by Bret Amundson
The door opened before sunup and the smell that greeted me recalled memories of summer fishing trips in the past. Despite it being early April, it felt like a warm July morning, with just a hint of dampness. Droplets of dew dotted the windows of my truck as I headed north towards Brainerd. There I’d meet up with Jamie Dietman and David Wallin before continuing on to Baudette. This would be the first open water excursion of the season as we’d be in search of the prehistoric dinosaurs known as Lake Sturgeon.
*Hear us talk about the trip on this weekend’s MNSJ Radio show too! Find a station here.
While we’d be fishing the last three days of the walleye season, we came up to catch sturgeon. The big walleyes would be a welcome bonus and we planned on dropping a jig on lighter tackle from time to time to try and find them too. In the weeks leading up to the trip, we’d been heard stories of people catching sturgeon while trying for walleyes. Our trip ended up being nearly the opposite.
“Yeah we actually did really good on walleyes-big walleyes-on nightcrawlers, just sitting still for sturgeon,” said Jamie Dietman from What’s up Outdoors. He would catch the biggest sturgeon of the trip, a jaggedy 48” specimen that fought like a champ.
Was he trying to catch sturgeon at the time?
“Yep (that day) was sturgeon day. I stuck to it all day. We caught enough walleyes (the day before) and I had enough of that,” Dietman said laughing.
“The first day we fished for both and caught both,” Dietman said. “The second day we had to target walleyes because (for) sturgeon fishing you have to be anchored up tight and sit in the holes. We just couldn’t do that because of the high winds and the weather.”
What was it like to bring up a big sturgeon like that?
“It was really cool. Seeing that big thing come up-the Rainy River is really dirty so you can finally see it about 3 feet down. Just the ‘dinosaur’ look of them was really cool.”
At times we’d be just a speck in the crowd of bobbing Lunds, Crestliners and various other makes and models. Once in a while you’d notice that one of those boats would have a spinning rod doubled over, locked in battle with a river monster. Nets would be raised, the boat’s occupants all standing with anticipation, while the angler’s nerves were tested. 15 minutes later, the rod would still be bent in half but now the net would be resting on the floor of the boat. Another 15 minutes would go by and soon the other anglers would be dropping their lines back in the water while the person doing the battling finds his seat and hopes the sturgeon gets as tired as his arms are. At some point you finally get the leviathan close enough to net or give up and try to get it unhooked.
“You can catch them on walleye gear,” Dietman continued. “But you’re going to devote 15 minutes to an hour to chasing that fish to tire it out to get a chance to land it. We switch to the big gear-typical muskie gear-and we hook one, we want to land it and go get another one.”
Dave Wallin was manning the net during the landing of Dietman’s big sturgeon and I was getting ready to take pictures when a scene right out of the movie jaws played out: this big head comes flying out of the water heading right at us! Dave were you worried for your life for a minute?
“Well, for a little bit,” Wallin said laughing. “ I didn’t expect it to come shooting out of the water like that. With the dirty water it’s hard to tell exactly where the fish is.”
Wallin caught one of his biggest sturgeon on this trip as well, a 38” fish. We’d total around a half-dozen sturgeon on this trip despite things starting off quickly.
We arrived on Sunday and there was a forecasted thunderstorm that almost kept us from hitting the water, but conditions allowed us to launch and in just minutes we were chucking huge wads of nightcrawlers into the depths of the Rainy River. Dietman would be the first to hook up about 20 minutes into our first stop.
“We anchored up and I caught one,” he said. “It was just a 20-incher.” But it was enough to get us excited. Unfortunately that would be the only sturgeon we’d catch on Day 1.
We bounced back on Monday-actually we bounced all over the place, as 30+ mph wind gusts would push us from side to side. We changed the name from the “Rainy” River to the “Windy” River.
“The old kidneys took a pounding,” Wallin said as he described his ride across the whitecaps. “You wouldn’t think the waves would get that big on the river, but they did.”
The river winds enough that you’re able to find some calmer waters just to stay sane if nothing else. We pulled around one point that bent back to the south, stretched out our legs and dropped lines. It wasn’t long before a quick snap offered an eater walleye. Soon another one was boated and we figured we hit the lottery: hungry fish and out of the wind!
It really goes to show how you can catch fish all over the Rainy. But would I be able to catch a famed Rainy River sturgeon? How many more big walleyes did we catch? Read the rest of the story and see more pictures in the next issue of Minnesota Sporting Journal magazine. Subscribe today!
*If you go: Walleyes are now closed until until May 9th on the Rainy River. Sturgeon is catch and release only until 4/24/15. There is a 2 week season from 4/24 – 5/7. 1 per calendar year. Fish must be 45″-50″ inclusive or over 75″. Fish must be immediately tagged and registered within 48 hours. Then it’s catch and release once again until 5/15/15, then it closes until June 30th. Another season begins on July 1st, see the full regulations here.