Sturgeon Fishing In Portland Oregon | Kayak Angler Magazine | Rapid Media
Robert Field holding a sturgeon in a kayak. Photo by Robert Field

Catch a prehistoric monster in hipster central

When I think of Portland, Oregon, I think of a cold, wet, dreary concrete jungle with hipsters sloshing between gourmet breweries and Avantegarde concerts. I’ve never associated the city with fishing. Since I was travelling through the area on a cross-country fishing expedition, I gave local anglers Nicholas Beston and Robert Perea a call. They agreed to meet and hook me up with an ancient behemoth, the white sturgeon.

I assumed the search for these fish would take us well outside of the city limits. I was surprised when my GPS pointed me to a shipyard right next to downtown Portland.

“What are we doing here,” I asked Beston. His reply was simple, “This is where the dinosaurs live.”

After launching on the Willamette River, we paddled 200 yards to the middle of Swan Island Marina. I dropped a chunk of smelly herring and prepared myself for a long wait. 

That proved to be a miscalculation.

Within 10 minutes, my line began moving. I reeled down and set the hook as soon as I felt weight. All hell broke loose as I found myself getting pulled around the shipyard by a humongous fish. After a few minutes, one of the most gnarly looking animals I’ve ever seen broke the surface. My first white sturgeon measured just over five feet long.

I released the huge creature and returned to fishing. It wasn’t long before I was hooked up again. Soon, everyone was fighting a monster. Before noon, I released five beasts up to 68-inches. Then it started to rain cold and steady so we called it a day. What I expected to be a slow grind turned into a dinosaurfest.

The waters around Portland host many fishing options from salmon to rockfish; don’t overlook the heart of the city where dinosaurs lurk beneath the surface.


White sturgeon are the big draw. These fish are one of the oldest living animals in North America that have remained relatively unchanged for more than 175 million years. Sturgeon are also one of the largest freshwater fish in North America. Their spinal plates, called scutes, are razor sharp, especially on younger fish. I ended up with deep cuts on my palms after handling them fish. Sturgeon are bottom feeders and nearly blind. “Fragrant” bait is key to catching one of these monsters. I found that the bait doesn’t have to be fresh, just potent.


White sturgeon can be caught year-round, with no particular season being better or worse. Cold water and wet weather are the biggest concerns. With winter water temperatures in the 50s and air temp to match, dress to flip in case one of these brutes takes you for a swim.


Don’t skimp on tackle for these prehistoric fish. A stout rod, long enough to get around the bow of your kayak, with a 5000-8000 class reel will get the job done. Forty-pound main line will keep an angler tied in for the ride. Add a fivefoot leader of 120-pound Dacron to protect against sharp scutes. The business end of the rig is a 6/0 circle hook. Add a sinker on a fishfinder slide above the leader.


It takes a stable boat to keep an angler upright against the pull of a 300-pound sturgeon. Pedal-drive kayaks make it easier to fight the fish while chasing it around the harbor. Use a fishfinder to locate deep holes and schools of big sturgeon.


The fish can be found throughout the Willamette and Columbia rivers. Start with charts of the river to identify the deepest holes. A shipyard is always a good bet because it offers deep, sheltered water. Bring an anchor with plenty of rope. Herring, squid and sand shrimp are the baits of choice. On the bite, leave the drag loose so the fish can take the bait and get the circle hook. Sturgeon will jump clear out of the water and tailwalk across the surface. Be ready for a world-class workout. Exercise extreme caution when working the fish close to the boat. It’s best to paddle to a shallow area before attempting to land the fish. Take a few photos and release these gentle giants.


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