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