Monday, May 27, 2019

The Sturgeon Pond

May 2019

It had been on my radar for a few years now; a "pay to play" sturgeon pond in Parma. For a small fee of $25, anglers have a chance to catch sturgeon in a private pond. For many, this is the best opportunity to cross Idaho's "dinosaur" fish off their bucket list. I myself have little interest in investing in the gear and braving the Snake River to try for wild white sturgeon. But a private pond full of the fish? That I would consider. 

One day my father in-law, Rick, asked me when we were going.
"Let's try it this spring." I responded, intrigued by some of the facebook photos I'd seen recently of the place. 
"If you make the arrangements, I'll go!" Rick said. 
I placed a call to Jim Schwartz and the date was set. I also told Jim we wanted to catch some on the fly rod, a task I assumed would be difficult.
"No problem. I'll give you some tricks to make it happen!" Jim responded over the phone.

The day arrived and Rick, Katie and I drove to Parma. We met with Jim's wife Martha, checked in, borrowed a rod and she showed us where a "good" spot to fish was. 
"Here's where Jim usually feeds them. I'd try here." Martha said, giving us a wink. "It looks like you guys will have the whole pond to yourselves today."
Jim was running some errands so we would be on our own for a little while. 
Rick baited a hook with some pickled herring and threw it out into the murky waters of the small pond. The pond hardly looked large enough to support sturgeon, let alone the hundreds I had heard were in there. Katie was still rigging the fly rods when Rick set the hook on a fish.
"Well that was fast. Does it feel like a sturgeon?" I asked, while baiting a hook.
"It feels large..." Rick responded, "not sure what a sturgeon feels like."
The fish pulled hard but no match for the heavy rod and 30 pound line. A 3 foot sturgeon came thrashing to the surface near the shore.
"Sweet! It's a sturgeon!" I said, wading into the pond to capture it. The fish was quick and energetic, even after I apprehended it's tail. I then flipped the fish onto it's back and it became tranquil. Sturgeon relax when you flip them over onto their backs; hence why you see most photos of sturgeon in this position. Jim had requested we take good care of his fish by keeping the fish in the water and never lifting on their tail. We took some photos and released the beast back into the depths of the pond. 
Rick quickly re-baited his hook and in less than a minute he was fighting another sturgeon; this one 3 feet as well.
After helping Rick with his fish, I was finally able to get my hook in the water. Sure enough, a small tap could be felt just seconds from the bait sitting on the bottom. I heaved back on the heavy rod and felt the weight of a substantial fish. Another 3 footer pulled hard on the end of the line. 
It was becoming obvious that catching these fish on bait would not be a challenge. Katie, however, had more interest in catching one on the fly rod. She stood several feet away casting a large streamer on a 10 weight rod with no success. I convinced her to put the fly rod down and catch one on the bait first. Two minutes later she was pulling in her first sturgeon.
After releasing the fish, a side by side ATV pulled up and Jim Schwartz stepped out. After introductions, Jim grabbed a bucket of fish food and broadcasted it into the pond.
"Let's get you guys some on the fly rod!" Jim said, with an excited smile.
It's common knowledge that sturgeon are bottom feeders, relying on their nose and whiskers to locate food. It was no surprise when Jim said we needed to add some scent to our flies. 
"Dunk your fly in that herring juice!" Jim said, pointing to the pickled herring jar. 
We followed his advice, as "un-pure" as it was, and in a few minutes Rick set the hook on a huge sturgeon. 
It was obvious from the beginning that this fish was no baby. A huge tail came kicking to the surface and Rick's rod doubled over. Seconds turned to minutes as the fish had it's way with Rick. After nearly 30 minutes and 3 attempts at a tail grab, I was able to apprehend the fish.
Jim measured the fish: 6 foot. We sent the fish back on it's way.
"Well that was fun! Back to the regular rod." Rick said, shaking his arm out and giving me the fly rod.
I dunked the fly, and in short order, I felt the mouth of a sturgeon suck my fly in.
This fish was very acrobatic, leaping completely out of the water several times before we landed it. Just under 5 feet, this fish was the largest fish I'd ever landed.

Katie hooked a couple fish momentarily, but lost them. The action slowed a bit, likely from most of the fish food being consumed. Katie stuck with it though, determined to say she landed a sturgeon on the fly rod. 
Jim went across the pond to feed in another location. He called us over as large koi sipped floating food off the surface. We relocated to the other side to try there.
I re-rigged the fly rod to a black wooly bugger suspended under a strike indicator; a set-up proven to take carp. The carp/koi showed little interest in the fly, but something else did. My indicator took a dive and line screamed off my reel. The fish fought in a similar fashion to another uncommon species on the fly rod: the catfish. After finally gaining some line on the fish, a dark shape rolled at the surface.
"It's a catfish!" I shouted to Rick, Katie and Jim.
Jim brought out his camera as I wrestled the fish to hand.
This was probably the heaviest catfish I've ever landed. Back to the depths it swam. I tried for some time longer to catch some of the koi and Katie continued for the sturgeon, neither with any luck. 

We moved back over to the other side of the pond, where we'd been earlier in the morning. Rick and I went with the spinning rods and Katie stuck with the fly rod.
"I'm catching one, darn-it!" Katie said, casting her large streamer into the pond.
"Okay." I replied. "I think you've got one!"
Just then, Katie's line slowly swam off. She set the hook, but that did nothing. Her line continued to peel off the reel until the fish was all the way on the other side of the pond and 100 feet of backing was out of the rod. 
"Holy cow! I can't do a thing." Katie said, heaving on the rod.
Thus began a long and tiring battle. Several times Katie would re-gain her backing and fly line, only to loose it all, and the fish would be on the other side of the pond again. After nearly an hour, we saw the beast, and a beast it was. But this fish was not done. Again, the fish swam to the other side of the pond. We worked our way around the bank to other side of the pond, since apparently this was where the fish wanted to be. 

A couple of times Katie handed me the rod so her arms could take a break. We danced with the fish in the shallows for some time longer before I was finally able to grab it's tail. 
Jim came over with his tape measure; 6 foot 8 inches.
"There's only 2 other sturgeon larger than this in the pond," said Jim.
"Ok, now I'm satisfied!" Katie exclaimed as we sent the large fish off. "That was a lot of work. An hour and a half? No thanks."

The rest of the afternoon consisted of sitting on the edge of the pond in our waders, baiting hooks and reeling in sturgeon. Jim would come by periodically to check on how we were doing.
The frustrating part was how soft the pickled herring was and how frequently you had to rebait. The jar of herring also had onion pieces in it. Jim said to try those. Sure enough, the onions worked.
I even tried some of the casing on a pepperoni stick I was eating. It worked too! 
By 4 pm we were exhausted from catching sturgeon. 
"I bet the water would fall 3 feet if you removed all the fish out of this pond." Jim had said earlier in the day.
I almost believe him now. It had been a very fun day and I suspect we landed at least 50 sturgeon. For $25 dollars, I can't think of a better way to spend the day fishing for Idaho's elusive white sturgeon. Call Jim to book your day on the water at Schwartz Sturgeon Pond!

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