- Weighing 120-130 pounds, the rare fish fought for 40-minutes, was landed, then was carefully unhooked, and safely released alive and well.
- Gear: Penn Battle II – 5000 series spinning reel, 8-ft Penn Battle II surf fishing rod, 20-lb Silver Thread mono, 40-lb test shock leader, and a Dusty Hayes Pomp Rig w-1/0 Circle hooks.
- Secret: Live ½ shrimp bait, wrapped to hook w/Atlas Mike’s Spawn Net & Magic Thread.
Story by the angler, David A. Rose
When it comes to surf fishing the freshwater beaches of the Great Lakes and inland lakes near my home in the Traverse City, MI area, I can usually hold my own. On the other hand, when it comes to casting and proper fishing in saltwater, I’m an apprentice.
Ever so slowly, though, I learn something new about surf fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. The sugar-sand near Orange Beach, AL, provided the fun. The date was March 6, 2021, and my regular morning catch included the usual whiting, croakers, flounder, Gofftopsail catfish, and the like. Then at about 11:35, one of my two rods signaled another tell-tale hit. The day was about to change! About 40-minutes later, after coming close to spooling me twice, this fish, a Gulf sturgeon over 6-feet in length – a fish with prehistoric roots – was tailed, beached, and released.
This particular fish—one of the rarest species on earth and protected by the Endangered Species Act–would likely have been the all-time world-record catch for hook and line. No one on hand recorded any official length or girth before the behemoth was unhooked and freed to swim away, no worse for wear. I didn’t want to take any chances of injuring the fish.
To get an idea of the sturgeon’s length, I spread out my arms—which have a span of about 6 feet. The nose and tail of the fish were both well beyond my reach. I tried rolling the fish over to remove the hook from its mouth, but it was too heavy. The fish was on the sand, it was impossible to move the fish without possibly harming it, and I estimated that it weighed 120 – 130 pounds. It wasn’t until a large rogue wave rolled in that I was able to gain enough leeway to swing the tail so it could swim out. It still had the hook secured in the mouth, but thankfully, it could swim out, taking about another 100 feet of line with it. I reeled the giant in once more, this time to water about 2 feet deep. That’s when the fish could be turned belly up, and I was able to finally remove the hook.
The fish ate half of a live shrimp purchased from Lost Bay Tackle & Guide Service in Orange Beach that I had wrapped with Atlas Mike’s Spawn Net & Magic Thread. It’s a neat trick that kept the bait tight to the hook during the cast, allowing the scent and sight of the bait to work as it should. The rig was a hand-tied “Dusty’s Pomp Rig – 2/Drop,” with multi-colored floats made by Dusty Hayes of Sam’s Bait & Tackle, also of Orange Beach. The rig is comprised of 20-pound-test Momoi Diamond monofilament and size-1/0 Mustad circle hooks. I fished the rig in the building surf with a 4-ounce pyramid sinker.
As for my gear, the reel was a 5000 Penn Battle II spinning reel spooled with 20-pound-test Silver Thread AN-40 monofilament, tied up a 20-foot shock leader of 40-pound-test Berkley Big Game mono. I used a Uni-to-Uni knot to bring those lines together. The rod was an 8-foot graphite moderate-fast-action Penn Battle II surf spinning rod rated for 12- to 25-pound mono. As a combination rig, it was enough to subdue the goliath.
Before getting a good look at the fish, there was no doubt in my mind that I had hooked some species of shark. But when its back broke the surface, there was no dorsal fin. By the time the fish was reeled in, over 100 spectators had gathered. When the fish started to tire, an onlooker—who, it was obvious, had some knowledge of fishing—tried tailing it for me. The armor plating of the fish was too slick. So, I asked my wife, Carol, to hand him my Rapala Fisherman’s Gloves. These allowed him to get a firm grip. That’s when the Sturgeon was able to be beached.
An educated guess, at the time, had me thinking the fish was an endangered species. So, I made sure the head and gills stayed in the surf while I posed for a very quick photo and checked for any tags. None of the latter were found.
Earlier that day, I had chosen my casts in the 2- to 3-foot surf along a section of a riptide that was flowing into the Gulf, thinking it would be an area fish would congregate to forage on bait wafting out with the current. My guess was correct. This particular fish was hooked out front of the Phoenix VI condominiums, about ½ mile west of the Perdido Pass jetty.
Gulf Sturgeon reside in the Mississippi Delta and east along Florida’s Gulf side. Via social media, a few people stated they’ve seen Sturgeon breaching at the mouth of Perdido Pass. After another post about this catch on the Alabama Gulf Coast Surf Fishing Facebook page, I hoped that local biologists might become aware of the catch. The ploy worked.
I discovered that the Gulf sturgeon is an anadromous fish (living in saltwater but spawning in freshwater). “Overall, these rare fish spawn in the freshwater rivers of the Gulf region in spring,” says Jeff Powell, assistant field supervisor from the Alabama Ecological Services Field Office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Powell added, “Our studies are showing there may be a few that migrate and spawn in the fall, as well. The Gulf sturgeon you landed is most definitely a once-in-a-lifetime catch.”
The one thing I love most about fishing saltwater? You never know what species you’ll hook next. This fish, a species so rare to even see let alone catch, is proof of that.