By: Mike Hanson – River master
Two and a half questions for ya, approximately how old is a Rainy River Sturgeon if it is 40 inches long, how about a 60 incher and how would you like a chance at a permanent smile?
Twenty years ago I would tell my colleague in marriage where I was going in case of an angling calamity knowing that in all probability no else would be recreating with me other than perhaps a neighbor or an errant urban invader. Now when I go Sturgeon fishing I join an absolute legion of other devotees trying to catch the pound for pound mightiest and absolute dynamic swimming force in the Rainy River. Many Sturgeon showoff leaping out of the depths just to say hi before falling back in with a huge splash, you can almost shake hands with them.
It would have been a leap of faith to preordain that a sport only a few revered and toiled at would be so overwhelmingly popular today. Kooch County has six free parks on the banks of the Rainy River and the State of Minnesota oversees a few other river front recreational sites. There have been times this late spring when entire villages seemingly came to Sturgeon life overnight in our County parks with nearly all campsites accounted for. Anyone with a fishing license can fish them but a $5.00 tag is needed if you would like to harvest one, in 2006 1,484 tags were sold, 3,363 in 2014, its easy math. So what causes people to participate? It’s simple, large fish, very large fish, capable of applying arm twisting torque unlike any other, capable of pulling your equipment overboard, capable of pulling your boat against the current, capable of just swimming away leaving you only to ponder in wonder just how big it really was. It makes for great fishing rumination, undocumented assertions and suspected lies. It’s not a lie that in 1905 a 15-footer weighing 400 pounds was harvested from the Roseau River.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources goal in the early 2000’s was to rehabilitate self-sustaining stocks of Sturgeon that would provide exceptional recreational harvests. At that time they expected to see male fish up to age 30, 50 year old females with some exceeding 70 inches in length and at least 30 year classes. Their 20 to 30 years goals envisioned male fish up to age 40, females age 70 with 10-15% mature fish exceeding 80 inches in length and at least 40 year classes. Female Sturgeon become sexually mature around 26 years of age while males mature around 17 years. Research has indicated females may only spawn once every 4 to 9 years while males spawn once every 2 to 3 years. They believe Sturgeon can reach age 100 and weigh over 200 pounds.
For nearly 25 years “The North American Sturgeon Championships” have been held the third Saturday in August at Nelson Park in Birchdale, MN. The first of its kind “Catch and Release” tournament has grown to the point where up to 300 participants take to the Rainy River all with an equal chance to take home 50% of the proceeds which often has exceeded $2,000.00. New this year to the event is the first “North American Youth Sturgeon Championships”. Predictably it will be a great way to introduce this angling adventure to younger generations.
Did you guess 15 and 34 years or the reason for a preposterous grin? Hooking one of these monsters is the cause of a remarkable change in countenance on the face of the angler that lands one of these titans. The smile you carry ashore will be tattooish like, nothing will ever be the same.