The Sturgeon Virgins

Wayne Zitzow was a self-proclaimed "sturgeon virgin." Never caught one, he said. So it was noted with surprise when his clicker began to ratchet first.

We looked up from our stations on Perry "The Pilot" Clark's Lund to where Zitzow stood with that, "what now?" expression.

"Strip some line," offered Rick Hammer — the guy who chose the spot, based on the fact that it produced 13 sturgeon for him a few days ago. Zitzow, using heavy braided line with a 30-pound flurocarbon leader and a 6/0 circle hook, dutifully stripped some line. "How long do I have to wait?"

"Not long," Hammer says. So Zitzow started reeling. His rod doubled over. The result is swinging into the boat in the above photo — a 47 incher and a nice start. But Zitzow wasn't the only sturgeon virgin onboard that ship.

Our good friend John Jambor looked on and photographed the fire drill with anxious curiosity. Would he, could he, be next? Before long, Jambor announced he was snagged. "No you're not," Zitzow said. No. He wasn't. Sturgeon often camouflage themselves as snags for a second or three then, hoo boy.

Sturgeon are brutes. And magicians. They make line disappear from reels while they beat your arms and shoulders down into quivering pools of worthless, protoplasmic goo. Hammer told us he watched a guy land a 68-incher this week. Afterward he just sat and stared at the gunnel of the boat. "He was unresponsive for a while," Hammer said. "And he was a linebacker for the Gophers."

No wonder they finished in the bottom half of the Big 10. Sturgeon are tough, but they aren't that tough. Jambor had this 62 incher up to the boat in about 14 minutes and found himself deflowered in the process. Hammer offered him a cigarette. Not only did the virgins get their sturgeon weapons inspected for the first time, they ruled the day over more likely heroes. But resumes meant nothing yesterday. Hammer's 13 in one blow and the 8.5-footer I once wrestled out of the Columbia River were scoffed upon in that "what have you done for me lately" motif. We were shut out by two guys throwing their first pitch. And that, in a nut shell, is fishing.

The early walleye season on the Rainy River drew us up to the Canadian border, as it had every year for decades. From the middle of April to the Ides of March, we, the frozen, are allowed to play with walleyes a few weeks after the season closes in Minnesota, and a month or so before it opens again in May. We caught a few walleyes, but they were being stubborn. So we anchored up, gobbed crawlers on circle hooks, weighted our lines with flat sinkers, and pitched our rigs into a deep hole. I would tell you about my sturgeon rigging, but that would sound rather pretentious. Maybe Zitzow and Jambor (sounds like a morning radio team) should be writing this post.

In all fairness, it rocked to see a lake sturgeon that big outside the Great Lakes and tributaries to the Pacific. Thank you, Jambor and Zitzow, for the views, the shots, and the lessons in humility. Sadly, writers always have the last word. Tomorrow I'll post some data about lake sturgeon highlighted with photos that demonstrate what kind of truly epic fire drill ensues when three sturgeon virgins try to land a 62 incher. "Hey, Mo." (Nyuk, nyuk.)

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