A sampling system for capturing sturgeon eggs using a D-shaped bottom anchored drift net was used to capture early life stages (ELS) of Chinese sturgeon, Acipenser sinensis, and monitor annual spawning success at Yichang on the Yangtze River, 1996-2004, before and just after the Three Gorges Dam began operation. Captured were 96 875 ELS (early life stages: eggs, yolk-sac larvae = eleuthero embryos, and larvae); most were eggs and only 2477 were yolk-sac larvae. Most ELS were captured in the main river channel and inside the bend at the Yichang spawning reach. Yolk-sac larvae were captured for a maximum of 3 days after hatching began, indicating quick dispersal downstream. The back-calculated day of egg fertilization over the eight years indicated a maximum spawning window of 23 days (20 October-10 November). Spawning in all years was restricted temporally, occurred mostly at night and during one or two spawning periods, each lasting several days. The brief temporal spawning window may reduce egg predation by opportunistic predators by flooding the river bottom with millions of eggs. During 1996-2002, the percentage of fertilized eggs in an annual 20-egg sample was between 63.5 to 94.1%; however, in 2003 the percentage fertilized was only 23.8%. This sudden decline may be related to the altered environmental conditions at Yichang caused by operation of the Three Gorges Dam. Further studies are needed to monitor spawning and changes in egg fertilization in this threatened population. ?? 2009 Blackwell Verlag GmbH.