Local anglers on the hunt for the monster sturgeon

Leroy Soyring of Mountain Iron and his grandson Brody pose with the sturgeon they reeled in together on the Rainy River.

Anyone interested in doing some “Minnesota deep sea fishing?’’

Just transport your boat to the Rainy River, cast your line and wait for a sturgeon that could be 40-50 years old and 72 inches long to strike the hook.

“I would say it’s probably the biggest fish you’re going to catch in northern Minnesota. It’s not the easiest fish to pull in. You’re tired when you’re done, but you’re ready to go again just to see if you can get a bigger one and then you wonder why,’’ said Jason Soyring from Mountain Iron.

Anglers will also definitely know when they’ve got one on their 65- to 100-pound test line and circle hook (a common hook for sturgeon) baited with nightcrawlers.

“It’s just like taking an eye bolt and putting it in the middle of a man door and trying to pull it straight up. It’s tough, but really fun,’’ said Soyring, who has been on the hunt for the monster fish for about 14 years.

Soyring’s buddy Greg Lind attracted him to sturgeon fishing after giving him a taste of some of the fish smoked. After tasting it, “I said man we gotta go get some of these.’’

The infatuation with the massive sturgeons eventually spread to has father Leroy, his 16-year-old son Brody and family friend Dan Violette of Britt.

Asked about the experience, Violette said, “Everybody should try it.’’

He vividly remembers hauling in his first sturgeon (66 inches) with the help of Brody, who was 11 at the time.

“If you’re a fisherman, the battle is unbelievable compared to any other fish. It’s kind of a sense of victory when you finally get this thing into the boat and you outbattled this monster.’’

Brody remembers the experience with Violette so well that he also has the time and date (1:53 p.m. on April 25, 2015) etched in his mind. “I think we both reeled for 30 minutes on that one.’’

“It’s just crazy pulling up those things. I was almost getting lifted out of the boat,’’ Brody recalled later.

His dad said Brody was about 60 pounds back then and the fish lifted his son off the floor of the boat.

Despite the workout required to land one, Violette said, “loosen up your arms and cast it back out. It’s like no other.’’

Brody said he was more fun than scared at the time. “You’ll never catch anything like it though, especially around here.’’

Leroy Soyring and his son Jason bonded on his first fish (57 inches) back in 2007.

“It wore him out. It took you almost an hour to reel it in.’’ Jason said last month in his dad’s backyard in Mountain Iron. “I gave the line to him and he gave it back to me. It was awesome.’’ Leroy said.

Can just one person can reel in one of the monsters?

“It depends on the age of the person,’’ he said joking with his dad and Violette.

“If you get it in the net, it probably requires two people to get it in the boat,’’ Violette responded.

“And then you have to be careful it doesn’t knock you out of the boat. It flops around on the floor. You’ve got something 5 feet long flopping around on the floor, it can flop you right out,’’ Jason said.

Violette said he was so tired after catching a 58-incher this year, “I couldn’t even pick him up to sit on the seat to take a picture.’’

“That was entertaining there,’’ Brody said as he held back laughter.


The fish are so large the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has special guidelines on “Being prepared to fish for sturgeon.’’

That includes:

• Using tackle that is suitable for landing a fish that weighs 100 pounds, or more.

• Camera.

• Large landing net.

• Gloves, especially for handling small sturgeon that have razor-sharp projections (scutes).

• Pliers to remove hooks from fish. Sturgeon are almost always hooked in the mouth.

• Device to accurately measure the length of a long fish. Sturgeon can be over 80 inches long.

• A wet towel to place over the fish’s head when measuring, which helps calm the fish.

• Device, such as a seamstress tape, to measure maximum girth for weight estimation.

Additional items for anglers that intend to harvest a lake sturgeon:

• Purchase a harvest tag before going fishing. Make sure to bring the tag with you.

• Means to properly attach the harvest tag to the fish. A plastic “zip tie’’ works well to attach.

• Means to validate the harvest tag once you harvest a fish.

• Cooler (with ice) large enough to hold a legal-sized sturgeon.

• A pen to record information needed to fill out your sturgeon registration slip. You will receive your registration slip when you purchase your harvest tag (it is printed along with your tag).

• Stamped envelope in which to mail your sturgeon registration slip.

Measuring a lake sturgeon:

• In Minnesota, the accepted method to measure fish is to the “maximum total length.’’ Practically speaking, this is the longest length you can attain when measuring the fish on a flat surface.


Violette and the Soyrings usually hit the water when the first season begins in late April and runs for about two weeks.

The time period leads to some varying weather conditions the local anglers must endure.

“You have to be tough when you’re out there,’’ Jason said, “because you don’t know what kind of weather you’re going to get.’’

“Sometime’s there’s ice on that river too,’’ Leroy added. “It’s dangerous.’’

“I’ve been out there with ice,’’ Jason stated. “It’s a scary deal. When the Littlefork River opens up you better not be downstream of it. It’s miles and miles of ice.’’

Once the river is clear and local anglers are situated on the water, “everybody throws out a rod,’’ Jason said.

Anyone in the party that hasn’t caught a sturgeon before has a special treat in store for them.

“If you’re a sturgeon virgin, that’s what we call everybody that’s never caught one, you get the first fish. No matter what rod goes,’’ Jason added.

Just seeing one is an experience in itself.

The fish has whiskers facing the river bottom and a tail like a shark.

“You can actually grab it and hold on,’’ Jason said. “A lot of guys start pulling them into the boat that way.’’

Leroy stated the ribs are all cartilage, not bone.

“Yeah, it’s a different fish,’’ Violette chimed in, with “needles’’ all around. Those needles are actually razor-sharp projections (scutes) that small sturgeon have before they wear off as they get older.

“They are almost dangerous to grab. You grab onto that, it will cut you,’’ Jason added.


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