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The Sturgeon Guy

Since we originally had our interview with Joe, we had record high termperatures and on December 28th, he was able to land an amazing 17 Sturgeon in only 3.5 hours. This brings his 2014 total to 114 of these dinosaurs. You can read about this wonderful day in December here

Joe Tilley, a resident of New Brunswick by way of Newfoundland, knows a thing or two about sturgeon fishing.  After all, in 2014 alone he’s landed 97 of them (to date) out of his 13 foot kayak.  This includes what may very well be the record sturgeon ever caught from a kayak, a 54 inch monster (pictured).  When he’s not chasing sturgeon, he’s also running a successful blog and has formed a kayak fishing group with over 60 members in its first year. We are going to briefly touch on his fishing techniques during this interview, but for a full run-down on everything from equipment to tactics, head over to his blog at

Q. Joe, thanks for taking the time to sit down for this interview.  According to your blog, you managed to bring 97 sturgeon into you boat.  Is that it for the year, or will you continue to brave the waters if another nice day comes along to break the century mark?

Joe: The 97 number will be it for this year.   I tried getting out here in December for one last attempt to crack the century mark, but the water conditions and weather didn’t cooperate.     I’ll have to try again next year to see if I can make it into triple digits!

Q. 97 of any type of fish is really quite an accomplishment.  How long have you been chasing sturgeon, and do you have a running total of how many you’ve caught overall at this point? 

Joe: I’ve only just started fishing for sturgeon in 2013.   As of October last year I had 4 sturgeon to my name, but then I changed my rig and experimented with a few different techniques, and suddenly my catch rates exploded.   I ended last year with 77, giving me a two year total now of 174.

Q. What is it about these prehistoric fish that draws you to the water so often in search of them, often in very inclement weather?  Is it their abundance in our waters, their size, or something else altogether?

Joe: First off, I like to think I don’t go out fishing in dangerous weather.    Rain and cold are easily overcome with the right clothing.   As long as I have on enough layers and am able to stay dry, then it is only the wind, waves and possibly ice slabs that pose any dangers; and as with this weekend, I chose not to battle those conditions as it didn’t look safe.

That being said, sturgeon are really the only fish close to where I live that I can fish for which are three to four feet long (or longer) and catch with any consistency.    Fishing from a kayak, anytime you hook into a big powerful fish, you get a bit of a rush.    Other species are a lot of fun too, but taking a 4 foot dinosaur out of the water and onto your lap is an experience unlike any smaller fish can offer.

Q. If there’s one thing you could pass on to new sturgeon anglers looking to hook into one of these beasts, what would it be?

Joe: That technique is the key.    You have to have a sensitive rod and never put it down.   Use braid for the main line, keep it tight and feel for everything.    If you feel anything, then check the line, and if you don’t feel anything for a few minutes, then check it anyway.    I have caught a lot of sturgeon by checking the line, and bringing up solid when I had no idea there was a fish there!    I think anyone that casts out and puts their rod in a rod holder is missing out on a whole lot of fish!

Q5. Given the enormous size of the 54” beauty you brought in, amongst others, how would you say the fight of a sturgeon compares to other sport fish you’ve pursued?  

Joe: The only other fish I’ve caught that was at all comparable is striped bass.   That 54” fish turned me around in my kayak just like a 32 inch fat striped bass I caught the year before.    The biggest, strongest fish I’ve caught in my kayak was a 38” striper, but other than that, I haven’t caught that puts up a fight or is as heavy as a big 4 foot sturgeon.

In 2015 I am hoping to catch a few muskie, and I suspect a 4 foot muskie would be even more of a battle than a similar sized sturgeon, though muskies are much harder to catch!

Q. Is it true that we have two different types of sturgeon in the Kennebecasis River system, and is there a major difference between the two?  If so, is it possible to tell the difference based on fight alone or only under close examination?

Joe: There are 2 different types.   I’ve chatted about this with several academics who have led the research on sturgeon in our area and have learned a great deal.    There are Atlantics and Shortnose, and most people believe the way to tell the difference is by the nose.    While it is true the Atlantics have a longer nose, often curled upwards, it alone isn’t sufficient to tell the difference.    This is because while they are young, even shortnose can have the same type of nose.    A 24” shortnose can easily have a nose that looks just like an Atlantic.

A better way to tell is by looking at the width of the mouth compared to that of the eyes.    In an Atlantic, the mouth width will be narrower than that of the eyes.    For a shortnose, they have a bigger mouth and narrower eyes.  

If you use both the shape of the nose, and the width of the mouth together you will be much more able to tell the difference.   (see attached pictures)
Atlantic Sturgeon versus Shortnose SturgeonAtlantic Sturgeon versus Shortnose SturgeonAtlantic Sturgeon versus Shortnose Sturgeon

Q. I’ve noticed on your blog that you often take your children and others out on the river with you for Sturgeon.  How many people do you think have caught their first sturgeon directly because of your assistance or guiding?

Joe: Hmmm, I am thinking somewhere around 12 - 14 people have gone out fishing with me and caught their first sturgeon using the rig and techniques that I’ve shared with them.     My 7 year old landed 2 last year when he was 6, but I haven’t been able to get my 4 year old a sturgeon yet.   I’m hoping in the Spring he will be the first 4 year old (that I know of) to catch a sturgeon in a kayak!

Q. Earlier this year you took your children to meet a biologist and scientific expert in sturgeon at the University of New Brunswick, what was the most interesting thing you learned from that?  Anything you’d like to pass along?

Joe: Exposing my kids to an actual lab where research is being done was a treat in and of itself.   My boys are very curious about pretty much everything so the opportunity that Dr. James Kieffer gave us there was pretty great.   Personally I learned that sturgeon definitely do tend to school, so if you do land a couple of sturgeon in a spot in a short period of time, chances are you are into a school of them and should land more.     I also learned that in these schools, sturgeon of roughly the same size tend to stick together.

Q. You’ve gained quite a reputation around this area as “The Sturgeon Guy”.  Is that something you’ve strived to become, or merely a product of your remarkable success with these fish?  Is the sturgeon in fact your favorite target?

Joe: I think it’s pretty neat to have garnered a bit of a reputation for my fishing success.   For sure my blog, where I recount much of my experience is largely responsible for that.    I can’t say I’ve strived to become ‘the guy’, as that was never a goal.   I’ve just tried to be the best I can be with this fish and have been fortunate to have had some great success these past 2 years.   

I’d love to have the same success with smallmouth or stripers, but as anyone who knows me can attest to, I am an absolutely terrible bass fisherman!    I’ll be working on those fish again in 2015, and hopefully can continue to learn from others!

Q. When is the best time to target sturgeon, both time of year and time of day? 

Joe: I have learned that sturgeon are in our rivers all year long, however it is only during the colder months that they congregate in the shallower waters like the mouth of the Hammond where many of us fish.    October is good, but November and April are fantastic months to fish sturgeon there.    For the 5 months between April and October I won’t typically bother for sturgeon, but will concentrate on one of the dozens of other species we have to fish for in our waters.

I don’t think the time of the day really matters.   Last year I was convinced that the tide played a role, with most sturgeon being caught around high slack tide.  However this year I’ve found that I’ve been able to catch sturgeon pretty much in any tide or any time of the day.    There are times when the bite picks up, but that could also be just coincidence as to when I’ve happened upon a school of sturgeon.  

Once again, we really appreciate Joe stopping by to answer some of our questions.  Joe is more than willing to answer any questions you might have, and as you can tell, is happy to make new friends and take people out in search of these living dinosaurs.  For more information, find Joe on his blog, or if you’re interested in joining his kayak anglers club, you can find out more information here.


2014-12-07 14:42:25


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