Lake sturgeon are amazing fish. They can weigh several hundred pounds and they can live to be 100 years old.
Sturgeon used to be abundant throughout the Great Lakes region. But they were overfished, and construction of dams on rivers where they spawn hurt their reproduction. They’re now a state threatened species.
Tim Cwalinski is a fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. He says these days, sturgeon are carefully managed. There are a few fishing seasons for sturgeon in different parts of the state.
The season for sturgeon in Black Lake in Cheboygan County opens February 2nd. Tim Cwalinski says there are about 1,200 adult sturgeon in the lake. The quota this year is just six fish total for all the fishermen combined.
“If you get a fish you have to report it in right away to DNR as one fish, if another person gets one 20 minutes later on the ice, that’s the second fish. Once it hits six, the season’s over.”
So the fishing season can be over in just a matter of hours. Canons are fired and sirens go off when the season closes.
Cwalinski says fishermen typically use spears to catch sturgeon on Black Lake.
“This is all big holes through the ice, big shanties, warm heated shanties. Big holes size of bathtubs or even larger. You get your shanty blackened out so you can see down that water, down the 10, 15, 20 feet and people wait patiently, with decoys.”
He says the sturgeon population in Black Lake is strong enough to support a limited harvest.
“People were spearing sturgeon in there many, many decades ago. If we can manage a small type of harvest and keep that fishery going, that’s part of our culture too.”
The lakes around Cheboygan have a long history of spearfishing for sturgeon. There’s even a festival celebrating sturgeon season called the Black Lake Sturgeon Shivaree.