From drowning dam to cool kayak fun

Four hundred miles of the Red River are now reconnected for fish habitat and drowning due to low head dams has now been eliminated(the Midtown Dam in Fargo had a drowning every two years since it was built), thanks to fisheries and water managers in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Hickson Rapids

Christine Rapids


Modifying low head dams on the Red River does three things:  1) provides fish passage through each site at all flows by reconnecting upstream Red River mainstem and tributary habitats with mainstem and tributary habitats downstream, 2) eliminates the life-threatening hydraulic rollers below each dam, and 3) provides higher quality canoeing, kayaking and angling opportunities. For more on this story go to Minnesota Public Radio or view the story done by the Grand Forks Herald.

Wondering about those fish in the river? Check out the Red River Anglers Guide.

Prehistoric fish in the Red River

Lake Sturgeon from the Rainy River, note the hose like mouth hanging below the eyes.

My first reaction to hooking a lake sturgeon several years back was to laugh and laugh some more. I was laughing in part because the thought that I had any control over the hidden creature on the other end of my line was ludicrous. Yeah, right, I was simply in a waiting game, hanging on to my fishing rod and letting this unseen monster swim where it would. I was no more going to ‘haul it in’ than I could stop a semi. I simply had to wait until it ran out of gas….20 minutes later. Even then, bringing something that is nearly five feet long out of the water and into a boat, is not an easy task. Sometime I’ll upload the video! Of the four sturgeon we caught that day, only one was within the slot length for keeping. We let them all go, back into the river. After ‘fighting’ one of these prehistoric lunkers for twenty minutes, it just didn’t seem right to take any more from it. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating fish – I was just so amazed by the ‘battle’ with this fish that the only way for me to end the encounter was by watching it swim away!

Lake sturgeon were once plentiful in the Red River, but were then wiped out. Dams cut them off from spawning areas in the adjoining tributaries, water pollution destroyed their habitat and over-harvest reduced their numbers even more. Did you know that sturgeon can live to be over 100 years old? Females don’t mature until they are around twenty years of age, so bringing back this population is not a quick fix! Thankfully, our water has been cleaned up, dams along the Red River are being modified, and sturgeon are being stocked in the Red and its tributaries in an effort to restore the population.  Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local watershed districts and North Dakota have all worked together to restore critical fish habitat connections along the Red.

Currently fishing is not allowed for sturgeon along any of the tributaries of the Red River. If you catch one, be sure to return it to the water – its an investment towards a future encounter that will make you laugh!

The Christine and Hickson Dams are undergoing modification this winter to reconnect sturgeon habitat on the Red (and all other species that move up and down the river). Follow along with these weekly pictures!

Additional Resources on Sturgeon: People of the Sturgeon is a new book out, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society. People of the Sturgeon is a history of the cultures surrounding lake sturgeon in Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago region, told by a fascinating collection of photos, artifacts, and a few good fish tales

Students learn about Red River …

Yesterday 31 students, and a few willing adults, started the morning by attempting to build a replica of a ‘beast’, a Lego creature seen only by their team’s ‘program manager.’ For 20 minutes they buzzed back and forth, asking questions, relaying information and working together to recreate something only one person on their five person team had a clear vision of. Did they succeed? Well yes, if you look at what the activity was really about. Communication. Did the new beasts resemble the original beast? You decide!

The first River Watch Fall Kick-off event, attended by 31 students and their teachers from Red Lake, Thief River, Warren, Stephen-Argyle, Grygla and Karlstad (Tri-County) schools was a fun day. In a variety of sessions students explored communication skills, discussed monitoring locations and learned about watershed projects happening within their watershed. These students, who monitor their local streams for water quality data, also gathered to hear about the reintroduction of sturgeon to the Red River Watershed, and reacquaint themselves with the water cycle and how it flows within the valley. Our thanks to Jim Blix and Myron Jesme of the Red Lake River Watershed District and Tom Groshens of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for sharing their work with the students, and increasing their understanding of how their work connects to the efforts of professionals in the Red River Valley.

For more information on River Watch, check out this video from the Red Lake River Watershed District: River Watch Video