Illinois River sturgeon: Guide Mike Hanson caught and released a rare lake sturgeon

Guide Mike Hanson caught and released a rare lake sturgeon on the Illinois River near Starved Rock.

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Guide Mike Hanson caught and released a 41-inch lake sturgeon Saturday on the Illinois River near Starved Rock. Provided photo

Guide Mike Hanson caught and released a 41-inch lake sturgeon Saturday on the Illinois River near Starved Rock.

Provided

Snag? Try something prehistoric.

Mike Hanson of Starved Rock Guide Service was catching sauger and walleye Saturday on the Illinois River below the Starved Rock Lock and Dam when a surprise came.

‘‘I thought it was a snag and tried to snap it off, then it moved,’’ Hanson said. ‘‘I told the guys, ‘This might be a big walleye.’ ’’

Think again.

It ran about 300 yards, and Hanson battled for 27 minutes before landing a lake sturgeon.

‘‘Definitely a fish of a lifetime,’’ he said. ‘‘That one is burned in my memory. Don’t know how many there are. Such a prehistoric fish, I had to let it go back in the system.’’

The 41-inch sturgeon weighed 29.6 pounds. In his release video, Hanson intoned: ‘‘Back in the river, you dang, damp dinosaur, you. That was awesome.’’

That’s a good thing on many levels.

Lake sturgeon are a seldom-seen native of Illinois waters, as the Illinois State Museum put it. They’re endangered in Illinois, which also has federally endangered pallid sturgeon in its range.

According to the Associated Press, the Illinois-based Prairie Rivers Network was among the groups this year that ‘‘filed a federal complaint in hopes of forcing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete a review that could designate lake sturgeon as a federally endangered species.’’

If you fish Wisconsin rivers regularly, you probably have caught lake sturgeon or seen them caught. In Wisconsin, they are plentiful enough to have a spearing season on ice in February on the Winnebago system and a hook-and-line season in September on some rivers.

‘‘I bet that was fun to catch on rod and reel!’’ emailed Ryan Koenigs, the Winnebago system sturgeon biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. ‘‘It’s definitely a lake sturgeon.’’

‘‘Looks like a lake sturgeon to me,’’ emailed Vic Santucci, the Lake Michigan program manager for the Illinois DNR. ‘‘The shorter, rounded snout vs. a flattened, elongated snout in the shovelnose and pallid sturgeon is the primary characteristic indicating laker.’’

The smaller shovelnose sturgeon are common enough to have an Illinois record: 9 pounds, 8.2 ounces caught by Larry Morine on Aug. 31, 2013, from the Rock River in Whiteside County.

I love digging around on stuff like this and found that Joel Greenberg, in ‘‘A Natural History of the Chicago Region,’’ included accounts from the 1800s of abundant lake sturgeon in southern Lake Michigan, with spawning near the mouth of the Calumet.

In ‘‘The Fishes of Illinois,’’ Philip W. Smith wrote: ‘‘Although the species has become rare in Lake Michigan, it is probably more common there than in Illinois rivers.’’

A cool different view of the sturgeon caught and released by guide Mike Hanson Saturday on the Illinois River near Starved Rock. Provided photo

A cool different view of the sturgeon caught and released by guide Mike Hanson Saturday on the Illinois River near Starved Rock.

Provided

Springfield

The first youth spring turkey season Saturday and Sunday is a go on private property and Illinois Recreational Access Program sites. IDNR sites are closed. . . . The spring trout season will open April 4 at sites then open. All this is dependent on proper social distancing. Click here for details.

Stray cast

The daily federal updates on COVID-19 remind me of learning about glochidia and largemouth bass at the Urban Stream Research Center.

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