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Hook and Line Sturgeon Fishing

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It’s that time of the year when people have the opportunity to fish for the largest freshwater fish in Wisconsin if not the entire United States, the lake sturgeon. Many Wisconsinites take part in the winter sturgeon spearing season on the Winnebago System. But not as many people take part in the hook and line sturgeon season which opened on September 2nd and runs till September 30th. One of the few locations in Wisconsin to fish for this prehistoric fish is on the Wisconsin River from Sauk City to the Wisconsin Dells. To legally fish for sturgeon, you need a valid Wisconsin fishing license and a sturgeon tag which may be picked up at all registration centers or online for $20.00 for a resident and $50.00 for non-residents. Sturgeon tags are available for either inland waters or for Wisconsin/Michigan boundary waters. You must register the fish in the county it was caught before 6:00 P.M. the following day. These mandatory regulations are necessary to protect and manage this unique species of fish. Lake sturgeon needs more protection than most fish because of their long-lived nature and specific habitat requirements.

The lake sturgeon made its appearance about the time about the time that dinosaurs began to disappear. The lake sturgeon is truly a giant among fresh water fish and a living fossil making its first appearance in the Upper Cretaceous of the Mesozoic era.

But, by the middle of the 19th century the sturgeon was considered a nuisance fish by commercial fishermen. Gradually, there became a demand for this good eating fish whether eaten fresh or smoked and the roe (eggs) or caviar brought a top dollar to the commercial fishers. This demand caused great over-harvesting of the sturgeon which took many decades for this unique fishery to rebound and become the great sturgeon fishery that it is now. The sturgeon fishing season was closed for many years with a strict management program that eventually allowed the fishery to rebound. Presently, there is a highly restricted hook and line season and a larger spearing season on selected waters in the state. Wisconsin also helps other state’s get sturgeon restoration programs going and hopefully succeeding with fingerlings from this state.

Wisconsin is lucky enough to have a good and natural producing lake sturgeon population in some of the state’s river systems. State rivers that have a hook and line season are the Chippewa River, the Flambeau River, the Yellow River, the Jump River, and the Wisconsin River from the dam at Wisconsin Dells and downriver. Be sure to check the Wisconsin Fishing Rules and Regulations for all state rules and regulations on sturgeon.

Male lake sturgeon mature at ages 13 to 15 years (about 42 inches long), while female sturgeon don’t mature until they are 22 to 24 years old and around 56 inches long. Once mature, males spawn every 2 years, while females spawn every 4 to 5 years. These figures alone show why the lake sturgeon is so closely regulated and monitored in Wisconsin since they don’t spawn or reproduce every year.

 The most common way of sturgeon fishing is by boat or shore on one of the legal rivers in Wisconsin. You then need a stout and strong rod to be able to handle this fish which can easily weigh 50 to 100 pounds and more. A strong line like Stren monofilament or Fireline in 30 to 50 pound test is needed to be able to handle this gigantic fresh-water fish. Bait casting reels work best, but I have seen many anglers using big, strong surf- type rods with large open-faced spinning reels and do well. Shore angler’s use more weight because they like to get their bait way out in the river’s current and in deeper water. Egg sinkers from 2 to 6 ounces are put above a barrel swivel. From the swivel run about 2 to 3 feet of leader line to your hook. The hook used is a 2/0 or 4/0 filled with nightcrawlers or cut bait (mooneyes and suckers). If fishing from a boat, 1 to 2 ounces of weight is usually enough to keep your bait on the river’s bottom which is necessary to catch the bottom-feeding sturgeon.

The best areas to fish seem to be below the dams and tailrace areas on the Wisconsin River. Deep-water close by is important and the fish seem to hold in this deeper water when not actively feeding. When feeding, the sturgeons like water 10 to 15 foot deep with a sand and gravel bottom. I would never venture more than a mile or so belows the dams when sturgeon fishing. The big fish seem to like the deeper water which is found in the scour holes below the dams at the Wisconsin Dells and Prairie du Sac. Nighttime also is a good period for these fish to be active and feeding. So, get some crawlers and a musky rod and give this kind of fishing a try. Smoked sturgeon and caviar are well worth the effort!!

Be sure to check the Wisconsin Rules and Regulations booklet for all sturgeon rules and regulations because rules can change. The sturgeon resurgence in Wisconsin and other states is due to strict rules and harvest regulations. Without the rules there most likely would not be an open water sturgeon season. Many anglers with European roots come to Wisconsin and pay the $50.00 fee for a sturgeon tag hoping to catch one of these tasty prehistoric “monsters” for their fresh meat and prized caviar.

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