By Mary Keating
South-central Idaho — Sturgeon are the largest fresh-water fish in North America and can be found in three of Idaho’s major river systems; the Snake River, the Kootenai and the Salmon River. This prehistoric monster of the deep is fast becoming one of Idaho’s most popular game fish. Its enormous size and fighting strength have captured the hearts of anglers from around the world.
“The state (Idaho) record white sturgeon (by rod and reel) weighed 394 pounds and was caught on the Snake River,” according to fishandgame.idaho.gov/public/fish. Since records can no longer be recorded due to immediate catch and release of sturgeon (they cannot be removed from the water), no records have been kept for many years.
The healthiest populations of white sturgeon remaining in Idaho are found in the free-flowing stretch of the Snake River between the Bliss Dam and the upper end of C.J. Strike Reservoir in southern Idaho near Jerome. While some anglers choose to fish from the bank, others opt to take a guided fishing trip.
For Paul and Dariel Rochell of Farr West, UT, fishing for sturgeon in southern Idaho has become an annual event that spans three generations and over a half decade.
“For my dad, this was once in a lifetime trip,” Paul said. “When we booked our first guided fishing trip, we wanted to take my dad and our oldest son. At the time, my dad had some medical issues. The owner of Thirsty Fish Outfitters, Justin Johnson, gladly accommodated and met our needs; father, son and grandson were able to spend a day on the river catching sturgeon and memories. In fact, my dad caught a six-and-a-half foot sturgeon that took about 30 minutes to land; we have a collage of photos to remember this event.”
Fishing for the prehistoric giant white sturgeon requires patience and strength. The thrill of reeling in an enormous fish is a unique and unforgettable experience.
“It can take 15 minutes to an hour to reel in a fish,” said Paul. “Once you see the fish and you think the fight is over – hold on! It is exhilarating and I highly encourage people to experience this. Through the years we have been on trips with friends and family members and they have all loved it.”
The best time to fish for sturgeon in Idaho is between May and September. Johnson, who has been perfecting the art of sturgeon fishing for nearly twenty years, has owned and operated Thirsty Fish Outfitters for nine years and commented, “Fishing is fishing, sometimes you catch a big one and sometimes you simply enjoy the process.”
“We have done six trips and we have never had a bad experience,” Paul said. “The ride, views and atmosphere are always great and Justin gives his clients every opportunity to catch a sturgeon. He goes the extra mile to accommodate his guests who come from all over the world. Recently, he had two ladies from Norway on the boat. As a guide, Justin is interested in the totality of the sport and is concerned about those in the boat as well as maintaining and caring for the fish in the water.”
From the Frank C. Jones boat dock in Paradise Valley near Glenns Ferry, ID, anglers travel 21 miles up the Snake River to the Bliss Power Plant. It takes between 7-9 hours to complete the trip. While all the fishing necessities and water are included, guests need to bring food and drinks, an Idaho fishing license, sunscreen and clothing suitable for current weather conditions.
Looking to try something new or start an exciting family tradition? Thirsty Fish Outfitters is located in Jerome, ID. For more information on sturgeon fishing, guided trips or lodging visit ThirstyFishOutfitters.com or contact Justin at 208-539-0108. To find out more about fishing and recreational opportunities in southern Idaho head over to www.visitsouthidaho.com.
Mary Keating is a regular contributor to Flourish Magazine and Pocatello Magazine; she is a national and state award-winning feature writer, a wife and mother. Find her at marykeating.com or on Facebook.