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TALKIN WITH DOKKEN: Red River sturgeon

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Q. A few years ago, there was a picture and story of a sturgeon jumping into a guide’s boat on the Red River in Grand Forks. Have there been any more reports of sturgeon in the area? Does the (Minnesota) DNR or (North Dakota) Game and Fish actively stock or monitor the waterway for sturgeon there?

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A. The story you described actually occurred below the Red River dam in Drayton, N.D., where Grand Forks catfish guide Brad Durick was fishing one summer evening in 2012. The catfish action was very good that night, Durick said, but when the sturgeon came flying out of the water shortly before dark and landed on the deck, it gave whole new meaning to the phrase “they were jumping into the boat.”

“I was netting a cat and had just brought it in the boat and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash and heard a thump on the floor behind me,” Durick said. “I turned around and there it lay. I said, ‘what the heck?!’”

The sturgeon measured 29 inches, and the kid who’d caught the catfish was just as surprised, Durick recalled.

“It could have been 50 inches and not hurt anything,” Durick said. “It sort of jumped over the side like a high jumper would go over the pole.”

As Durick said at the time, “I’ve always wanted to catch a sturgeon on the Red River, and I still haven’t caught a sturgeon on the Red River.”

When the DNR initially started stocking juvenile sturgeon into the Red River in the late 1990s using stock from Lake of the Woods and Rainy River, the fish showed a reliable and remarkable tendency to head downstream, and you could almost chart their progress as they moved north through Fargo, Grand Forks and Winnipeg. We once caught a sturgeon through the ice north of Selkirk, Man., that had been tagged a year and a half earlier on the Otter Tail River near Fergus Falls, Minn., and I heard of at least one other tagged sturgeon that ended up in a commercial fisherman’s net on Lake Winnipeg.

In more recent years, the DNR has shifted gears by stocking newly hatched sturgeon fry into Red River tributaries such as the Roseau and Red Lake rivers and fingerlings into a handful of other lakes and rivers in the watershed. It’s not uncommon to hear of sturgeon — mostly 30 inches or less — being caught on the Red, and the modification of the river’s dams to allow fish passage have improved the chances of restoring the species to the watershed.

Most likely, the sturgeon that jumped into Durick’s boat resulted from one of those fry stocking efforts.

If you have a question for Talkin’ with Dokken, call (701) 780-1148 or send an email to bdokken@gfherald.com

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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 
(701) 780-1148
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