Sturgeon: A Different Way of Thinking by Sara Ichertz
There are these most incredible creatures some of us will go our entire life without ever laying our eyes on.
They swim beneath the surface and leaves me ever intrigued, always wanting to say yes to the new. Say yes to fisheries that are outside of my pack and ambitions ability.
My heart loves bank fishing the rivers of southern Oregon and all that comes with it. The growth that has taken place within Sara because of the them is nothing shy of amazing. These creatures I speak of are the fish. The water has always drawn me to it however, the fish literally call me in this undeniable way that leaves me no choice but to answer. Out of all the north coast fisheries I have been blessed enough to say yes to, there is this one that I cannot find at home. This prehistoric fish holds a special place in my heart that is almost comparable to the steelhead.
Almost! But not quite.
I was blessed enough to embrace sturgeon fishing the past two years with my good friend and guide David Johnson (of David Johnson’s guide service.) The solitude we found on this day while chasing river giants was very therapeutic and not anything that I was expecting. Unreal, we have this entire massive body of water almost entirely to ourselves.
Why? I wondered, though it was nothing more than a thought and I didn’t question it; as less is more to me 98% of the time!
David Johnson not only humored her allowing her to jump out of the sled boat to embrace her massive sturgeon, he dropped anchor and joined her. Author and Fisherlady Sara Ichtertz doesn’t kiss all of her fish though she knows some of them deserve nothing less than the best! Including a farewell kiss
The catch and release adventure that was my first ever sturgeon expierence blew me away on levels I never even saw coming. Sara fell hard for these fish. Throughout the course of the day, I not only landed beauties of unusual size, I watched my girlfriends do the same leaving me in total ahh of what we had just reached out and connected with.
I have to say the fight was intense!
It was nothing like the salmon and steelhead back home as far as endurance goes. The fact they can jump like a steelhead and yet might as well have been a whale as far as I was concerned was unlike anything I had ever fought.
The point of love that I felt the deepest was not found within the fight though. It was in the moments I actually shared with my massive sturgeon. Having water shallow enough to embrace him; the wimp in me threw all caution into the wind having no idea how deep the mud was and yet I didn’t even care.
I handed off my G. Loomis to Gretchen and I was all in. It was incredible! I wanted to share a real moment with this creature unlike anything I had ever seen or felt. When I submerged myself into my element which is his world it was as if time stopped. I did not care my Grundens and boots were beyond soaked. This armored giant had submitted to me fully. He was beyond gentle. He rested so calmly in my arms and I couldn’t help but wonder what his journey of life was like and trembled with joy during our briefest beautiful moment. As David joined me, I was miles of smiles in that mud thinking, Wow! That is some fish! Rolling him onto his belly and releasing him from my line I was astonished by his every detail.
Almost prehistoric yet almost alien like...Sara was feeling the passion and harvesting such a creature never once crossed my mind.
Our day was full of these tiny sensitive bites though what was biting was far from tiny!
We were chasing water dragons and David did not disappoint. Though, he never does. Having doubles, two oversized, and countless others I was fulfilled on a sled boat in a way that I never saw coming. I honestly left that day a totally different woman and fisherman. Somethings in life we must truly experience in order to grow and this day was definitely one of them.
As the new year was upon us David and I set a few dates for me to host his Fish Like A Girl Adventures and when we set the sturgeon dates,
I was like a kid a couple weeks before Christmas even though it was still six months away. As fate would have it the ODFW would choose one of our dates as one of their keeper sturgeon dates. I thought, well awesome, the ladies can harvest some meat. Little did I know at the time I would be in for an entirely different adventure with the opening.
There were guides galore and nothing about the majority of that weekend was tranquil—more intense, more pressure, just not the same. Though the fish did not disappoint. It was without a doubt a different experience on every level. Falling hard for these fish like I did the year before I encouraged the idea of us ladies possibly harvesting one fish for the four of us to share—which isn’t my normal way of thinking.
Best thing you can do when working with a monster is lean back, smile, and enjoy the ride.
I typically want to bonk as many hatchery steelhead and spring salmon as I can. Though I admire the longevity of these fish. I love their history and the fact that we do not create them within a hatchery at the ODFW. They are wild in every sense of the word and for some reason my heart doesn’t want to harvest them. That is just my personal choice. I love being able to be strong enough to stand up for what I believe in. Though, I am never one to choke my beliefs down another’s throat. So, the somewhat over bearing Sara was kept in check and I was very supportive in the ladies getting after the fish. After all, I do very much encourage women to get after it in life no matter what their desire may be.
Throughout the day three keeper sturgeon were harvested. One keeper size was released, and another was lost (but that is another story). Oversized beauties were released, and I loved our time on the water. David had a great way of sneaking away from the hustle and bustle of it all and I loved that!
We fished as long as the tide would allow us. By the time we got back to the docks I was in disbelief of what I was seeing; boat after boat after boat of sturgeon. When we are out fishing and having the time of our lives, you don’t really see the magnitude of the harvest. I guess waiting in line four hours to get my girlfriend’s one fish filleted opened up this girl’s eyes.
There were so many carts packed full of the creatures that I shared so much love for when releasing them back to the river. The euphoria I felt when jumping into the river to be with my giant; the joy I felt when helping my girlfriend land, share that beautiful moment, and release her giant was no where to be seen or felt. Which was somewhat unsettling to me. I now know why I am a drift fisherwoman at heart simply because it is not what you see in drift fishing, it is what you feel.
That explicate look of joy was all over her face as Sara lands her first oversized sturgeon (After jumping out of David Johnson’s sled boat to fully embrace her giant fish in the Columbia River.).
I try to trust that the ODFW knows exactly what they are doing and aren’t just throwing the dog a bone as the guides can’t provide the same salmon excursions they did not so long ago. I can’t help but wonder though, what if we do the same thing again? They were over fished commercially for caviar in the early 1900s to the point that these prehistoric river giants were on the brink of being lost forever.
A creature that there is still so much uncertainty to with science. I personally wont risk the uncertainties for a yummy dinner or two as this love isn’t tag-filling driven.
As I reflected on the two totally different sturgeon adventures, I realize it’s not about the harvest for me when it comes to these fish.
It doesn’t truly shock me that I may be the minority here but, I will not change the way I feel to join the mass. I am all for providing my own meat, my own vegetables, my own foraged food to my family with pride. However, I not only am a fisherman I am a lover of the fish! In discovering these fish, I felt like it was a no brainer. I know when to bonk them, and when to help them back to the waters from which they came.
As the runs swim by I see clearly see that it’s the adventure I love. It’s being actively in love with nature. It’s the connections with one of these kind creatures. It’s finding people who share this love. Those who are hunting for the food that feeds their souls, more so than their bellies. Harvesting fish is just a bonus.
Nothing compares to sharing these beautiful firsts with the women that the rivers have brought into Sara’s life. Cynthia Davis embracing the moment with the biggest fish of her life.
I was proud that my girlfriends and I only harvested one fish.
I was thankful for the beautiful meal I was able to share with my family, and at the end of the day even though it was straight up delicious I came away from that trip with a different way of thinking.
Some things in life, even if they are what you think you want, make your question if it is the right thing to do? We all must live with the choices we make and so I choose the fish. I choose the thought of my great grandchildren loving the fish like I do.
I will do my part to help ensure others will have the opportunity to chase these giants and feel the glory in them that has nothing to do with harvest. Maybe you could too.
My heart is on the river and I couldn’t change it even if I tried.
- written by Sara Ichertz