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Sturgeon taking hold in Otter Tail Lake system

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH
  • Star Tribune
  • May 29, 2012 - 8:23 PM

Three boys were fishing for sunfish in the Otter Tail River near Perham last week when one hooked something much more substantial: a big sturgeon.

"I saw it jump -- it was all of 4 feet long," said Chris Vinton, Department of Natural Resources conservation officer, who happened by during the action.

"One of the boys said the fight had been going on for an hour and 41 minutes," Vinton said. "They had 6-pound test line, so they were worried about tugging too hard."

There is no sturgeon fishing season in the area, and Vinton reminded the boys to release the fish if they landed it. Vinton had to leave on another call, so he doesn't know what happened.

But one thing is certain: "We're getting reports all the time now of people catching sturgeon [in the Otter Tail River system]," said Arlin Schalekamp, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Fergus Falls.

The fish the boys tangled with likely was the result of a sturgeon stocking program in Otter Tail Lake that began in 1997. That year 128 juvenile fish were stocked, and more have been stocked regularly over the years in an attempt to re-establish a self-sustaining sturgeon population there.

"There's a robust population of lake sturgeon in Otter Tail Lake," Schalekamp said, and fish have spread upstream and downstream. "It's a success story so far, but it's not the end of the story."

None of the sturgeon, including the one caught by the boys, is old enough yet to reproduce. It will take many more years before officials hope to see spawning sturgeon there -- and a possible fishing season.

But the results so far look promising.

Did you know?

• A man fell out of his boat in the Walker area, and the boat continued on. "An alert person on shore witnessed the event, acted quickly, and got the man out of the water," reported conservation officer Gary Sommers.

• Officials are investigating the discovery of two gill nets on Cass and Leech lakes found with dead, decaying fish. Chippewa bands legally net those two lakes.

• Conservation officer Tom Hemker of Winona received a call of an unattended boat on a day with high winds. He found it -- with a person sleeping inside. "He was from California and was floating from St. Paul to New Orleans and writing a book," Hemker reported.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

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