Dinosaurs. Some people will try and tell you they are extinct, however myself and countless other “Dino” fanatics from Canada and our friends down across the line will surely try to convince you otherwise. Enter the Lake Sturgeon!
This ancient beast of often times epic proportions supplies anglers with some of the best pound for pound fight in heavy current that they can encounter via rod and reel action. These gentle giants are absolute powerhouses!
That, and the fact of how truly little effort it is to head out and target them, is what draws so many anglers out of their winter hibernation to experience that heart pounding pull only a Dino could provide! One of the ultimate big sturgeon bites occurs on the Rainy River in spring. This 120 kilometre body of water connects massive Lake of the Woods to Rainy Lake. It’s also known for multiple different amazing bites throughout the year but probably the most spectacular is the sturgeon fishing as these massive creatures school in large numbers before the spawn.
Getting out is fairly simple as long as the river is clear of floating ice and debris chunks from the thaw. You could technically fish around these, and (it‘s done), but for the sake of your boat and your own safety, it’s probably smarter to wait until the river self-cleanses as it flows into the lake. Once able to get on the river, we usually focus on the many deeper holes that cause major changes in current flow, which draw sturgeon to them. These holes and channels are also often used as travel paths by the sturgeon, making them a good ambush points. Also, sturgeon relate to different corners, angles, and bends in the River shoreline. It all depends on how the current is moving on that day or what groups are moving through the area. These little hot spots are much harder to find if you don’t have good sonar to mark the presence of fish. A great anchor is critical when you are in current or trying to hold in one position anywhere on the river. Please always remember to tie it up off of a safe point in the front of your boat. Many accidents and drowning occur when people accidentally tie off the anchor on an unsafe point of the boat and then get quickly overpowered and taken under by the river. A large, fish friendly net is also very important. I use a Frabill Big Kahuna and would recommend it to anyone looking for a great net for lake sturgeon. Its basket will fit under even for the biggest fish you could encounter! It’s also easy on the fish and protective slime, plus easier on you.
After setting up on an area you have confidence in, it’s time to get to work. A typical sturgeon rig consists of an octopus or circle hook loaded with night crawlers or minnows fished off of the bottom with sliding sinkers. Sturgeon rely almost fully on their ultra keen sense of smell and feel to find their meals, so the bigger and stinkier your presentation the better. Then it’s time to kick back and wait, hopefully not terribly long, until you get the tell-tale “tapping” of a Dino knocking at your bait, and the rest is history.
One thing to keep in mind is that these fish do often move around almost constantly in a river, so even if your day starts on a really slow or super fast note, it could change on a dime and during those tough periods pulling anchor and doing a little exploring is never a bad idea.
This past weekend while on the Rainy with my good friend Brett McComas, we landed one sturgeon literally 45 seconds into setting up our lines, and had some other quick action before it fizzled out just as fast as it came to be, and we realized the small pod of fish that had just passed through was now gone. A move to find fish was the necessary. If you are an angler with a sonar system mounted to your fishing rig, it’s going to make things a lot more pleasurable for finding pockets and marking fish. If you have side imaging capabilities, then you may be an unstoppable machine. I run a Humminbird 1198 with side imaging in my boat and it’s certainly taken things to the next level. When set up properly and with a little practice on the unit, these small submarines show up with incredible detail on the bottom. Last spring we were even able to predict which way the fish were moving and move and anchor our boat to intercept them.
CATCH AND RELEASE
Last but not least, if you do head out please remember to handle these stunning creatures with care. Sometimes it’s all too easy to forget that these giant fish actually do need to be handled carefully and are not invincible. Proper care includes trying to keep these fish held horizontally the entire time, like you are cradling a baby. Vertical holds do serious damage to the fishes bone structure, and soft organs. The fish may appear to swim away ok, but will be left a lot worse for wear.
The Rules and Regulations for fishing the Rainy state that fishing for sturgeon on the Rainy River is prohibited on the Canadian side. This is done to help insure an ever growing healthy population of fish. The Minnesota side of the river allows anglers to fish and has catch and release only seasons and also a special season for harvesting a sturgeon with the properly purchased Tag, and only one per person per calender year, according to the dates shown on the tag. I personally choose to release these elegant creatures as they are a part of our heritage I think that needs to be respected.
So there you have it, a quick guide to fishing the spring Rainy River Sturgeon madness! Take your family, kids, or close friends and it’s a great time to socialize and have a relaxing day on the water with quite a mix of extreme to it as well.