How to Catch River Sturgeon
What Are Sturgeon
People often refer to particular species of fish as "dinosaurs." But if there is any fish to be labeled as a "dinosaur," it is the Sturgeon. There isn't an older species of fish here in the Midwest. Not only was Sturgeon around during the time of the dinosaurs, but they are also one of the very few species of fish that breach 100 years of age.
Before I speak about fishing for Sturgeon, I must say that they are one of the most regulated species of freshwater fish in America. Just because they are in your local river doesn't mean you can target or fish for them legally. Some states, such as Minnesota, have different seasons on different bodies of water. Wisconsin only has a season during September for hook and line, and not even on all bodies of water. Be sure to look up your state's regulations before going out to Sturgeon fishing yourself. Also, these fish are a very fragile fishery. At one point, harvest for caviar and water quality almost brought them to the brink of extinction from our waters. Sturgeons do not reproduce until they are over 20 years old here in the Midwest. Dams prevent spawning movements, and they don't even successfully spawn if conditions are not right.
Where to Fish For Sturgeon
Every major river in the world likely has some species of Sturgeon. Here in the Midwest, we have lake sturgeon and shovelnose. I primarily target lake sturgeon due to their size. Just like flathead catfish, they are real river monsters. The St. Croix, Mississippi, St. Louis, Fox, Menominee, Wisconsin, Wolf, Oconto, Peshtigo, and Rainy all habit them. 5 years ago, I caught the unofficial state record lake sturgeon out of the St. Croix. It's crazy that this fish, which was once considered "less than traditional" with a population that was dwindling due to caviar harvest and pollution, is now considered a game fish that the state of Minnesota and Wisconsin is highly regulating and increasing stocking efforts with.
How to Fish For Sturgeon
More important than where you fish for Sturgeon is how you fish for them. The key to successful sturgeon fishing is proper boat anchoring. Despite their size, they are highly light-biting. A flathead will put your rod holders to the test on a hit. Sturgeon will bite like a small fish (most of the time barely visible on a big game rod) and oftentimes will drop the bait if they feel too much resistance or the boat drifting pulls bait away from them. Everyone kind of anchors the same way for the most part. We all run an anchor out front of the boat and back, then pull tight on all slack.
Fishing Gear for Sturgeon
As far as gear goes, I am currently running six Piscifun Lumicat Mediums paired with a mix of Piscifun Chaos 50s and 60s. More rigs out equate to more fish caught usually. Check your state's regulations to see how many lines you can legally run. I run softer rods and not Medium-Heavys because all catfish rods are made from some sort of glass. That means they are indestructible no matter how soft in action they are. If there were Medium-Lights, I would run those as well. Although Medium-Heavys will still catch Sturgeon, they are on the stiffer side for bite detection. All my reels are paired with a 65-pound test braid. Some people run heavier, and some run slightly lighter. My opinion is that a thinner line casts farther and cuts current better. Everyone runs the typical slip rigs (also known as Carolina rigs). What you run for weight and circle hook size is all preference and how much current you are fishing. I run 2oz sinkers and 4/0-5/0 circle hooks with the same braid I have on my main line as a leader. They don't feel the 2oz sinkers as much, and the 4/0 circles are big enough for the bait I use and are sticky and sharp. You can add beads or "bling" to the rig if you'd like for whatever reason you have, and how much it increases your catch rate is debatable.
When it comes to bait, most anglers use what's available in that particular river system. The St. Croix and Mississippi are full of shad and suckers. I combine a chunk of one of those with a nightcrawler or two on a hook. They love nightcrawlers as well. This creates what we call a "Sturgeon Cocktail." Some anglers run only nightcrawlers or only cut bait. If your river system has a plethora of "Sheephead," you will go through an astronomical amount of nightcrawlers. There are nights I only run shad. Be careful how you acquire these bait fish, though. Most cast nets shad, and unless you have a properly tagged net, It is illegal to use a cast net in Minnesota, even if they sell them at Walmart.
How to Locate Sturgeon
Locating a sturgeon is pretty easy. There are not too many fish in the river system that are as big, and when your electronics show giant fish in pretty decent quantities, you can almost guarantee they are Sturgeon. Unlike most fish, they, however, do not associate with structure. Most often, my best spots are right on a sand flat in the middle of the river. I have live imaging in my boat. I have found them scanning in a shallow flat up in 10 feet of water and found them at the bottom of a hole in 45 feet of water. Find them and anchor on them. Most anglers fish in the evening and after dark. I firmly believe that Sturgeon feed 24 hours a day, but where they are at varies during the day. Boat traffic makes effective anchoring hard as well.
I hope everything I've stated is helpful in learning how to fish for Sturgeon. Introducing people to Sturgeon helps spread awareness of them, and with the public intrigued and actively targeting them, Fish and Wildlife Departments tend to help in managing and stocking them.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Tight lines!