It had been awhile since I’d received a report of a sturgeon from the Red or Red Lake rivers so I was pleasantly surprised when a photo showed up this morning in my email inbox.
Garret Hjelle of East Grand Forks shared the photo of Jake Hjelle with the 25-inch sturgeon he caught Tuesday on the Red Lake River while fishing for catfish.
The fish doesn’t appear to be tagged, but it’s possible the sturgeon originated from a fry stocking the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has conducted periodically since 2002 in an effort to restore the species to the Red River watershed. The DNR has stocked the tiny sturgeon fry, some 150,000 annually, into the Red Lake River near Red Lake Falls, Minn., along with a similar number in the Roseau River near the Caribou Township area of Kittson County.
The DNR also has stocked sturgeon in a handful of other tributaries in the Red River watershed.
Native to the Red River, sturgeon once were abundant in the river but their numbers began dwindling in the early 1900s with the construction of dams that blocked their access to the tributary streams they relied on for spawning. The largest lake sturgeon ever documented came from the Manitoba portion of the Roseau River in the late 1800s and weighed 400 pounds and measured nearly 14 feet long. As the story goes, the sturgeon became trapped in a pool during a period of low water, and a pioneer family living along the river used a team of horses to drag it out of the water.
Only time will tell whether reports of sturgeon such as the 25-incher Hjelle caught this week become more common and whether the Red and its tributaries produce behemoths flirting with 100 pounds. But the fact smaller fish continue to be caught bodes well for the prospects of big sturgeon showing up in the future. Here’s hoping that’s the case.