posted: 05/15/12
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Sturgeons are any member of the Acipenseridae family, which includes almost two dozen different species. They're the sort of fish cavemen could identify with because they first appeared around 200 million years ago, and they haven't evolved much since then. Sturgeons have rows of armorlike bony plates on their sides, but their skeletons are cartilage (the same material your nose and ears are made of) instead of bone. Sturgeons are found in the Northern Hemisphere, primarily in large freshwater lakes and rivers, but some species also venture into the ocean. Some grow to large proportions.

Evolutionary Throwback

The biggest, baddest sturgeon of them all is the white sturgeon (Acipenser transmontanus), which is the largest and most primitive freshwater fish in North America. The white sturgeon has been around for at least 100 million years, which would have qualified it to star in the movie "Jurassic Park." The biggest one on record stretched more than 20 feet in length and weighed almost 1,800 pounds. The White sturgeon is found in North American coastal waters from Alaska to Baja California, and in freshwater bodies as far inland as Montana. It is gray or brownish in color, with a pale underbelly.

In addition to its bony armor and cartilage skeleton, it has a notochord, a primitive precursor to the backbone, which is found in only one other animal, the equally atavistic lamprey. It lacks teeth, gets by with poor eyes and depends largely on its sense of smell to scrutinize its murky underwater environment. Larger sturgeon feed mostly on smaller fish, but less imposing examples of sturgeon dine on small crustaceans, mollusks and even insects, using the species' tubular, stretchy, vacuum sweeper mouth to suck food from the sea bottom. White sturgeons spend most of their time in the ocean but swim up rivers to spawn. They're the real old men of the sea -- the oldest on record lived to be 104.

Sturgeon Fishing Tips

On the Columbia River in Oregon, you can catch white sturgeon and other sturgeon species. Sturgeon are bottom feeders, so sport fishermen go out in boats in search of feeding areas or troughs. Anchor on the edge of the trough and cast or drift bait to entice the big fellas. Sturgeon aren't aggressive predators, so be patient. Since the sturgeon doesn't have teeth, its bite is as light as a trout's bite. Use a heavy-butted, sensitive-tip rod that is about 7 to 7.5 feet in length, so you can detect them.

Why You Should Throw It Back

Sturgeon eggs, or roe, have long been harvested by humans, and sturgeons tend to taste good, which is one reason they've long been a popular food fish. Unfortunately, they've been a bit too popular because nearly all sturgeon species are now endangered or threatened.

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