Three years ago, success when Sturgeon fishing Michigan seemed to be nothing more than luck – growing up in the Middle of Michigan, it was a rare creature that you’d hear of people catching once or maybe twice per year. It wasn’t until I moved to Northern Michigan and explored some of our smaller lakes, that I realized there were plenty of opportunities to target these fish.
One of the most unique initiatives that I learned about when I moved was Michigan’s effort to stock Lake Sturgeon into some of our lakes and rivers. This stocking is very unique to Michigan because they realize the value of sport fishing for sturgeon, but also the cultural importance of these fish, which are on the endangered species list. There are a few lakes throughout the state of Michigan which are part of these stocking efforts, including Black, Burt and Mullet Lakes in Cheboygan County, and Otsego Lake in Gaylord.
Michigan Sturgeon Fishing Regulations
Sport fishing for these freshwater dinosaurs does come with some regulations. The state of Michigan requires anglers targeting Lake Sturgeon to have a special Lake Sturgeon permit. Anglers are allowed to keep one fish per season, over 50 inches. This incentivizes anglers to practice catch and release, while still offering the chance at catching a fish of a lifetime.
Another very unique opportunity in Michigan to celebrate the Lake Sturgeon is a one-day spearing season on Black Lake. On February 2, 2019, Black Lake will be hosting their annual Sturgeon spearing season. The unique aspect of this festival is that once the 6th Sturgeon is speared, the season closes. In 2018, the season lasted a total of 66 minutes – the largest Sturgeon of the day weighing over 79 pounds!
These efforts, from the Sturgeon stocking to fishing and spearing regulations are critical for the promotion of conservation of these amazing fish.
Where to Target When Lake Sturgeon Fishing Michigan
The most obvious place to start when looking at where to start fishing for Lake Sturgeon is to look at the Michigan stocking efforts – Burt and Mullet Lakes, Black Lake, as well as Otsego Lake offer great opportunities to target these fish. These lakes are now regularly stocked with Sturgeon and have populations that can offer you a real shot at catching one of these dinosaurs.
Once you’re on the lake of your choice, I like to locate “Fish Highways.” A “fish highway,” is a high percentage area that fish will use to travel around the lake – what I look for are steep breaks where shallow water drops quickly into the main lake or river channel. These areas of the lake offer fish easy opportunities to move from shallow to deep water depending on water conditions, but also ambush points where they don’t have to move very far to find food/baitfish. Identified on the map below are some areas that I target along major “fish highways.”
Main Lake Points
Shallow Water near River Inlets
Steep Drops near Main Lake Flats
Gear for Targeting Lake Sturgeon
Heavy rods, 10-pound test Monofilament line, and heavy gauge hooks are the standard in Lake Sturgeon fishing. My preferred setup is to use a 40-inch Heavy – Moderate Fast Rod. There are a couple companies that build custom rods of this length and action, but for most purposes, any 36” to 42” Medium-Heavy or Heavy power rod will work. You want something that has enough backbone where you can fight the fish effectively, but not so stiff that you end up pulling or bending out your hooks.
The hooks that I rely on for this technique are 1/0 Gamakatsu Circle Hooks. A circle hook helps the fish set itself when it starts to swim away with your bait, so you don’t have to set the hook hard. You also want to fish with a relatively light drag and play the fish – typically on a circle hook, the fish is pinned well and playing them on light drag will ensure you are able to get the fish through the ice.
As far as a reel goes, I prefer a 2000 or 2500 size reel. This is the standard size reel from most manufacturers that most of us know and love. I pull mine off of my open water spinning rods, put it on my ice rod with some 10-pound test monofilament line and am ready to go! The monofilament is important in ice fishing because it won’t absorb water so it won’t freeze up like braid or become brittle like fluorocarbon in the cold weather.
Sturgeon Fishing Michigan: Using Bait to Trigger Strikes
When jigging for Lake Sturgeon, the scent is important as it is in most ice fishing situations. I prefer to chum the area with bait – dropping a few handfuls of smelt or dead minnows down the hole help to draw in fish to the area both through smell and feeding opportunities. Lake Sturgeon, while thought of as bottom feeders are actually aggressive predators that feed on baitfish.
I then set up two rods with the 1/0 Circle hooks to a nose hooked live Blue Minnow. I like to nose hook the Blue Minnow because it will still be relatively lively and have a more natural action up off the bottom of the lake, making it an easy target for the fish of a lifetime!
Sturgeon Fishing Michigan: Practice Conservation
While Lake Sturgeon fishing can result in one of the coolest fish catches of your life, I encourage you to remember that these are special creatures. Practicing conservation and following catch and release practices allows for these fish to be around for many years to come. I recommend bringing a tape measure and a good camera get records of your fish in the case you’d like to get a replica mount! Unless you plan to harvest the fish for your freezer, I recommend releasing it for someone else to experience as well.
Be safe on the water, and I hope that this advice helps you land the fish of a lifetime!