Wisconsin’s annual lake sturgeon season opens Saturday on a number of interior rivers, offering a chance to tussle with a true prehistoric monster.
This hook-and-line season has a 60-inch minimum, one-per-year harvest limit. Those intending to kill a fish which may be older than they are must first purchase a harvest tag. Cost for the tag is $20 for residents and $50 for non-residents.
Growth rate in lake sturgeon is individual, but one of legal length is almost certainly a female. Although the population is considered stable in rivers where harvest is allowed, it is also quite fragile. Catch one and you are literally holding the future of the past in your hands.
If monies from the harvest tag were dedicated to specifically maintaining the population, spending $20 for a tag which used to be free would be well spent. Many prominent hunting and fishing organizations are in favor of raising license prices and other fees—provided the funds go into sustaining the resource. But government’s track record under Gov. Scott Walker isn’t exactly a template for resource stewardship.
Sturgeons over six feet long are swimming in more than a half-dozen Wisconsin rivers. Fish with these dimensions were swimming before the advent of modern sportfishing after the end of World War II.
It takes stout tackle, endurance, patience and a fair amount of luck to subdue one of these ugly, but beautiful, fish to a point where one can ponder its fate. With less than a short month to chase lake sturgeon each year, time for serious planning is at hand.
Portions of the Flambeau, Jump, Yellow, Menominee, Wisconsin and Chippewa rivers are open for lake sturgeon harvest beginning Saturday. The Chippewa River probably has the biggest population of fish on a per-acre basis. It also has more sub-legal fish than legal ones ghosting through the system.
Even a “small” four-footer puts up one helluva fight. Like a smallmouth bass, sturgeon don’t give up until they are totally whupped, making quick and gentle handling of any fish you don’t plan on killing key to survival.
Don’t pick a sturgeon up by the gills or tail for a quick photo. Instead, cradle them in your arms—or better yet leave them in the water—for a quick photo and release.
Muskie gear is suitable for sturgeon fishing. Baitcast reels with a “clicker” feature work best.
Terminal tackle is simple: a three-way swivel with a pyramid sinker on one dropper line and 1/0 saltwater circle or octopus hook on the other dropper.
When the clicker on the baitcast reel signals a fish has the bait, simply pick up the rod and let the fish put a bend in it. No need to set the hook—and the circle hook will almost always be right at the edge of the sturgeon’s rain gutter diameter mouth, which extends below the bottom of the jawline.
The best bait is two lively nightcrawlers impaled multiple times on the circle hook, liberally doused with anise scent.
Just cast out and tighten line at the leading edge of a deep-water hole or back-eddy and wait for the bait clicker to tell you it’s time to rodeo.
Once joined, combat can last an honest hour. The key is moving the fish up off the bottom and higher in the water column quickly. You can tell the fish is beginning to tucker out when it starts moving toward the surface and rolling in the line.
Like shooting that first deer or catching your first muskie, catching a lake sturgeon is a rite of passage here in the Land of Cheese.
The biggest one I ever hooked was with buddy Brad Bourkland up on the Flambeau River over 35 years ago. Its dimensions were roughly those of a U-Boat. When it was sick of dancing, it simply headed down the river and broke the line. The image of the battle is still crystal clear in my rapidly fading mind.
After more than five decades of being truly serious about fishing, I have NEVER lost a LITTLE fish. But that one truly was no little fish!