Not many anglers get the opportunity to fish for sturgeon. When the opportunity presented itself to my wife and I, along with my colleague Brandon Butler to fish the Rainy River near Baudette, MN, we jumped at the chance.
None of us had ever fished for sturgeon before, so we were not entirely sure what to expect. However, the days leading up to our trip allowed us to talk to friends who had previously had the experience so we weren’t completely blind going in.
Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River are known as world-class walleye fisheries. What many don’t know about is the amazing sturgeon fishing that is available. However, that is quickly changing.
Over the last 15 to 20 years, more and more anglers have traveled to Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River to have the chance at catching a giant Lake Sturgeon. Approximately 4,000 sturgeon tags are sold annually.
It wasn’t that many years ago that sturgeon were almost completely wiped out. This was in large part because of commercial fisherman taking a million of these fish out of the water per year. Commercial fishing ended in 1940, and 1918 was the last year that more than 10,000 fish were harvested. That is a lot of fish. Also, paper mills were dropping pulp in the water which didn’t help out the fish at all.
But, in 1972 the Federal Clean Water Act stopped the pollution from the paper mills. Along with good science and increased public interest, the sturgeon population was able to rebound without restocking efforts.
In 1989, it was estimated that 18,000 sturgeons were swimming in Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River that were over 40” long. That number grew to 59,000 in 2004, and the latest research showed the number of 40” plus fish was nearing 92,000.
Lake sturgeon begin to spawn in late May or early June when the water temperatures reach 50º. Beginning in mid-May, the sturgeon begin to move into their spawning grounds. Females spawn once every four years and the males every year.
Sturgeon can live to be over 100-years old. A male sturgeon reaches maturity at 13 years of age and will be approximately 40” long at that age. A female reaches maturity at 20 years and you can expect a fish of this age to be about 52”long.
Our guide from the Sportsman’s Lodge was more than knowledgeable on the species, and it did not take long for Brandon to land the first sturgeon. My wife quickly followed, and eventually I was able to put one in the boat.
Throughout the morning we landed several sturgeon along with a few walleyes. I don’t know of any angler that will complain about tossing a few walleyes in the cooler.
Our tactic was to anchor upstream of a hole in the river, toss our bait out and let it settle to the bottom, allow the scent of the bait to move downstream to the fish, and wait. Sometimes the bite would happen within seconds, other times several minutes passed before we felt a light tug on out bait.
Using circle hooks, there was no need to set the hook. The fish basically hooked itself, and all we needed to do was reel the fish in.
Our bait was 2 or 3 night crawlers balled up on a circle hook along with an Emerald Shiner that is a natural baitfish in the waters we were fishing.
Lake Sturgeon fishing has regulations you need to be aware of. Anglers are allowed to keep one fish per calendar year, fish must be 45-50″ inclusive or over 75″. Part of the season is catch-and-release only. Be sure to check the regulations before heading out this year. This year’s Lake & Shovelnose Sturgeon Season runs from June 16, 2018 to April 14, 2019.
For more information about fishing the Rainy River or Lake of the Woods, available lodging, fishing reports and other opportunities in the area, go to www.lakeofthewoodsmn.com.