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Catching a Tagged Sturgeon with a MN DNR Tag on the Rainy River

Closeup of a DNR tag on a sturgeon's fin
Our resort’s owner, Paul Johnson, caught a large sturgeon last week and was delighted to find a tag on it.
 
He sent the tag’s information to Minnesota DNR, and found the information they sent back to be quite interesting and useful, so we thought we’d share. 

Here’s the response:

Dear Paul,

Thank you for returning the tag number from the sturgeon you caught.  I have attached the information we collected at the time of tagging.  Each line of data on the tag return sheet represents a capture event.  If you have two lines of data, your fish has been reported twice, etc.  If your sturgeon was not aged when it was tagged, the attached chart will give you an approximate age, based on your fish’s length.  The English and metric lengths are provided on the tag return page.  Many anglers are curious as to what their sturgeon weighed.  The attached chart also gives an estimated weight (pounds), based on the length (inches) and girth (inches) of your sturgeon.

Intense commercial exploitation during the late 1800s and early 1900s decimated the once abundant sturgeon population.  After the decline of the commercial fishery the sturgeon population was unable to rebound due to water pollution in the Rainy River, the primary spawning area.  Water pollution prevented the sturgeon from spawning successfully most years, however sturgeon are an extremely long-lived species.  Enough individuals managed to survive and reproduction was enough to maintain a small population.  With the passage of the Clean Water Act and it’s amendments in the late 1960’s and early 1970s, the sturgeon population started to grow and reproduction is now successful in most years.  The tagging program is one part of our effort to monitor sturgeon as the population recovers.

As of the date of this letter, we have tagged  over 10,000 Lake Sturgeon. The longest sturgeon we have sampled was caught off of Pine Island in September of 2007.  This fish was 73 inches long and estimated to weigh 120 pounds.  Unfortunately we were not set up to tag this fish, so it was released without a tag. The heaviest sturgeon we have tagged and weighed was 112 pounds and was 70 inches long.  This fish came from Lake of the Woods in 2022.  

Of all of our tagged Lake Sturgeon, 1,813 have been caught and reported one time, 557 have been reported twice, and 201 have been reported three times.  The “champion” sturgeon is an individual that has been reported 10 times now!  Overall, more than 4,200 of our tagged sturgeon have been caught, and reported at least one time by anglers.

We have found that in the Lake of the Woods-Rainy River system, male lake sturgeon begin to reproduce when they reach 17 years of age, while female sturgeon do not mature until they are about 26 years old.  After maturing, males spawn only every two to three years while females seem to spawn every three to six years.

I hope you find this information useful and interesting.  Thanks again for the return of the tag.  Cooperation from anglers, such as yourself, is an essential part of this tagging study.  If you would like more information about fish management activities in the Baudette management area, please check out our web site at:  http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/areas/fisheries/baudette/index.html.

The response was from a “Large Lake Specialist” in the Division of Fish and Wildlife at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 

They sent some additional attachments we’ll include below. 

First, the result of the tag's query showing the information for this sturgeon:

And below is a document they provided that has a table for measuring the Lake Sturgeon Length-Girth-Weight Relationship. You can download the document as a PDF here

Next, some information on measuring and documenting your sturgeon

Here's what the document says:

To use this table, use the longest length you can measure, from the tip of the nose, to the tip of the tail, and cross-reference that with the greatest girth you can measure anywhere on the sturgeon. If you do not have a girth measurement, the weight that is highlighted will give an average weight for a sturgeon of this length. Note that these data were generated from the Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, population of lake sturgeon. Other populations may be different.


If you catch a tagged sturgeon, please record the tag number. In addition to the tag number, you will be asked the length of the sturgeon, if you kept or released it, where and when you caught the fish. Please do not remove the tag from any sturgeon you release. The tag number can be submitted by mail, telephone, or on the MN-DNR website. The website is the preferred method of reporting a tag number. When you return a tag number you will receive information collected from your sturgeon at the time it was tagged, and any subsequent recaptures.

Learn More about Lake Sturgeon Species information on the MN DNR website

Also: a video of Paul catching this 62" tagged sturgeon on the Rainy River

To double verify this “big fish story,” our friend Bret Amundson captured this video and shared it on his YouTube channel:

And last, a few sturgeon fishing tips for the Rainy River and lake of the Woods area

The DNR also included a very useful PDF document: Lake Sturgeon Fishing Advice, which covers “Advice on Handling Lake Sturgeon” and “Being Prepared to Fish for Sturgeon.”

We’ve covered this information in greater depth here on our website, so if you’re interested in learning more about fishing for sturgeon in northern Minnesota, visit our Rainy River Sturgeon Fishing Guide page.  

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