Almanac: Big fish, but no record

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2009 - 12:13 AM

An 11-year-old's 74 1/2 inch lake sturgeon was released before it could be weighed on a certified scale.

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Michael, Matthew and Mark Nelson of Minnetonka (left to right) and friend Wally Yahn of Maple Grove hold a 74.5-inch sturgeon Matthew caught in the Rainy River recently. The fish weighed an estimated 110 to 120 pounds, which would make it a state record. However, the fish was released before it was officially weighed because it didn’t meet the 75-inch minimum size limit.

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The fish is probably one of the largest ever caught in Minnesota. And it likely would have shattered the state record.

But 11-year-old Matthew Nelson's 74 1/2 inch lake sturgeon -- which might have weighed 110 to 120 pounds -- won't go down in the record books because he had to release it before weighing it.

Anglers can keep just one lake sturgeon 45 to 50 inches long -- or more than 75 inches.

"We measured it twice at 74 1/2 inches," said Mark Nelson of Minnetonka, Matthew's dad. Its girth was estimated at 30 to 32 inches.

The fifth-grader caught the monster April 26 on the Rainy River west of International Falls while fishing with his dad and 12-year-old brother, Michael, and guide, Gary Herrly of Littlefork. A friend fishing nearby in another boat had to help heft the fish -- the equivalent of a 6-2 1/2-inch person -- into the boat.

Herrly, 56, has been fishing sturgeon most of his life and has seen scores of them caught while guiding on the river. "It's the biggest one I've seen landed," he said.

Based on a Department of Natural Resources chart that estimates pounds based on length and girth -- and the opinion of a taxidermist friend of Nelson's -- the fish should have weighed between 110 and 120 pounds. The current state record is a 94-pound, 4-ounce fish caught in the Kettle River in 1994. It was 70 inches long with a 26 1/2-inch girth.

But to qualify for a state record, the fish must be weighed on a certified scale and examined by DNR fisheries biologists.

Still, Mark Nelson and Herrly believe Matthew landed a record-breaking fish.

"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Matthew caught the 'unofficial' state record and released it," said Nelson, who has caught 125- to 150-pound sailfish in Costa Rica.

Quite a fight

The big fish hit a glob of worms and a hook at about 10 a.m.

"Every time he reeled it up to the boat, it just took off -- and there was nothing you could do to stop it," said Nelson. "When we saw the tail come up 6 feet behind the line, we said 'oh my gosh.' I thought at any moment the line would snap."

Friend Wally Yahn of Maple Grove, fishing nearby, lent them his net to land the fish. But Nelson said he, Herrly and his sons couldn't lift the fish into the boat without Yahn's help.

"It took all of us to lift it in," Nelson said. "We were jumping up and down and high-fiving -- it was unbelievable."

It might not make the record book, but Matthew and the others have memories to last a lifetime.

"He probably could fish for sturgeon the rest of his life and not catch anything that big," Nelson said.

Firearms auctioned

More than 1,000 people showed up last weekend for the DNR auction of confiscated firearms in Zimmerman, and they snapped up the 289 guns in short order. The auction raised $101,000, which will be put into the DNR's Game and Fish Fund. It was the first public auction of DNR-confiscated firearms forfeited by hunters for serious game violations in about a decade. The guns were collected over the past four years.

Turkey hunters smiling

Halfway through Minnesota's spring wild turkey season, hunters have harvested 7,154 birds, 868 more than the same time last year. That means turkey hunters are on track to break the record harvest set last year, when nearly 11,000 birds were shot.

Did you know?

• Conservation officer Chris Vinton of Perham was checking a group of sucker spearers recently, and asked them to raise their hand if they were skipping school to spear. Everyone raised their hand.

• A Duluth-area resident removed several legally set traps because he thought they were a hazard to area dogs. Instead the person found himself in violation of trap tampering and now faces criminal charges and a very large fine.

• Conservation officer Mike Lee of Isle received a TIP call that a large muskie had been speared in the Thaines River and was floating with the spear stuck in it. Lee found the fish and said it appeared that someone had attempted numerous times to strike the fish, with the final spear strike lodged in the mid-back of the muskie. The fish was 54¼ inches long with a girth of 26¾ inches.

• And then there was the loon that apparently mistook a plowed field for water and became stranded. Conservation officer Todd Langevin of Center City put a blanket over it and took it to water. "Aside from a headache from the landing, the loon appeared to be in good shape," Langevin reported.

• Conservation officer Aaron Kahre of Minnetonka took reports of wounded geese around Lake Minnetonka. The local police believe someone is shooting them with pellet guns.

Doug Smith • dsmith@startribune.com

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