Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series taking a look back at 2019
I am writing this letter because I wanted to be the first to tell you, before you hear it from another source. So I’ll be blunt: Lake Sturgeon and I got pretty close in 2019.
It began innocently enough, back in autumn 2017 at the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers annual conference in northern Minnesota. Four of us went fishing for lake sturgeon with Captain Wes Harder on the Rainy River. It wasn’t my intention to meet a lake sturgeon, one-on-one. I was really just going along for the boat ride. It just happened, when the sturgeon grabbed my giant gob of treble-hooked nightcrawlers off the river bottom.
After that, I had to reel it in. All 57 inches of it. That sturgeon was between 40 and 60 years old. We only spent a few moments together before parting ways. Honestly.
Full disclosure: I have seen many more since that first one.
In 2018 I went to the Maumee River in Toledo where I met other lake sturgeon — much, much younger, I must admit. I never tried to catch them, of course. I just looked at them, hundreds and hundreds of them, and held them gently, nose-to-snout as I gazed at their tiny, dark eyes and wriggly little mottled prehistoric bodies.
I wanted to wish them well before staff from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Toledo Zoo and other folks who helped raise them set them free. I watched with great excitement as more than 1,000 people from around the region showed up on a Saturday morning to look at them, learn about them, name them and release them. I wrote an article about it for GLN.
Problem is, I’m just fascinated that these fish, which haven’t changed much in millions of years, were once despised by commercial fishermen. Then just a few decades later, they became prized for their caviar and fished nearly to extinction in the Great Lakes.
There hasn’t been more than a handful caught in Lake Erie each year for decades now, so they’re pretty darned rare. In fact, the one I met in Minnesota was the first one I ever saw in the wild. I’ll always remember that day.
Anyhow, it’s been getting more serious. This autumn I went to Genoa, Wisconsin, to visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s hatchery where I met more young sturgeon and the scientists raising them for release here in Ohio in the Maumee River.
Then I went to the second annual release of 20 planned releases over two decades, and once again I hooked up with a little sturgeon, though not literally this time. We spent about five minutes together before I sent my seven-inch fish down a little waterslide into the river.
And then I wrote another article for GLN.
My first grandchild was born last week, and many of the sturgeon released this autumn will likely grow larger than her and outlive her by decades. So I’m sorry, I just can’t stop.
To be honest, I plan on seeing more lake sturgeon in the future, and thinking about them when we are apart. Just letting you know in the spirit of honesty. And thanks for understanding.
P.S. If you ever want to meet any sturgeon, let me know.
Featured Image: Quality time with a Lake Sturgeon before its release, Photo by James Proffitt