Sturgeon Fishing for the Beginner

Lake sturgeon fishing is starting to become more and more popular, and for good reason.  The fish are plentiful in the Rainy River, they eat a lot and are can be caught with consistency and the fish can grow in excess of 100 lbs. which is fun!

No roll sinkers, Tom's Tackle, Lake of the WoodsWhere do I start?  One option is to get a guide from a local resort.  This is an easy way to use heavy duty sturgeon gear you might not own, be introduced to the right set ups with sturgeon rigs and of course, have the opportunity to fish some of the best sturgeon hot spots on the river.

If you are going to use your own boat and tackle, some ideas.  Use strong rods, reels and line.  Muskie gear or your strongest freshwater gear is a good choice.  These fish fight hard and on walleye gear, the fight often times can last an hour.  Heavier gear will allow you to pull in the fish quicker, which puts less stress on the sturgeon and ultimately is better for releasing.

Basically, a no roll sinker combined with a sturgeon rig will get the job done on the tackle end.  A sturgeon rig is an 18″ snell with a 5/0 circle hook loaded with either nightcrawlers, frozen emerald shiners or a combo of both.  Fish this set up on the bottom much like you would fishing for carp or catfish.STURGEON RIG

When a sturgeon bites, they don’t hammer it.  It is often a subtle bit with taps or swimming weight.  No need to do a hard hook set with a circle hook.  Rather, tighten the line by reeling and moving your rod away from the fish.  The circle hook is designed to hook the fish in the lips vs down deep where it can cause internal damage.

Where to fish for sturgeon.

Although sturgeon do roam the vast waters of Lake of the Woods and are often caught by unsuspecting walleye anglers, the best stretch of water to fish for sturgeon is at the mouth of the Rainy River called Four Mile Bay all the way up river to the falls near Birchdale. This is about a 40 mile stretch of ideal sturgeon habitat.  Anglers typically choose areas to anchor just upstream from a deep hole in the river. The idea is when the sturgeon decides to eat, it swims upstream from the deep hole to shallower water to feed.

Equipment to have ready for sturgeon fishing. 

-Use tackle that is suitable for landing a fish that weighs 100 pounds, or more
-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. We see fish over 80 inches long.
-A wet towel to place over the fish’s head when measuring. This helps calm the fish.
-Device, such as a seamstress tape, to measure maximum girth for weight estimation
-A pen or pencil and a pad of paper to record numbers from tagged fish that you catch

Sturgeon fishing, Rainy River


The first time sturgeon fishing is always the most intimidating.  Most anglers have some success their first couple of times out.  Over time, knowledge and confidence grows leading to even more sturgeon success.

Local bait shops and resorts are a great resource to get you started.  Bait shops also have the necessary bait and tackle to catch a sturgeon.


Be Ready for that Record Breaking Sturgeon.  The MN DNR now has a catch and release record for the Lake Sturgeon fishing season.  It is a good idea to take a peek at the regulations on how to measure both length and girth, know what pictures need to be taken for proof, have a witness verify catch and how to submit the proper form.  More info on how to register a potential catch and release sturgeon here.

Sturgeon Fishing Seasons.Rainy River sturgeon

The sturgeon season is open the majority of the year.  Sturgeon fishing dates on the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods are as follows.

Oct. 1 – April 23rd – Catch and Release
April 24th – May 7th – Keep Season
May 8th – May 15th – Catch and Release
May 16th – June 30th – Closed Season for Sturgeon
July 1 – Sept. 30 – Keep Season
During the keep season, an angler is allowed to catch and release sturgeon as well.
If you fish during the sturgeon harvest season and you want to keep a sturgeon, you must purchase a sturgeon tag for $5 prior to fishing. One sturgeon per calendar year (45 – 50″ inclusive, or over 75″).  See MN DNR Fishing Regulations for more info.

Some call them dinosaurs as they have roots dating back to prehistoric times.  Lake Sturgeon are a remarkable success story on the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods.  With both numbers and size increasing, they are in many cases the largest and strongest freshwater fish an angler will ever catch.  If you haven’t caught one, just try it, you’ll soon understand.


For more info on fishing the Rainy River, go to https://lakeofthewoodsmn.com/rainy-river-fishing/

For places to stay and guides, go to https://lakeofthewoodsmn.com/lodging/

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