Sturgeon Virgins (Part II)

John Jambor, here, is a man among boys. He not only brought this bugling beast to bay, he stands alone hefting all 45 to 50 pounds. At least, that would be the approximate weight according to a length-girth chart published by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. This critter is a lake sturgeon, taking part in the annual spawning run from Lake of The Woods up the Rainy River.

Lake sturgeon (acipencer fulvescens) — not to be confused with the Atlantic, white, green, or 16 other existing species of sturgeon — range from Alabama west to Arkansas, north to Hudson Bay, east through the Great Lakes region to the St. Lawrence Seaway. We're lucky in the Midwest to have strong enough populations to allow catch-and-release angling in some areas. In Minnesota and Northwest Ontario, regulations allow catch-and-release fishing part of the year. Wisconsin has a fall season on some of the bigger rivers. Anglers can sometimes buy a $20 stamp in Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin, allowing them to harvest one sturgeon per year. Michigan¬†even allows a spearing season on selected waters, but makes immediate release mandatory in most locations. Lake sturgeon are largely off limits in many states. The reason for all the restrictions is fairly simple. Females don't mature until they reach 14 to 23 years of age — depending on which population you're talking about. Unregulated harvest could quickly decimate the population of mature, egg-laying females for decades. The American Fishing Society lists the lake sturgeon as threatened throughout its native range in the United States. Most sturgeon species are on the verge of extinction today.

One of the first questions most people ask is, "How old do these fish get?" According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, a specimen weighing 208.6 pounds aged at 154 years was captured from Lake of The Woods in 1953.

The species itself dates back several hundred million years. Sturgeon are among the most ancient of the bony fishes (which date back 42o million years) still in existence.

As such they should be treated with great care and reverence. Uh. Boys? Somebody said, "Don't worry about the cradle," as we hooked up the boat in darkness, hours before dawn. We'll blame it on sleep deprivation. Next time, maybe a cradle should be considered mandatory equipment. A big net could damage fins on fish this heavy. Certainly, teaming up and hoisting them could be the best way to go without a cradle — if you really need a photo. With sturgeon fishing becoming increasingly popular on the Rainy, and more of these precious giants being handled every year, perhaps biologists and websites of the various agencies involved should consider publishing a wrangler's guide. This horse could certainly be fitted with a saddle, and gave Jambor a ride he won't soon forget.

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