Today opens the Lake Sturgeon season on the St. Croix River from below the Taylors Falls Dam to the confluence of the Mississippi River.
For those of you anglers that would like to fight a fish that will test your gear and your fish landing skills, this is the fish for you!
I've covered the gear needed to successfully land Lake Sturgeon in past blog posts, so I'll not go over that again. Today, let's talk about the bite, the fight and the release of these gental giants of the St Croix.
First off there still seems to be some confusion about the purchase of a MN or WI Sturgeon tag. The tag ($5.00) is only needed if you plan on taking home a fish. Remember, the minimum size will need to be 60 inches. Follow the instructions on the tag about reporting the harvest . For many of us, we prefer catch, photo and release fishing. This does not require the possession of a Sturgeon tag.
Since we're fishing a border water, the use of two lines per angler is allowed, this is a good reason to use a good rod holder. I use The Folbe Advantage rod holders because they were designed for White Sturgeon and Salmon over on the Columbia River. If the bite is slow, both rods end up in a holder. When the bite is a little faster I like to hold one rod. Using a graphite rod with a braided line like Courtland's Master Braid, it makes the slightest bite travel to your hand to put you on alert!
One would think with a fish this large the bite would me a slam dunk. Quite the opposite is true. We've had 60 pound sturgeon on that looked like a sunfish was nibbling on the bait. Further many times a fish will swim towards the boat making the angler either think that it's a small fish or that it was lost or the hook didn't connect in the first place. I tell all my first time clients to pick up the rod and take all the slack out of the line as they lift it out of the holder. Then start reeling and always reel up to the boat. We'll need to freshen up the bait anyway and this will eliminate the possibility of a fish hooked but not detected or a little Mud Puppie running around with your bait.
With Lake Sturgeon, the fight is generally right at the boat. The larger 50+ inch fish will have the angler dancing from one side to the other. The sturgeon always leads in this dance. If you're lucky enough to get into a 56+ inch sturgeon, plan on her wrapping your line around the anchor line. It's just to be expected. When this happens be best practice is to pull the anchor line in until you can see the fishing line, then unwrap the line using the coiled up end of the anchor rope. This is another advantage to using 80 pound braided line as one run of an angry sturgeon with the line around the anchor and it's "see ya later big girl"!
So, now she's in the boat with you. It should be noted that a small sturgeon has sharp points along it's body called "scoots". The smaller the sturgeon the sharper the scoots. A 24 inch sturgeon will make you bleed if they wiggle while you're holding them in the wrong spot. When they reach the 40+ inch mark, these scoots become dull and not really a concern. I suspect they are for protection in their younger/smaller years.
As with any large fish Lake Sturgeon are not made to be held by a single point. Altough I haven't found data to show holding a sturgeon by it's gill plates will kill a fish, it's just seems to be common sense to hold the fish horizontaly and support it using two hands. With larger fish, sitting down and using your lap and hands will take a much better photo than a gill cover hold anyway. There are many of us that fish sturgeon frequently feel catching and landing a Lake Sturgeon on proper gear, using circle hooks and paying attention to how the fish is handled will allow your trophy to be caught by your kids, your grand kids, your greatgrand kids and possible your great-great grand kids!
Don't forget to check for a DNR tag! If you happen to land one with a tag wired to the back fin of your sturgeon, record the number, the lenght, girth, weight and aproxamiite location. Here's the MN DNR's page to enter tag numbers for your conviniance. MN DNR Tag Reporting Page.
Ok, now it's time to release the big guy! I always like to place them in the water and wait until they tell me they're ready to go back to the depths. Smaller fish under 40 inches seem to be ready as soon as they hit the water. Larger fish will take longer. Once in to the 50+ inch range, I'll place them back into my net and hold them next to the boat until they look like they are about ready. Sometimes this takes 10 to 15 minutes. Once they're ready, I'll just tip the net into the water and with a splash they are gone.
I'm asked frequently what I like better, fishing for trophy catfish or fishing for trophy sturgeon. It's a question that doesn't have an answer. They are so many ways the same, but at the same time so different.
You'll need to get out there and see what all the hype is about !
The St Croix season runs from Sept 4 to the end of Sept for catch and release and catch and harvest, then from Oct 1st to Oct 15th for catch and release only in MN. There is rumor that WI will mirror MN's regulations starting in 2011.