I am getting alot of questions these days about sturgeon fishing via pm's and such. It seems there is alot of interest. In the hope that most of you here are conservation minded and will appreciate these fish for what they are, I will fill you all in as best I can about what works for me. I am sure others may have more to add.
General location: Sturgeon are found the length of the north channel all the way from the lake to the deep hole at the south end of Algonac, and I am sure beyond. There is just too much river and too little time to explore it all. If you go out at night you will see these fish jumping everywhere, deep, shallow, close to shore and in the middle of the river.
Specific location: Sturgeon are big fish that I am sure must be able to feed efficiently. I read some sturgeon information on the web from the Pacific northwest that said the guides look for concentrations of food. I do the same here. The best way to find fish, and the way we develop our spots is to cruise the channel along eddys, drop offs and current breaks until we mark concentrations of fish. They could be of any species including rock bass, walleyes, suckers, sheepshead and catfish. They will show you where the river is concentrating food. Sturgeon will be right there with them. It doesn't have to be a deep hole.
Technique: The fishing is basic and simple. A gob of bait is presented on bottom while anchored just above the fish. I use baitcasting reels spooled with 50lb test line and 50lb leaders on a heavy catfish rods. I have gotten better numbers of fish on 30 lb leaders but have had a big fish break me off.
The rig: I rig my sinker as a slip sinker on the main line above a bead to protect my knot tied to a snap swivel. Instead of running the eye of my sinker up the main line I use a snap swivel to which the sinker is attached. This allows me to change weights without having to retie if I change depths.
The leader is about 3 to 4 ft with a barrel swivel on the end attached to the main line and a large hook on the other end. I prefer to use Owner cutting point saltwater hooks. Others use kahle style or circle hooks.
Bait: A group of us went out one night and fished different combinations of bait including just spottails, minnows and worms, just worms. The thing that produced the best was a big gob of crawlers. Out west they use cut-bait, The DNR uses gobies on their setlines. I have thought about catching some creek chubs and using them for cut-bait. People have suggested squid, oysters and other fish products from the store. Don't be afraid to experiment.
I spend alot on crawlers. Gulp worms have been known to work. If you find something cheap and durable please let me know.
Refinements: I always try to completely cover my hook with the bait. The mouth on these fish looks like one big feeler. I want the bait to feel as natural as possible when they pick it up. Sturgeon bite like a perch. If you get a bite, no matter how light, set the hook. It could be a small rock bass or a very large fish. Sometimes I will hold my rod to get a better feel for the bite and to provide for a quicker hook set before the bait is dropped. I get a much higher hooking percentage and catch rate this way. It seems alot of bites come after a boat has gone by creating a wake that causes the sinker to gently bounce on the bottom. On those calm nights with little wave action I will bounce the sinker off the bottom once in a while to stir up a little silt and cause some noise and vibration. I think this calls attention to the bait.
Handling the fish: Now that you have followed all of the above advice and have a big fish at the boat please treat him gently as possible. One of the reasons I use heavy rods and line is to get the fish to the boat before they are completely exhausted. Use a large net to get them in the boat. Have the camera, tape measure and hook removers handy before the fish is netted. You will need gloves to handle the fish because of the sharp plates and rough skin. Do not pick him up by the gills or hold him vertically. Grab the fish just in front of the tail and cradle the belly with your other hand keeping the fish horizontal. Get a quick picture and get him back into the water as quickly as possible. It will take some time to revive a big fish. Hold him upright in the water and allow water to flow through his gills. Sometimes they will go right away, sometimes not. He will let you know when he is ready to go. It may take some time. Be patient. Five to ten minutes is not unusual.
Finally: Once you have landed a fish check your line and leaders for nicks and frays. That skin and those plates and spines will do a number even on 50 lb test line. I normally will have to re-tie after about every second fish.
Conservation: This is the largest of the freshwater fishes. Unless you have fished the ocean, you will likely catch the biggest fish of your life. Please conserve this great resource by acting legally and ethically. Take a friend along to share this great experience. Sturgeon meat has a heavier texture, is very oily and has a stronger flavor than walleye or perch. Please practice catch and release. Enjoy the river at night. It is cooler with less boat traffic and you're not burning gallons of gas.
Be safe: Twice in the past 2 years I have had large boats heading directly toward me and had to frantically wave them off. Make sure you have all required safety equipment on board and that you have proper lighting. Always have both a loud horn or other audible signalling device as well as a spot light to make you presence known to those that should not be driving a boat especially at night.
HAVE FUN! GOOD LUCK!