Chad Maloy | Fargo, ND SCHEELS Pro Staff
If you are up for a new adventure consider heading up to the Rainy River to chase Lake Sturgeon, the largest fish in any of Minnesota’s waters. Lake Sturgeon can grow to be nearly 7 ft. in length and weigh over 100lbs.
These fish are some of the neatest and oldest I have ever seen. They have a longer snout with their mouth on the bottom. Their mouth is a rubbery sucking kind. When they suck, their lips extend down, so they are definitely bottom feeders. Their top exterior is made up of big boney platelets. They are very hard. The little, younger sturgeon have very sharp edges. I was fascinated to see these fish up close. I was ready to put one of the bigger ones in the boat.
You can likely get by with gear you already own but as we all know, having the right gear makes things so much easier. If you have a musky or cat fish set-up, you are pretty much all set. Walleye guys may be able to get by with a heavier bottom bouncer set up but it will be lighter than ideal.
An ideal rod for would be a 7’-8’ medium heavy musky rod. I had the opportunity to use my friends St Croix Premier Musky Rod, PM80MHF. That particular model is 8’ in length, MH in power, with a fast tip. The rod is rated for 30-65 lb line. I thought it out performed the 7’ MH musky rod I had along. The extra length added a little more action in the tip which helped when watching for bites.
There are two features I found useful in a good sturgeon reel. A good drag system and a power crank handle. There are several good reels that will fit in this category from almost every manufacturer. I got to use my friend’s Shimano Tekota 300 line counter which was attached to his St Croix rod. The Tekota worked phenomenal. The fact it had a longer power handle instead of the traditional paddle handle used for walleye fishing allowed for a better grip when fighting these giant beasts. Most of the trip I used an Abu Garcia C3 6500 with 45lb test superline on my 7’ MH musky rod. It worked well also but would have been a significant upgrade had I had a power handle. Abu Garcia does sell a retro fit power handle for around $20. I would highly recommend it if you spend any amount of time chasing sturgeon.
Spooling up your reel, I would suggest that you use a 45-80lb braided superline. Superlines are thinner and are no stretch compared to traditional mono. This allows the line to cut thru the current a little better while also offering strength.
The terminal tackle required is simple and basic. The current on the Rainy River can be heavy in the spring so, you will need some good-sized weights to keep your rig on the bottom. Weights can come in all sorts of shapes and we opt to use the flat ones in heavy current. A 5oz no-roll slip sinker and a heavy swivel in the 50lb plus class did the trick. Hooks also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. We selected a 5/0 circle hook on a 12” leader of 40-60lb superline. That’s it. Like I said, pretty simple. Just the basics of a hook, line and sinker!
Preparing bait is simple, also. These prehistoric beasts feed primarily on smell. The smellier your bait is the better. Traditionally, night crawlers and frozen lake shiners are the norm. We soaked our shiners in some Pro Cure Sturgeon Cocktail overnight to add some additional scent. Baiting up, we layered the shiners in between three crawlers gobbed on the hook to help keep them on the hook a little better. The crawlers had plenty of length to flap and leave a scent trail in the current.
These pre-historic bottom dwellers are doing what most fish do in the spring, running up the rivers to spawn. They migrate from all over the massive Lake of the Woods to meet up in the Rainy River. I can imagine they get a little tired fighting the current all the time so they are usually found around some of the holes on the river bottom.
We typically anchor up river of the hole using out bow mount trolling motor. Give your rig a nice easy toss out the back of the boat, place the rod in the rod holder, sit back and wait for a bite. Sturgeon seem to bite like a cat fish. They like to get a good taste of the bait before inhaling it. Give them a little time to munch before you set the hook. Once the rod starts to give a steady bend don’t give a jerk but slowly sweep the rod forward. The circle hook will catch them right in the end of the lips where you want them.
Setting the hook and hooking up is just the start to your adventure. Now you could be in for a long battle. Fighting a seven-foot fish weighing over 100 lbs is tough, throw in the current and it can be a battle that can take more than just a few minutes. This is where a good drag and a power crank handle earn their keep. Just when you think you are about to get them to the top these beasts like to take back all the line you put on your reel. I can’t wait to get another crack at a monster.