Lake sturgeon are prehistoric! They are tough and they are big! One of the largest populations of lake sturgeon is in the Rainy River, Minnesota. This scenic, winding waterway marks our international border with Canada, and feeds the lake best known for walleyes—Lake of the Woods. This stretch of water is home to a strong, growing population of sturgeon.
Getting to know lake sturgeon
Lake sturgeon are the largest freshwater game fish found in the Great Lakes Basin. They are considered a nearshore warm-water species, preferring temps in the low 50s to mid-60s at depths of 15 to 30 feet. Their diet consists of small invertebrates such as insect larvae, crayfish, snails, clams and leeches.
Lake sturgeon have no scales, but possess five rows of bone-like plates along the back and stomach. These fish look tough, and when you hold one, you quickly get a feel for the durability of the sturgeon’s outer armor.
Sturgeons can live up to 100 years, but mature very slowly. It takes a female sturgeon an average of 25 years and a male about 15 before they can reproduce. A female sturgeon reproduces every four years, whereas a male spawns every other year. These characteristics from a pure numbers perspective make them slow to reproduce and never in big numbers. Consequently, it is important to take good care of these fish, ensuring healthy populations down the road.
Neither lake sturgeon nor white sturgeons hang suspended between the bottom and the top of the water. All efforts to catch one of these monsters should be bottom fishing! Plan ahead and be properly armed…..
There are a number of different baits used for sturgeon fishing, including worms, minnows and even lamprey eels (when you can find them).
Hint: Experienced sturgeon hunters often use a combination of cut bait and two or three night crawlers, they then spray WD-40 on the bait. This formula masks human order while attracting a willing sturgeon.
Most sturgeon anglers come equipped with heavier rods, reels and line for the battle. Some use their muskie equipment. However, sturgeon bite light, almost a “tap, tap, tap” like a sunfish or a perch. Most musky fishing rods are quite stiff….. Using a rod with a flexible tip will help catch you more.
In a nutshell, a hefty reel loaded with 60 to 100 pound-test line and an 8 foot rod is a good start. The heavier equipment will allow for a shorter fight, lessening the stress on both the fish and the person landing one of these prized dinosaur beasts.
On the tackle end of the setup, most use a flat “no-roll” sinker, typically about 3 to 4 ounces, depending upon the speed of the current fished. An 18″ leader with a 5/0 circle hook is recommended. The flat “no-roll” sinker stays put on the bottom of the river and the circle hook allows the sturgeon to get hooked in the mouth and not swallow the hook, avoiding mortality.
Is your net large enough for a 100-pound fish? A good strong musky net is a smart investment and should work out well for landing a hefty sturgeon.
Possibly taking lessons from musky hunters, have a plan when you do hook a big one. When you do net one, leave the fish in the water as long as possible. Remove the hook while in the water, if possible, and in the net. Have your camera ready for (CPR) before bringing the fish aboard. Make sure to have the tackle, rods and reels, etc., out of the way. Also, have a clean free-board area to maneuver and land a large fish. Needle-nose pliers are effective for removing hooks. Have a measuring tape (to measure length and girth), a pencil or pen to record measurements, gloves and a camera…..
Taking good care of sturgeon when releasing:
Fish are meant to swim horizontally in the water, not held vertically out of the water. The chance of injuring a fish from simply holding it incorrectly increases with larger fish. The sheer weight of the organs inside the body cavity can tear away membrane internally, causing death at a later time after the fish appears to swim away healthy.
If the sturgeon is too big to net, consider not bringing it on board. If it is one you can handle, use two people. One person can grab the fish behind the pectoral fins, the other the tail. Support the weight of the fish under its belly, ultimately holding it horizontally. Do not drop the fish. Take extra care not to touch the eyes, gills or gill plates. The gill plates look tough, but they will tear, leading to a needless later death.
Cradle your catch with both arms for a picture (CPR) Take the pictures quickly and get the fish back into the water. Support the fish in the water until it shows signs of swimming away. It is not a good idea to go forward and backward with a fish in the water, but rather use a gentle side-to-side motion for revival. A fish can actually drown by pulling it backward too much in the water.
Sturgeon seasons and terminology:
There is a “keep” season in which anglers are allowed during designated dates to keep one fish per calendar year 45 to 50 inches, or at over 75 inches. Anglers desiring to harvest a sturgeon must first purchase a sturgeon tag and mail-in registration card. Anglers can tag and register their sturgeon, much like when dealing with a deer.
There are “catch and release” seasons to lawfully fish for sturgeon with a valid Minnesota fishing license during the open season. No tag is needed to catch and release. Anglers looking to catch and release sturgeon can also fish during the “keep” season.
And finally, there is a stretch from mid-May through June in which the sturgeon season is closed.
Full-service sturgeon guides:
If you don’t have a boat or the equipment, there is a great option. Most resorts are set up for sturgeon fishing or have relationships with full-service guides. They provide everything you need for a fun successful day. This typically includes the guide, boat, rods, reels, tackle, bait and a good idea of some of the best sturgeon holes in the river. Tipping could make the difference between a great successful trip or just enjoying the weather.
Catching a big lake sturgeon is an experience of a lifetime. The experience of hooking a dinosaur sturgeon is unforgettable. Imagine the excitement when you are trying to persuade a gigantic sturgeon off of the bottom, and in a flash it’s flying out of the stained water and running under the boat—not your typical day fishing, and certainly, not your typical fish.
Thanks for looking…..Good Luck!