Huge sturgeon stocked in S. California fishery

Without seeing them, Doug Elliott admitted he didn't know what to expect when he purchased sturgeon weighing as much as 150 pounds for his fishing lakes.

But when he peered into the tank on the stocking truck and got a glimpse of them recently, he realized the seller wasn't exaggerating, as is known to happen in the fishing world.

"Holy (expletive)," Elliott exclaimed. "Unreal!"

He added a few wows, too.

Like a new movie living up to its pre-release hype, the white sturgeon stocked into the Big Lake at Santa Ana River Lakes definitely lived up to their billing.

At least one of the sturgeons, if not two, looked every bit of 150 pounds. Maybe more. They are believed to be the biggest fish ever planted.

"I can't imagine any other freshwater fish being raised and stocked that are any larger," said Ken Beer of The Fishery, the caviar producer near Sacramento that provided the fish.

Most of the 16 or l7 sturgeon stocked at SARL and eight or so at Corona Lake were 80-90 pounds. But the average was 100 pounds and the total was 2,500 pounds, according to Beer.

A metal slide guided the fish from the tanks into the water where they slashed around before getting their bearings and swimming off.

Lake manager Jim Davis, wearing waders, attempted to hold one for a photo. He looked like he was trying to wrestle an alligator. At one point, he got his hat knocked off and was lucky it wasn't his head.

A few stayed close by, sitting on the bottom looking like a submerged log or submarine.

"Robert, 60-pound test (line)," said Paul Palamara of Yorba Linda, instructing nearby angler Robert Vandevelde of Silverado. "Forget 50. A lot of people are going to lose a lot of line out here."

Jason Silva of Anaheim did just that on a recent evening. He got spooled. All 200 yards of 8-pound-test line were lost, as was the fish, presumably one of the big boys.

"I never got to see him at all," he said. "It just kept running and running, and I just held on. Then boom. It broke."

Two other sturgeons estimated at 50 and 100 pounds were landed one day in late March and released, as per the lake regulation. It's catch and release so others get a chance to battle them. A $200 prize package is given to anglers after releasing the fish.

How did SARL, home of the 20-pound-plus rainbow trout, get these prized, prehistoric-looking fish?

Beer is a friend of the general manager who runs SARL's catfish hatcheries in the Imperial Valley and he agreed to sell sturgeon to SARL if they became available.

Subsequently, Hesperia Lake general manager Ed Rister contacted Beer also asking for sturgeon. Beer said he couldn't make any promises and there wasn't enough fish for both vendors.

The Fishery has more than 1 million pounds of white sturgeon. Most become mature and produce caviar between ages 7 and 10. The 25 sturgeon SARL received were from tanks of fish older than 12 years with some older than 20.

Earlier in March, those 25 were found to be milting, meaning they were males and expendable since females are the ones that produce the eggs.

About 675 of the older sturgeon of the same size remain. Beer plans on giving them one last try at caviar production next fall. If unproductive, he'll sell those, too.

Elliott has already told him he'd take them all.

"We do have experience stocking smaller sturgeon, but I wasn't sure how these huge fish were going to work out," Beer said. "But it's interesting for the people. And if they hook up, they've got a fight on their hands."

That's already been proven.