, we demand that anglers approach sturgeon fishing with a conservation interest. According to the IUCN, more than 85% of sturgeon fish species are Critically Endangered, meaning that you will not be able to catch and eat a sturgeon yourself without following strict regulations. However, we’ll get more in detail about the things you can do to encounter sturgeon fish and how you can help protect them.
Where to Fish for Sturgeon
Sturgeon fish live in a variety of habitats, including freshwater and saltwater. You can find sturgeons both in the oceans and lakes. In North America, sturgeon fish are recording along West Coast major rivers, in the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, Missouri, and St. Lawrence rivers. They can also be found along the Atlantic Coast (from the Gulf of Mexico to Newfoundland). Sturgeons are partially anadromous, which means they can undergo significant migrations between seawaters and the freshwater where they spawn. However, some species remain entirely freshwater fish, such as the lake sturgeon fish and white sturgeons.
Yet, while sturgeon fish can be found in a variety of environments, they cannot be fished anywhere. Fishing is tightly regulated to prevent overexploitation and putting the survival of the species at risk. Lake sturgeons, a typically endangered species, can only be fished for sports in specific locations and regulated times. If you accidentally catch a lake sturgeon fish outside of these restrictions, you can help conservation by releasing it safely. White sturgeons, found in Washington, Oregon, and California, are not listed as either endangered or threatened. Recreational anglers can fish white sturgeon fish in these regions under regulations. Anglers can keep one fish per year in some areas, but they must release all their catches in others.
Sturgeon fish are highly sensitive to climate change and the rise of water temperature. Rehabilitation programs for lake sturgeon fish struggle to protect sturgeons from negative elements such as habitat loss, destruction of food sources, and pollution. If you happen to notice sturgeon fish in unexpected areas, you can get in touch with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to inform their team.
Enthusiastic anglers can also reach out to dedicated sturgeon fishing groups in Canada. The Fraser River is one of the most popular places worldwide to encounter sturgeon fish safely.
Sturgeon Fun Facts
Sturgeon fish have a slow growth process, reaching sexual maturity between 8 and 20 years old depending on species and gender. Unfortunately, this slow maturity process is the cause of the sturgeon extinction threat, as overexploitation has affected the survival of the fish. Its association with one of the most renowned delicacies, caviar (aka fish eggs), has caused a dramatic decline in the sturgeon population.
The typical lifespan of the male sturgeon reaches 60 years. On the other hand, female sturgeon fish can reach up to 100 and even 150 years. Despite their long lives, female sturgeons can only reproduce between the age of 20 and 26 years old. Males are sexually mature between 8 and 12.
Sturgeon fish have a fully toothless mouth. They suck their food in. Some of the largest fish can swallow an entire salmon (between 30 and 50 inches long). For comparison, adult sturgeon fish can reach up to 22 FEET long. In 2019, sonar readings in the Hudson River spotted a 14-foot long Atlantic sturgeon. In March 2021, the US Fish and Wildlife Service caught and released a 7 feet-long female lake sturgeon in the Detroit River.
The Beluga sturgeon fish is the largest species, with lengths up to 24 feet. However, it lives in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea basins.
Despite their sizes, sturgeon fish are docile. They don’t attack anglers on boats. However, with weights over 1,000 pounds, an accidental collision with a sturgeon fish can feel like hitting a truck. If you are going on a recreational fishing day for sturgeon, you want to be surrounded by professionals who can help catch and release the fish safely both for you and the sturgeon.
Top Sturgeon Fishing Lures & Tips
Sturgeon fish are carnivorous. So, if you are going on a sturgeon fishing trip, you need to ensure you’ve got the right set of baits to match their preference. The most common baits you can use include their preferred prey, such as gills, salmon eggs, eulachons, and even lamprey eels. It’s important to understand how to best store your baits to ensure they don’t go bad. Fresh salmon eggs, for instance, will produce better results. If you want to keep your eggs as fresh as possible, we recommend avoiding heat during the day. You can freeze the eggs ahead of your fishing trip and let them thaw gradually. Sturgeon fish also react positively to rotten baits, such as stink bait. However, as a rule of thumb, you want your bait to smell as fresh as possible. Stink baits can’t be used in every region, so it’s best to check your local regulations. Rotten salmon carcasses are a major food source for sturgeon fish.
Most sturgeon fish you will fish are under a catch and release regulation. So, you will need to equip yourself with tools that will ensure you record and release the fish safely. Gloves are necessary as sturgeon fish have sharp scutes (their shielded plates). Use a wet towel over the fish head to calm it while measuring. A large landing net will be a helpful addition to your kit.
Due to their size and strength, you’ll need a heavy-duty hook (5/0 to 9/0) and a 400lb monofilament shock leader as a basic setup. A quality swivel will also be integral to success. Rod-wise, anglers choose to focus on a heavy-duty 6 to 9 feet rod with a reel that can hold a minimum of 80 pounds. It’s best to reel the sturgeon as quickly as possible as fish can push up a fight. Sturgeon fish are strong, so don’t hesitate to ask for support.
Can you Eat Sturgeon?
You are highly unlikely to be able to eat your catch. As mentioned, most caught sturgeon fish need to be released. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t eat sturgeon. Sturgeon fish has a strong fishy flavor that is edible but unappealing. Lake sturgeon and white sturgeon fish are both edible. But they are not fished as a food source. Instead, fish roe, sturgeon eggs are the most sought-after treat: Caviar.
Commercial sturgeon fish can be eaten raw in sushi dishes. It’s not recommended to individuals who don’t enjoy strong fish flavors. On the other hand, a farmed sturgeon fish can have a slightly milder flavor and texture, making it more palatable. If you get your hands on farmed sturgeon fillets, the preferred recipes involved either raw sushis or simple sautés with clean seasoning ingredients. After aging the meat for several days, a unique raw flavor develops. Alternatively, you can also grill, smoke, stew, boil, and marinade your sturgeon meat. It can be used as a substitution for swordfish, shark, or tuna.
Supermarket sturgeon cuts and caviar comes from specifically selected fish farms.
Some cultures, such as China and Russia, use the sturgeon head to prepare fish stock and soup. The head is removed before serving the dish. Deep-fried enthusiasts also praise sturgeon backbone as a tempura snack. The backbone is filled with cartilage, which can be deep-fried.
Internal organs, such as the liver, can also be cooed and served accompanied by fish roe. In Asian restaurants, you can find sturgeon fish liver and roe served with sake.