Herald co-workers get first taste of sturgeon fishing
The fish didn't act like much at first, barely putting a bend in the rod as Bobbi DuChamp played it toward the boat. Must be a small one, we figured, until the sturgeon realized it was hooked. Then the "reel" fun began. DuChamp, of Erskine, Minn....
The fish didn’t act like much at first, barely putting a bend in the rod as Bobbi DuChamp played it toward the boat.
Must be a small one, we figured, until the sturgeon realized it was hooked.
Then the “reel” fun began.
DuChamp, of Erskine, Minn., and her fishing partner, Lori Weber Menke, Grand Forks, are co-workers, and I’d talked them into signing up for a sturgeon fishing trip on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River as part of the Department of Natural Resources’ Becoming an Outdoors Woman program.
BOW, as it’s commonly known, is a program that provides opportunities for women to sample a variety of outdoors activities from hunting and fishing, shooting and archery, to kayaking, canoeing and snowshoeing.
With the help of volunteer mentors, BOW participants get a chance to test the waters, so to speak, in an environment that’s not intimidating, and perhaps pick up a new outdoors passion in the process.
DuChamp’s husband, Chris, had kidded her before last weekend’s sturgeon trip that she’d never be able to reel in one of the big fish.
Well, I’m here to tell you she can.
And so it begins
The stage for this adventure was set last April, when I attended my first BOW sturgeon event in my official capacity as an outdoor writer covering the program and spent a day on the water with a mom and teenage daughter from the Twin Cities.
The event lived up to expectations and provided an abundance of storylines and photo ops. Their volunteer guide supplied the boat, the bait and all the gear, and the mom and daughter boated about 10 sturgeon when I was with them, including a behemoth that measured more than 5 feet long.
No wonder, then, the sturgeon trip, which is limited to 12 women, is one of the BOW program’s most popular offerings and fills to capacity every year.
I’d barely gotten back to the office after covering last year’s BOW when I started pestering Weber Menke and DuChamp about the event and telling them they should give the BOW sturgeon fishing adventure a try.
They know how to have fun, these two, and agreed to give it a shot.
As good fortune would have it, the two women were penciled in to fish with Mike Larson. A retired area fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Baudette, Larson is an avid sturgeon fisherman who has guided for BOW since the very first sturgeon event in 2008. I worked with Larson on several stories before he retired and even have wet a line with him on occasion.
He was a perfect mentor for my co-workers.
Problem was, Larson had a shoulder replacement surgery earlier this year, and while he’s mending nicely, doctor’s orders prevent him from lifting more than 5 pounds until he’s completely healed. That process could take the better part of a year.
A lifting restriction of 5 pounds might not be much of a problem if you’re fishing panfish or walleyes, but sturgeon are a different animal. Sturgeon measuring 60 inches and longer are becoming relatively common on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River, and just netting a fish that big would far exceed Larson’s 5-pound weight restriction.
So would the 20-pound anchor he uses to hold the boat in place.
Just call me anchorman
Knowing the potential for a good time when I see one, I volunteered to be Larson’s first mate, pulling anchor and netting sturgeon while he put the women on fish.
He didn’t disappoint.
There were about 200 boats anchored in Four-Mile Bay last Saturday, and while the sturgeon weren’t exactly jumping into people’s boats, there was enough action to keep things interesting.
Weber Menke was the first to get on the board shortly before lunch the first day, with a 50-inch sturgeon, and the laugh-fest was on.
Then, after lunch, DuChamp tied into the fish that didn’t act like much at first but proved to be a monster when it finally came to the surface more than 20 minutes later. Larson gave the fish a rough measurement of 68 inches, but a DNR crew collecting fish from anglers to tag and measure tallied the sturgeon at 63 inches.
That’s a big fish either way, but all of us onboard decided 68 inches sounded better.
The pair boated three sturgeon last Saturday, and at least four others could have been landed if luck had been on their side. They also managed to land three more before the event wrapped up at noon last Sunday, a cold, blustery affair in which fishing conditions were absolutely miserable.
Weber Menke and DuChamp had been called “sturgeon virgins” - not by me, mind you - before last weekend’s BOW event. Now, they’re “sturgeon generals.”
Watching them reel in sturgeon was great entertainment.
“When I watched my video of myself, all I did was giggle,” DuChamp said. “Chris (her husband) had warned me, so I knew they were going to fight hard. I wanted to give up the rod so bad, but I didn’t want to prove to anybody that I was a weakling.
“It was just an awesome experience. It was a lot of fun; I would recommend it to anybody.”
The women also got to watch a DNR crew tag fish as part of the sturgeon study now underway. Weber Menke, who’d never been to Lake of the Woods, said she had no idea sturgeon fishing was such a big attraction.
“Being a first-time sturgeon fisherwoman, I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue of what I needed,” Weber Menke said. “The BOW event made it so simple for a sturgeon virgin like myself.
“Of course catching sturgeon was exciting, and I was proud that I actually managed to reel one in by myself,” she added. “The number of boats and fishermen was a little overwhelming. In my mind when I signed up for the event, I imagined myself and 11 other women out fishing. I had no idea sturgeon fishing was such a big attraction and drew that many people.
“I will go back for sure.”