Catching big-air sturgeons: ‘Once-in-a-lifetime experience’
Editor’s note: The 2017 Idaho Outdoors fishing guide cover story was on some of the biggest, baddest fish in Idaho — and the anglers who pursue them. Here is the column introducing the series.
Today: White sturgeon (final installment)
Where to catch them: Snake River.
Recommended gear: Seven-foot, medium-heavy Shakespeare Sturgeon Stick with a Penn 321 bait-casting reel. Minimum 50-pound monofilament or 130-pound braided line is required. Size 10 circle or “octopus” hooks (which must be barbless). Weights must be attached using lighter line to avoid breaking off baited hooks when snagged on the bottom.
What to use: Cut bait, squid, pickled herring.
State record: 394 pounds, caught by Glenn Howard in 1958 (sturgeon can no longer be harvested).
Catch-and-release state record: 9 feet, 9 inches, caught by the Fairchild group in 2016.
Featured monster hunter: Ron Klimes, Buhl.
Idaho’s ultimate river monster is the white sturgeon — North America’s largest freshwater fish. These prehistoric giants are native to the Snake River, and they can reach more than 10 feet in length, weigh more than 300 pounds and live to the ripe old age of 100.
Twenty years ago, Ron Klimes of Buhl was just another angler launching cut bait from the bank, hoping a sturgeon would find it. He didn’t have a great deal of luck, so he eventually lost interest.
In 2010, the allure of catching a 10-foot fish sucked Klimes back in. But he wanted to do it in a way nobody else was doing it — from a one-man pontoon boat.
“A good sturgeon hole is made up of segments, and you usually can’t fish it properly from the bank,” Klimes said. “With a pontoon, you can fish exactly where you want to, and you can also fish vertically in current seams and slack water that most guys can’t reach.”
That first year was full of trial and error, and Klimes didn’t catch a single fish. But he put what he learned to use the next year and caught 30. In 2013, he landed 48. And the following year, he finally eclipsed his goal of 50 fish in a season — all caught from a pontoon.
“For me, it was the jump,” Klimes said. “Having a seven-foot fish leap out of the water, right at the end of your boat. That was the drug.”
But catching 100-pound fish out of a small, exposed boat is not without its dangers. There’s always a chance the fish could jump and land on you, and Klimes cautions anglers never to let a hooked sturgeon swim underneath the boat.
On the flip side, having the fish pull the pontoon and angler around actually makes for a shorter fight. Klimes estimates he lands four-footers in less than 10 minutes and six-footers in less than a half-hour. Still, anything over 7 feet long is going to take over an hour to land.
“They are powerful fish,” Klimes said. “Anything that large that can launch itself completely out of the water, that’s just an incredibly strong animal. One fish we’ve caught a few times is particularly athletic. We call her the Kraken, and it’s such a rush to catch a fish like that.”
On an average five-hour trip, Klimes typically hooks three or four sturgeon. To date, his personal best is a 9-footer, and he’s closing in on 300 pontoon sturgeon overall.
Now that he’s figured out the art of sturgeon fishing, Klimes finds even more enjoyment in helping others catch their first Idaho river monster.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Klimes said. “I like helping people check it off their bucket list.”
Watch video of Ron Klimes’ sturgeon adventures at www.youtube.com/idahoron.