Fishing Lake Sturgeon – Rainy River

May 8, 2012 by  

Fishing Lake Sturgeon

“Well, that hookset didn’t go anywhere,” my brother said as I got about one-third into my sweeping movement against the creature that tapped on the end of my line near the bottom of the Rainy River in northern Minnesota.  With the rod in full arc, I began cranking down to meet my opponent as the guys mobilized in the boat.
Fishing Lake sturgeonAs we had throughout the day, we manned our respective positions – the connected angler stepping up to the back platform, the net man at the side and the camera man on the bow.  It didn’t take us long into our first fishing lake sturgeon trip on the flow which connects Lake of the Woods to the boundary waters of the northeastern part of the state to get the pattern down.  Along with three other friends, my brother, Ben Simonson of Valley City, N.D. and Erik Eggert, of Fargo, N.D. and I had registered two boats in the 6th Annual Sportsman’s Lodge Sturgeon Tournament – despite the fact that four of us had no experience fishing for this fabled prehistoric fish.
The battle with this particular fish that cut my hookset short – which would be my biggest of the weekend – paled in comparison to those that bookended it, but when all 47 inches of it were in the net, I was grateful to have experienced it.  I had hooked up with a modern-day monster available in Minnesota’s big northern backyard, and crossed another fish off of my life list.  All three of us would, with Erik and Ben doing so in dramatic fashion, with a bit of comic relief mixed in.
The first hint Erik got that his only fish of the first day of the tournament was on the line was a slight bumping of his rod tip.  Cautiously, he picked up the oversized spinning combo and began cranking the eighty-pound test line steadily.  The heavy rod’s tip bowed slightly and he swept the rod upward, pulling the night-crawler-laden circle hook firmly into the fish.  The rod bowed as if tethered to door at the bottom of the river and he made little progress on the fish in the first minutes of the fight.  It was then that the leviathan began its bulldogging run against him.
From side to side, the fish wound around the boat, dragging Erik, now bracing his rod with both hands and bending at the knees to keep leverage on the big spinning combo.  The reel paid out line and the rod began to thump wildly as the fish ran with powerful tugs.  Finally, the fish rose to the surface, fifteen feet behind the boat and did a backflip, crashing down and bulldogging for the depths once again.  I readied the net as Erik regained the line and brought the fish toward the transom.
Then, all hell broke loose.  The fish nosed into the net, tangling its pointy snout, the circle hook and two-ounce weight in the mesh, preventing the rest of its body from sliding securely into the frame.  This snag in our up-til-then flawless process brought a rush of panic from my gut as the fish thrashed about on top of the net, but by no means secured in its grasp.
I threw the net up my side and leaned out into the water, my hips barely keeping contact with the boat.  With a bearhug, I wrapped my arms around the writhing sturgeon and hoisted it along with a couple of gallons of water in my sweatshirt sleeves into the boat.  I sat up to roaring applause and laughter from the boats around us, including those on the judge’s boat nearby.
“You just about did a header,” one judge laughed as we gained control of the fish, took some pictures of Erik with his sturgeon and handed it off to the official scorers for measuring.  Having lost Erik’s biggest walleye ever in the net the previous season, I just kept repeating, “I wasn’t letting this fish get away.”
At the end of day one, we had boated 10 sturgeon, but didn’t put any fish in the top three spots.  Our friend Dusty Nielsen, of Valley City, N.D., was in the payout position until a late-day sturgeon bumped his 56-inch fish into fourth place.
Day two opened up cold and rainy as we settled into the spot which had paid off so handsomely the day before, but the action around us was sporadic until, out of the corner of my eye I saw my brother drop his rod tip and begin reeling.  He drew the rod back and it curled into the tell-tale bend of a big sturgeon, and as he caught up to the fish which was swimming toward the boat he gained perspective on what was swimming below.
“This is a TOURNAMENT fish,” Ben said excitedly as the sturgeon anchored itself to the bottom below the boat.  It then made fifteen minutes of runs, pulling Ben around the boat.  He tip-toed up the starboard side, pirouetted and ran across the transom deck to and up the port side in an effort match the bull rush of the fish that would not rise.  A moment later he would find himself and his extra-heavy rod bowed back over the starboard side once again. Finally, the fish yielded and made its way to the surface and toward the net.  I didn’t give it a second chance as it slid over the metal frame and into the mesh, and we all hollered unintelligibly as I raised the metal loop a foot above the surface as we awaited the judge’s boat.
After the high-fives were slapped, victory whoops shouted and photos were taken, the fish taped out at 57.5 inches with a 23 inch girth with an estimated 45 pounds in weight.  The barbeled denizen of the Rainy River was over 50 years old and bore a badge of honor in the form of a rusted 2/0 hook which my brother removed from its mouth – a symbol of the angler this fish had previously tussled with.  Ben’s beast would place him third for most of the day, until a 59-incher would bump him out of the money, but the memory of that one big fish was worth the price of admission.
While we ended day two with just three fish for our boat, we were happy that none of our stories were about the ones that got away.  Between pre-fishing on Thursday, and the two days of the tournament we landed all 15 fish we hooked into – not too shabby for a trio of rookies.  The weekend wrapped with the tournament banquet where it was revealed that sturgeon of 64 and 65 inches won the first and second day top prizes, respectively, and 5 fish were registered that topped 60 inches in length.  Between our group of six, we had brought in over 20 fish, with three over 50 inches in length.  As we loaded up our boats, packed our tackle and rain gear, and checked out of our cabin, we made sure to put our names down for next year’s event, and another fishing  lake sturgeon adventure…in our outdoors.


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