Angling for our Native Lake Sturgeon

Andy Geving with a St. Croix Lake SturgeonLake Sturgeon are classified as rare species by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Lake Sturgeon, Acipenser fulvescens, are of special concern to the MDNR however not to the federal level. Nationally these fish are caught in the northern states.
Traditionally this species was a food base for Native Americans living in the river woodlands. Their large size and habits of living in clear waters made them easy prey for ancient fish hunters who speared and netted these fish. As European settlers began to commercially fish our waters the Lake Sturgeon became extirpated as undesirable. Their once dominant numbers were quickly reduced to concerning levels through wanton waste, exotic sport fish species introductions, and dam building.
This species of fish is different than most in our waterways in that it has no bones in its body rather a Sturgeons body is comprised of cartilage. This makes it more closely related to a Shark than anything else in our water. Unlike a Shark the Sturgeon has a sucker mouth and is considered a bottom feeder in most circumstances.
Anglers can seek Sturgeon on the St. Croix for about 40-days each season. Only one fish can be kept with a Sturgeon tag during the 25-day catch and keep season with a minimum length of 60-inches. Catch and release anglers can fish an additional 15 days after the catch and keep season ends.
Anglers seeking sturgeon will need a medium-heavy or heavy-rod of about seven feet in length. 20-pound test is the recommended minimum for these fish as upon being hooked, they will typically jump and fight well.
One to three ounces of weight are recommended. It is important to have your bait on the bottom. Gobs of crawlers, shad, and fatheads all make fine bait.
From my experience with fish over 50-pounds I would recommend that anglers consider a few pre-fish preparations. Two lines are allowed on the St. Croix River. A nineteen-foot boat is about enough room for four lines and two anglers. Two anchors will be required to hold the boat steady enough to notice the light takes of Sturgeon.
A bow anchor and a back anchor with three lines in the water and one fish on is a lot to manage. Lake Sturgeon are known to run “all-over-the-place”. Best practices would recommend that once a fish is on bring in the other lines. If it is obvious that the fish on the line is too powerful to bring in quickly then also bring up one of the anchor ropes. A large net is necessary and in rare situations a fish will require you to beach it so an action plan is necessary for successful catch – photo – and release.
As always, take care when handling a fish as Sturgeon over five-feet in length can be as much as 100-years old. One last thing to consider when seeking or handling this fish is that they do not reach reproductive maturity until their third decade of life. Take care in handling and releasing this fish and the future could bear you more Sturgeon to angle.