Fishing for Dinosaurs

Sometimes, when any fish will do, you find yourself attached to a true monster. That’s what happened when Dan Donarski and his son, Eric, were fishing with Capt Harold Bailey aboard the Blue Heron. Check out some of Dan's other blog posts, and our site, to learn more about fishing in Pure Michigan.

I like a jerk on both ends of my rod. Doesn’t matter the species, I just want to catch fish. When fishing with the younger generation, this is even more important. They have to catch fish in order to stay enthused and retreat back to that electronic world of Game Boy and X Box.

Just over a week ago I called a buddy of mine, Harold bailey of Blue Heron Fishing Charters and asked him what was going on. Bailey told me the salmon had started but the perch and walleye were going pretty good. With that info in hand I asked him if he was open Sunday, he was, and told him he now had a charter.

“Super, be at my house on Sugar Island. Maybe we’ll even catch a sturgeon.”

I let that last comment just lie for awhile but then began to dream. Over the past number of years, Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie has been doing population studies on lake sturgeon in the St. Mary's River, and in particular, Lake George. As Bailey fishes the river and the widening known as Lake George, it’s a good bet he’s caught one or more of these while targeting walleyes. Hmmmm.

Fast forward to Sunday morning and Eric and I helping to get gear aboard his boat. Bailey suggested we target the perch first, then maybe sturgeon, before going after some walleyes.

“C’mon, Harold, targeting sturgeon?”

“Dan, we’ve been catching a lot, and a lot of folks don’t know about this. It’s a lot of fun.” I told bailey that was fine, but my goal was to get Eric into a lot of fish, I didn’t care what kind.

The perch fishing was slow but steady. The bites just weren’t hard ones. The fish were tentative at best and after two hours we had 13 nice ones in the boat. Eric was getting a bit bored.

That’s when bailey said, “Let’s go catch a sturgeon.”

After picking up lines Harold got the motor revved and we made our way into Lake George. “Harold, let’s give this 30-45 minutes, I don’t want Eric to get bored.”

“He won’t,” was Bailey’s reply. “A few of us walleye addicts discovered this fishery last year while jigging. We thought it was a fluke. But, when we came back this year the sturgeons were here again. This is a real fishery, and a great one.”

Sturgeon fishing is open in very few waters in the state. In the Great Lakes and connecting waters there is an open season, but, in most cases, like the St. Mary's, it is catch and release only.

These are ancient fish, bottom feeders. It takes the females 20 years or longer to reach spawning age, and even then they spawn about once every four years.

Years ago their populations were abused. Often times they were simply thrown up on the banks to rot during the spring spawn. Other times they were stacked like firewood and used as fuel to burn in the winter due to a heavy oil content. And, yes, their eggs were, and are, considered a delicacy.

Once in around 22 feet of water bailey had me bait and set lines. The method is to use an ounce or ounce and a half egg sinker three feet above a size four hook. On the hook you god nightcrawlers, two or three of them, so you have a lot of “legs” in the water squirming.

Now, simply get the rig to the bottom, let the current bounce it back two or three times, engage the reel, and set the rod in the holder. I set the first one and was in the process of setting the second when bailey erupted, “Dan, there’s a bite!”

I looked at the first rod and saw the rod tip twitching. It wasn’t hammered over or even in that much of a bend, just a steady bobbing of the tip. I pulled the rod out of the holder, felt the line go tight, and struck back hard– and was immediately tied to the end of a very big fish.

Handing Eric the rod I kept one hand on the rod until he could get the feel of the large fish while Harold cleared the deck of rods and coolers. We needed that room, too, as the sturgeon had Eric scrambling from one side to the other for the next 15 minutes. When Eric saw the fish, and saw me with the net, he said, “Dad, we need a bigger net!”

It took a few tries but we did eventually get that fish into the net, all 47 inches of him. Harold and I were all smiles. Eric, well, he just had a stupefied look on his face at first, and then broke into a wide grin.

Over the next 45 minutes six more sturgeon came to call. Sore arms followed. As did the grins.

Eric and I had a hoot with Bailey, and will be going out again in a week or so. If you are interested in this fishery, or any on the St. Mary's, Capt. Harold Bailey can be reached at 906-635-5134.

Dan Donarski is an award-winning journalist/photographer and author. He specializes in the outdoors and adventure travel. When he’s not out and about he lays his head in Sault Ste. Marie.