By: Jeff Wilson
The St. John River in New Brunswick is one of those destinations where a multitude of fish species can be targeted. From gigantic Striped Bass to the now prominent Muskellunge, to the vastly distributed Smallmouth Bass, and now the newly discovered Largemouth Bass, this place rocks!
There is however another fish that locals target, but often takes a back seat to the above species, and that is the Shortnose Sturgeon.
This majestic beast, which lives in the waters of the Saint John, is becoming a great early-season fish species for local anglers to focus on. Right after ice out, giant Shortnose pool up in an area known as “Sturgeon Alley” on the Kennebecasis river (tributary of Saint John River). Local anglers, with a penned-up need to get on the water as early as possible, flock to southern NB to catch these prehistoric “dinosaur” fish.
I sat down with Paul Melanson, local multi species angler and part time lure maker and discussed his recent cult following when it comes to Sturgeon fishing. Paul has led the charge promoting this ice out early April fishing opportunity. As the area is tidal water, fishing for non-sportfish species is open all year round and there are no licence requirements.
Paul explained that he has pushed ice, out of his way as he carefully made his way to Sturgeon Alley, noting that the buoy system is nonexistent this time of year and underwater hazards lurk in many areas. Luckily with a Garmin GPS, the channel is quite simple to see, and safe navigation is possible. He certainly recommends slow and steady travel from the Meehan’s cove public launch directly across the river to meet the channel that runs up the north side of the Kennebecasis river. Many floating obstacles could pose issues; however, the best fishing spots are only a couple of miles from the launch.
ICE OUT FISHING
Paul suggests you use your electronics to find pools or holes that are 16-20 ft deep. He has noticed that the sturgeon stage up in these right after ice out. Once he finds a pool, he fishes the up current end. Given this is a tidal river, that could be either end depending on what the tide is doing (incoming tide vs. outgoing tide). When asked about tidal influence, Paul felt once he stopped worrying about that and just fished, he did much better. The best way to find these “pools” are to search using your electronics (and if your lucky enough to have Garmin LiveScope – spotting these giants should be quite easy). Follow the river both up and down stream to find your own little “honey hole”.
During the early season, bait fishing with night crawlers or smelt, dropped into a stationary position is Paul’s most productive method as these giants are bottom feeders. To reduce the feeling of pressure or resistance to a Sturgeon when it picks up the bait, locals utilize a slip rig and weight system. The slip rig allows the line to slide though the weight or sinker, and lets the fish run with bait. Generally, if these east coast Sturgeon feel any type of pressure, they let go before you ever know that they have the bait in their mouth. The bite is exceptionally light and often not noticeable until they are hooked up.
Paul’s Shortnose Sturgeon rigging
Editors Note: Ang and Pete have fished the west coast for White Sturgeon where the opposite technique is involved. There, the locals use a heavy weight affixed to the line (does not slip). These giants grab the bait and seemingly do not care about the feel of the weight.
East to west; such a difference.
Paul suggests a double anchor setup, so your boat is horizonal across the channel. He says that this will help keep debris off your line as you wait for a strike. When I mentioned that scent would be critical in the low visibility water in spring, he smiled and fessed up that he generally keeps that fact as his secret for when the Alley is full of boats.
Paul uses a Fenwick Elite tec inshore Med heavy 7.6 ft extra fast tip rod with a Penn Clash 2 high speed reel. He spools that up with Berkley X9 50 lb braid and Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon leader about 30 inches long. This set up is excellent for Sturgeon and can also be used for the phenomenal Striped Bass fishing in the same area.
About Paul Melanson:
Paul was introduced to fishing by his father Ronald, at a young age. He considers himself as a multi species angler. He has been targeting Shortnose Sturgeon for the last 10 years but is known for his striped bass fishing in the world-famous Reversing Falls (where the Saint John River dumps into the Atlantic Ocean). His passion for fishing is clear as he is owner of River Tide Jigs, a local favorite of many anglers.
Paul is also a professional seafarer as Chief Mate on the ocean-going tugs.
If you are from New Brunswick and get the fishing bug early – try this dinosaur fishing in the Saint John area. I can guarantee you, once a Shortnose is hooked, you will be too!