Wedged between two massive rivers, Portland, Oregon, is a perfect home for water baby Michael Rischer. Surfer, sailor and snowboarder, Rischer is a full-time kayak guide who fishes the Pacific Northwest year-round. His favorite target for winter kayak fishing is white sturgeon that can grow over 200 pounds and measure more than seven feet long.

Kayak Fishing for Big River Sturgeon

White sturgeon are the biggest freshwater fish in North America and they put up a tough fight that can last an hour. The huge fish will often jump out of the water and use the strong river current to put the hurt on a kayak angler.

kayak fishing guide holds up a white sturgeon caught in winter in the Pacific Northwest
During winter food is scarce and sturgeon are hungry. | Feature photo: Michael Rischer

Winter is the best time to target white sturgeon in the Columbia and Willamette rivers. Anglers anchor in river eddies and soak bait while waiting for a bite. Once the fish bites, the anglers detach from anchors and let the sleigh rides begin. On a good day, expect to tangle with three or four sturgeon. Anglers leave the river with sore muscles and great stories.

Outfitting for Battle

Winter water temperatures can dip into the 30s, so Rischer outfits his crew in Stohlquist drysuits. He demands each angler wear a PFD to stay above water if the fish pulls him in. A rod leash secures tackle to the kayak and a Hobie H-Crate keeps everything in place.

Bait the Big Sturgeon In

During winter, food is scarce and huge sturgeon are hungry. These detritus feeders can smell a chunk of fish from miles away.

Rischer uses a whole squid on a 7/0 barbless hook. He ties the tip of the squid’s mantle above the hook with a half hitch so the hook hangs even with the tentacles. The hook is tied to a four-foot leader of 72-pound Dacron. Slide a six- to 12-ounce pyramid sinker over 80-pound Daiwa Samurai braided mainline and attach the leader with a 150-pound swivel.

A Lowrance fish finder/GPS combo allows Rischer to find the deep holes where sturgeon live.

River Sturgeon Rod and Reel

It takes a big stick to beat a river monster. Rischer uses an eight-foot, medium-heavy Daiwa Proteus rod that features tangle-free guides and a soft gimble that works with or without a fighting belt. The rod has X-Tube grip wrap to keep the fish from ripping the rod from his hands. He matches the rod to a SLW20H Daiwa Sealine reel to survive the brutal beating of a big sturgeon.

This article was first published in the Winter 2015 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

During winter food is scarce and sturgeon are hungry. | Feature photo: Michael Rischer



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