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Ronan's report

Wednesday 8th April, 2009

I know, I know, this is Sexyloops, and Sexyloops is all about flyfishing and fly casting. But it's also about doing things differently. So today, the FP is about fishing bait, and having a great time doing it.

I've always considered myself an angler first and a fly angler second. I started out spinning a long time ago, and I still enjoy the different techniques, particularly when they are new to me. This past weekend I was invited to fish for sturgeon on the Columbia River. I knew a little bit about what I was getting into, but I was also excited to learn a few things that I didn't.

I'm a geek when it comes to fish, and I love fishing for and learning about new and interesting species. I knew a bit about these fish and was really excited at the chance to see one in person. Sturgeon are holdovers from prehistoric times, able to transition from salt and fresh water, and uniquely adapted to the big water environment. They can grow to huge sizes, over 14 feet long and 300 pounds. Most of the year, sturgeon are found on the bottom in deep water. You couldn't get a fly down to them if you tried.

At one point we were anchored up on a heavy current seam about 80 yards from shore, casting our rigs out of the back of the boat and, with the help of an 8 ounce weight tied to a dropper rig, sinking our baits down to rest on the bottom under 140 feet of water. The program was to then sit back, sip on a beer, and enjoy the long lost Oregon sunshine while a sturgeon found the bait. The rig consisted of the aforementioned weight, 30 pound braided Spectra mainline, and a 50 pound dacron leader to prevent from being cut off on the sturgeons scutes. Terminal tackle was a barbless, #3/0 or #5/0 barbless octopus hook baited up with a tasty glob of salmon eggs or cured squid. This setup results in lip hookups and makes releasing fish easy. Rods were stout salmon rods, rigged with solid baitcasting reels. We were targeting small sturgeon, under 5 feet long, so the gear was relatively light. It's hard to believe after fishing flies on 5x that a 50# leader would ever be considered light gear.

It wasn't long before we had our first bites. They were just nibbles, telegraphed lightly up the long line. It turned out that the fishing was pretty slow, but we did manage to land 3 small sturgeon. I hooked a larger fish, but lost it, probably due to my inexperience with the tackle and techniques. I told the guys I was fishing with that I just didn't feel right landing the big fish so I let it get slack and come off.

I'm a geek when it comes to rivers as well, so probably the most interesting part of the day was being out on the massive Columbia River. It's been dammed to form a series of long, narrow lakes, but the current remains heavy in many locations. From the road it looks like a big, featureless flat. But out on the river, from the vantage point of a boat equipped with depth finding gear, that uniform lake is transformed into something much more interesting. We motored over dropoffs and huge scour holes where the river runs up against basalt outcrops. On the sonar we saw huge dunes and ripples in the river bed, some 20 feet high. We fished on seams in the deep current, and in eddies that concentrate the food. These features might sound familiar because they are the same places that you look for trout in a small stream. The difference is merely in the scale of the features.

So, what's the point of all this? I don't really know. I'm just a bit tired of writing about and fishing for steelhead I guess. Maybe the point is that in fishing, the point is to have fun, enjoy your time on the water, and learn new things. If that requires that you use only fly tackle, or dry flies, or fish upstream, then that's ok. But if you're like me then you can have a good time fishing with all kinds of tackle, and enjoy learning and mastering new and different techniques and fisheries. Sometimes you can even find something in bait fishing that will make you a more effective fly angler.

Fish On,

PS – If you read on Wednesday for a steelhead fix, and you've never read Dylan Tomine's powerful piece on the State of the Steelhead, you owe it to yourself. Chances are you will learn something that may surprise you.

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