How to Catch Sturgeon: Tackle, Tips and Techniques

Sturgeon are some of the largest freshwater fish in the world, and catching one can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many anglers. When it comes to sturgeon fishing, having the …

Sturgeon are some of the largest freshwater fish in the world, and catching one can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many anglers. When it comes to sturgeon fishing, having the right gear and tackle is crucial since sturgeon are extremely powerful and can grow to be over 10 feet long.

With successful sturgeon fishing in mind, this article will take a look at the various fishing techniques and required gear to haul in one of these absolutely amazing huge fish.

Where to Catch Sturgeon

Sturgeons often reside in deep pools, wide channels, and deep holes or dips in rivers, lakes, and estuaries.

In North America, some of the best places to catch sturgeon include the Fraser River in BC Canada, Columbia River in Oregon, Snake River in Idaho, Kootenai River in Montana, and the Sacramento River in California. In Europe, sturgeon can be found in the Danube River, Rhine River, and the Volga River in Russia.

Sturgeon are bottom feeders and are often found in deep pools, extremely wide channels, and deeper holes or dips in rivers, as well as in deep water sections of many lakes and estuaries. When planning a sturgeon fishing trip during either the harvest season or the catch and release season, it’s important to do some research on the specific location so you have a better idea of what type of habitat and terrain you will encounter.

Sturgeon Fishing Tackle

Rod, Reel, and Line

When choosing a rod, you want one that is strong enough to handle the weight and power of both small sturgeon and oversized sturgeon. A good rod should be at least 7′ long with a heavy power rating of at least 50-80 pounds. Some popular rods you can consider would include the Shimano Trevala and the Okuma Cedros. Both of these rods can absolutely hold their own when hauling in lake sturgeon or other large fish.

A high-quality reel is essential to go with your heavy-duty rod because these fish are incredibly strong and can put up a very hard and long fight. You’ll want a reel with a high line capacity and a powerful drag system to prevent line breakage while also speeding up the process of tiring the fish out so you can land it. Some reels I personally like include the Shimano Saragosa and the Penn Slammer.

In addition to your other heavy-duty sturgeon gear, you’ll want a very strong fishing line that can handle the weight and strength of these monsters. A braided line is always the best choice because it has a small diameter but is very strong. Look for a line of at least 80 pounds, and don’t be afraid to go even larger if you want even more sturgeon success. Some tried, and true braided lines that can catch a sturgeon include PowerPro and Sufix 832.


The fish finder rig is a rig I see used most often by sturgeon anglers, and this is due to 3 key reasons.

  1. Sensitive bite detection. The fish finder rig is specifically designed to allow the weight to slide up and down the line as the fish takes the bait. This means that you will be able to detect even the slightest nibble on your baits, which is great since sturgeon test the baits before fully taking it.
  2. Minimizes line twist. Because the weight slides up and down the line, it minimizes line twists and not only keeps your lures or baits and rig where it needs to be but also ensures your line is not kinked or knotted.
  3. Holds bait in place. Sturgeon fishing often requires a heavy weight to keep the cut or live bait on the bottom, which doesn’t allow for much movement to help entice the fish to strike. The fish finder rig holds the bait in place at the bottom of the water column while also allowing it to move freely, making it much more attractive to the fish in the area.

Best Sturgeon Baits

Sturgeon are known to feed on a variety of baits and can be very opportunistic feeders, so picking “the best” baits for sturgeon can be impossible. From my own personal experience, the following items can be successful almost all year round, whether you are targeting smaller fish or big fish trophies.

Eels are one of the most popular baits for sturgeon and will get results when other baits are not. They are very oily and have a strong odor that can attract sturgeon from a good distance.

Shrimp are another popular baits when trying to lure in sturgeon from a good distance. They have a strong scent and are often used in combination with other baits, such as eel or herring.

Herring are very common baits used for sturgeon fishing, especially on commercial charter vessels or by shore anglers. It is an oily fish that has a strong scent which sturgeon, and other types of fish, absolutely love.

Sturgeon are known to feed on salmon eggs any chance they get, so roe can be an effective bait for them. Fresh salmon roe is best, and it should be used with a single egg hook.

Squid can be effective baits for sturgeon, especially in saltwater locations, but can also be somewhat pricey in some locations. The scent of squid can attract sturgeon from a distance, and the tough texture can help keep the bait on the hook in water with a steady current.

Although not as commonly used as other baits, nightcrawlers can be an effective alternative to more costly options and are a great option for beginners to start with if they are unwilling or unable to invest in other baits.

Tides for Sturgeon Fishing

Sturgeon tend to be more active during incoming tides, especially during the last two hours of the incoming tide and the first two hours of the outgoing tide. During slack tide, sturgeon may become less active and may not be feeding.

Tides can also have an effect on the clarity of river water, which can normally make clear areas murky. This can affect the visual appeal of your baits as well as the smell, leaving you to find other options in attracting sturgeon to the area.

Technique and Tips

These fish can be very large, but they can also be extremely delicate when they nibble on your baits to test its flavor before making a full strike, so you want a sensitive rod tip.

A common technique used by most sturgeon anglers is to let the bait sit on the bottom and wait for a bite. If this is too slow-paced for you, a slow-and-steady cast and retrieve is also a great way to land these fish in some of the best sturgeon hot spots around the world.

When a sturgeon is hooked, keep the rod tip up to prevent the fish from reaching the bottom and getting stuck. Sturgeon will be hard enough to fight on their own; the last thing you need is them getting tangled in weeds or looped around rocks.

Patience is key when sturgeon fishing, as it may take some time to get a bite. These fish are very willing to take a wide range of baits and lures, but they are also not aggressive speed-strikers like largemouth bass or musky.

Fish On: How to Fight a Big Sturgeon

Sturgeon fish underwater
To catch a big sturgeon, it’s important to use the right gear and techniques.

Fighting a big sturgeon can be an intense experience due to their immense size and incredible strength. To fight a sturgeon effectively and get your new trophy in the boat, it’s important to use the right gear and techniques throughout the fight.

Start by keeping your rod at a 45-degree angle to the water, with the reel’s drag set just tight enough to keep the line from going slack. This will help tire out the fish while also pulling it closer to the surface instead of letting it find a cave or burrow at the bottom.

When the sturgeon takes the bait, give it a few seconds to fully bite and swallow before setting the hook with a strong, upward motion. Once you start to reel the fish in, be prepared for it to make sudden and powerful runs down and away. Try to keep the line tight at all times to prevent line tangles, knots, or snags.

Use a suitably sized net to land the fish, and avoid using dry hands when touching the fish or lifting the sturgeon out of the water. Remember to release any sturgeon you don’t plan to keep as quickly and humanely as possible, or if you are fishing for white sturgeon during a catch and release season.

Handling and Releasing Sturgeon Safely

Sturgeon are a prehistoric fish species that have been reported to live for more than 100 years. As such, it’s important to handle and release them safely to ensure their ongoing survival and continued presence in our waterways for other anglers to enjoy.

When handling sturgeon, it’s important to keep their skin and gills wet to prevent them from becoming damaged. Use a wet towel or cloth to handle the fish and preserve the slime coat, and always avoid touching their eyes or delicate internal gills.

If the sturgeon is too big to lift out of the water, try to release it while it’s still in the water. Avoid lifting the sturgeon by its gills, jaw, or tail since this can cause serious physical damage to the fish and may cause its death shortly after release.

Always follow local regulations for sturgeon fishing and release practices to ensure the health and conservation of the species. Many sturgeon areas are heavily regulated, and many sturgeon anglers have been fined or arrested for improperly handling or keeping fish from specific sturgeon populations.

Landbased vs Boat Based Sturgeon Fishing

Sturgeon fishing can be done both from land and from a boat, and both options can be extremely successful depending on the location and the population of fish in that waterway.

Land-based sturgeon fishing is suitable for anglers who prefer to fish from shore or a pier or those who don’t have access to their own boat. It typically involves using heavy tackle and long fishing rods to cast out to deeper water where sturgeon may be found.

Boat-based sturgeon fishing gives you the freedom to access deeper water more easily, increasing the chances of landing a larger fish. It is also a great way to cover more ground and explore different areas of a river or lake.

Additionally, boat-based fishing allows anglers to move with the fish and follow them as they migrate up and down a river system making it the superior choice when you fish for sturgeon around the harvest season runs or if you are first-time sturgeon fishing and trying to find an ideal sturgeon habitat.

Lake Sturgeon vs River Sturgeon

While sturgeon can be found in both lakes and rivers, there are some key differences between lake sturgeon and river sturgeon.

Lake sturgeon typically inhabit large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, and can grow up to 8 feet in length while also weighing up to 200 pounds. They tend to be bottom feeders and will eat a variety of prey, such as crayfish, insects, and small fish.

Lake sturgeon are usually found in much deeper and murkier water than river sturgeon would be and are arguably more difficult to catch than their river-dwelling counterparts.

River sturgeon are found in flowing waterways and tend to be smaller in size, typically ranging 4-6 feet in length, than their lake relatives. They are also more common and easier to catch than lake sturgeon, making them a great choice for most anglers, whether they are experienced or beginners.

River sturgeon typically feed on insects, small fish, and crustaceans and are much more willing to sample various cut baits, live baits, or artificial lures.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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