The record sturgeon...

Ken Jones

Staff member
The big Kahuna
June 04, 2006
Stockton Record


Nearly seven hours battling the biggest fish he'd ever seen, Joey Pallotta could only imagine the worst when the monstrous white sturgeon came up next to the boat, shook its massive head and defiantly surged to the bottom of the bay.

It was the 13th time the fish surfaced, only to disappear again, putting on a piscatorial rodeo the likes he'd never seen.

It was only the beginning.

"Nobody will believe this," Pallotta said to himself. "I never figured I'd get it in."

Pallotta didn't know at the time, but he was struggling with the largest freshwater fish ever caught on a rod and reel in North America. Twenty-three years years later, his 9-foot-6, 468-pound white sturgeon still is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records and the World Almanac.

"It will be a world record forever," said Pallotta, noting the size restrictions on stugeon that must be adhered to by today's anglers. To keep a sturgeon the fish must measure between 46 and 56 inches, no larger or no smaller.

Keith Fraser of San Rafael, an expert angler and author of "Guide to Sturgeon Fishing" believes Pallotta's catch is a rarity, but not unique. "I firmly believe there are sturgeon in Bay-Delta waters that are equal to or larger than the record fish," he said. "Just this April car salesman named Tom Glasser fought a sturgeon in San Pablo Bay for close to five hours. The fish towed his boat for about 10 miles from China Camp to the Pumphouse and then to Rat Rock, before it headed toward Buoy 5. He could never lift if off the bottom. The sturgeon just kept making long runs until it finally broke the line. On the bay, you just never know."

Pallotta's adventure started on a nasty windy Sunday on San Pablo Bay that churned the chocolate waters into a froth, with waves crashing over the bow of the boat. It was so rough he and his girl friend turned their 18-foot craft around and headed back to protected waters near Benicia. After marking a couple fish on the graph, he dropped anchor and within five minutes, watched the starboard rod take a nose dive.

"I set the hook and had the fish on," Pallotta said. "Suddenly, the line went slack. I thought I'd lost it."

Not so. The sturgeon was racing right toward him, came to the surface and jumped clear out of the water, less than 50 yards from the boat. Pallotta had never seen anything like it.

He threw the anchor rope, still tied to a buoy, over the side and a chase was on that would last 12 1/2 hours. The out of control sturgeon leaped, surged and, when all else failed, simply hugged the bottom and refused to budge.

Pallotta had few options and couldn't force the brute into submission. The rod and reel the sturgeon preferred to bite was actually an outfit he used for jigging among the pilings beneath the Carquinez Bridge. The line was old and frayed by barnacles and mussels that clung to the pilings, and the reel was getting hot from the pressure.

"The whole time I was thinking there was no way," said Pallotta, who lived in Crockett then, and still does. "The reel got so hot, I had to constantly pour water over it. When the sturgeon did come close to the boat I knew I couldn't get a rope around its head by myself and my girl friend was no help."

In desperation he called out on the radio but his pal with a 24-foot boat, didn't want to help. He was too busy fighting a sturgeon of his own.

"Finally I convinced him to come over and when he saw the size of the sturgeon, he realized I wasn't kidding," Pallotta said. "I jumped onto his larger boat and continued to put pressure on the fish. When it finally tired and lay on the surface we put a loop around its head and a noose around its tail and tied it to the side of the boat. It was too heavy to lift."

In 1983 there were no size restrictions on sturgeon, so the fish was fair game to not only catch, but to keep and ultimately, to eat.

They towed it to the Crockett Marina, but when the sturgeon was winched up, the scale bottomed out at 350 pounds. They left the sturgeon in a walk-in freezer and tried to figure what to do next. By now it was 2 a.m. on Monday. Truck scales on Interstate 80 were closed. Where would they find a big enough scale?

"We sat having a couple drinks when my girl friend told us about a weighmaster at the Santa Fe Railroad Station in Richmond," Pallotta said. "We grabbed the sturgeon, wrestled it into a pickup truck and headed down the road. By now it was 4 a.m. Luckily the weighmaster was awake and ready to go, and had the capacity to handle the fish, giving us a certified scale ticket."

Next day Fish and Game officials looked over the paper work, met the weighmaster and gave Pallotta applications to submit for a state and world record catch.

"I was really happy and relieved," said Pallotta, who believed he deserved the accolades. "I fish in the bay most every day, deck hand on party boats on weekends and put a lot of time on the water, a lot more than people could really imagine."

He stands alone for catching the largest freshwater fish, knowing it's a standard that will never be equaled.

Red Fish

Senior Member
-Fished with him one time and one time only New Year’s Day ‘98 on his charter, Sturgeon King (only cost $50). A great guy and he treated me royally.
I believe we are the same age. I caught 5 sturgeon that day and my first keeper, the last keeper of the day at the pump house.
-I heard from local Crockett resident “Ray” that’s known Pallotta since he was a kid, that he’s still around and works at the water treatment plant. Ray is a life-long Crockett resident in his 60’s that lives right above Eckley Pier and walks to the pier a few times a week.
-I’ve seen the main tackle Pallotta used to catch the world record. A Daiwa 50H (the old one with chrome sides), 60# Big Game monofilament, and one of the old e-glass brown Fenwick rods with top roller guide (probably the same rating of the second-hand one I had and gave away recently at 30-80 rating). 4A458CCC-F142-4E27-BDC5-D1470E05838B.jpeg
One correction: I went out on the “Sturgeon King” New Year’s Day 1996, not 1998 (as I was looking at the Polaroid of the catch with a date on it).
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