Minnesota Lake Sturgeon

July 9, 2012 by  

By Nick Simonson

A couple of weeks ago, my brother Ben Simonson of Valley City, N.D. received a report via email from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regarding a Minnesota lake sturgeon he caught on our first trip to the Rainy River in May. The yellow tag marked #82,661 was the first thing we noticed when he held the fish up out of the net. After releasing the fish, we typed the number into our phones and saved it as we got back to angling, in hopes of submitting the report the following week when we returned.

Minnesota Lake Sturgeon

A nice Minnesota lake sturgeon that was released.

Through a quick online submission program through the DNR tagged fish report web page, my brother turned in the tag number and length of the fish and awaited the details of his catch.
Sturgeon #82,661 was captured and tagged by the DNR at the junction of the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods at Four Mile bay in April of 2004. At that time, it was 27.2 inches in length and its sex was unknown and would remain a mystery. The fish was caught by an angler for the first time after tagging in April of 2007, and according to that fisherman’s report, it taped out at 33 inches. The first reported catch after tagging was just a mile up the river from the point where it was cataloged by the DNR. Sturgeon #82,661 was caught and released again by an angler in October of 2008 and by that time, it stretched the measuring stick to 38 inches. However, that catch came far upstream – nearly 30 miles away from Lake of the Woods – and almost halfway up the river to Rainy Lake. Finally, when I put the net around it and my brother held it up for the camera in early May of this year, the sturgeon measured out at 46 inches and was back in its apparent home stretch, just out in front of Wheeler’s Point a mile up from the lake. According to the estimate chart put together by DNR biologists over the past several decades, the 46-inch sturgeon was approximately 20 years of age. In his correspondence relating to Sturgeon #82,661, Tom Heinrich, DNR Large Lake Specialist, revealed a great deal about the individual fish and the species in general.
As of this spring, the DNR has tagged 6,470 lake sturgeon, with 3,405 longer than the 45 inch minimum size limit, at the time they were tagged. The longest sturgeon that the DNR has tagged was 71.3 inches long, but weight was not recorded for this fish. This fish was tagged on the Rainy River, near the mouth of the Littlefork River, in 2004. The heaviest weight recorded for a tagged sturgeon was 93 pounds, but only 69.5 inches long (though she had a 31.5-inch girth). This fish came from the Rapid River in 2012. The largest sturgeon the DNR has sampled was caught off of Pine Island in September of 2007. This fish was 73 inches long and estimated to weigh 120 pounds. Unfortunately DNR staff members were not set up to tag this fish, so it was released without a tag.
Minnesota Lake SturgeonDNR biologists have found that in the Lake of the Woods-Rainy River system, male lake sturgeon begin to reproduce when they reach 17 years of age, while female sturgeon do not mature until they are about 26 years old. After maturing, males spawn only every two to three years while females spawn every three to six years.
Intense commercial exploitation during the late 1800s and early 1900s decimated the once abundant sturgeon population. After the decline of the commercial fishery the sturgeon population was unable to rebound due to water pollution in the Rainy River, the primary spawning area. With the passage of the Clean Water Act and its amendments in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the sturgeon population started to grow and reproduction is successful in most years. The sturgeon population grew from about 16,000 in 1990 to about 60,000 in 2004. Today, the Lake of the Woods-Rainy River system is one of the few areas in the country that has a lake sturgeon population that is healthy enough to support a fishery.
Through the efforts of agencies like the DNR and conscientious anglers who take the time to report their tagged fish like sturgeon #82,661, biologists and other staff are able to gain a better understanding of the wide variety of species we fish for, whether they’re walleye, trout, sturgeon or others. In turn, this information helps those agencies to better manage fisheries and help anglers find better success on the water. In addition to all these benefits of a fish tagging and recording program is the unique insight into the life of a fish that my brother and I had a chance to touch, unhook and release to be caught and hopefully reported again…in our outdoors.


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