As white sturgeon follow smelt runs in the Columbia River, you can experience a top combination of catch rates and fish size before the end of April. Generally, the best fishing in February and March is from Longview all the way up to Bonneville. There are lots of well-known sturgeon holes in that stretch: off the Port of Longview below the mouth of the Cowlitz River (where much of the smelt are heading); just off the mouth of the Kalama; the islands off St. Helens across from the Lewis River; Kelly Point near the mouth of the Willamette; all around Hayden Island practically in downtown Portland or Vancouver; the mouth of the Sandy River; and the power-line hole across from Washougal. Also try over the sand flats in Tillamook Bay with steelhead gear, mud shrimp and “as little lead as you can get away with,” says guide Doug Stewart. Keeper fish meet a slot limit between 31/2 and 5 feet. (Check the state rule book for specifics.) You’ll see more oversize fish than undersize, but not many 10-footers until the shad show up in May and June. The top bait is, of course, smelt. Sturgeon key in strongly on a specific bait, especially when it’s plentiful, but shad or parts of shad are good anytime. Rig up with 80- to 100-pound Dacron leader and 65- to 80-pound Tuffline mainline. Contact: Oregon Guides & Packers Association (www.ogpa.org).
Cowlitz to Sandy River