Six-foot fish are swimming in west Michigan rivers, but fishing for them is off limits

Lake sturgeons are magnificent prehistoric fish that spawn in the Manistee, Muskegon, Grand and Kalamazoo rivers of west Michigan. They are also protected and vulnerable to illegal fishing.

Lake Sturgeon Report All Poaching Sign. Photo credit: Michigan Dept of Natural Resources

Lake Sturgeon Report All Poaching Sign. Photo credit: Michigan Dept of Natural Resources

The lake sturgeon is Michigan’s largest fish, and it is also one of the rarest. Only a few places in the state support sturgeon populations that are large enough to sustain a low level of harvest. In most other waters, sturgeon is absent or present in such low numbers that their future is uncertain.

Like many fish, lake sturgeon spawn in spring. They tend to enter rivers as the steelhead run is winding down, and like steelhead, they swim upstream from Lake Michigan into tributaries including the Manistee, Muskegon, Grand and Kalamazoo rivers. Anglers fishing for steelhead, walleye, catfish or sucker occasionally hook into a sturgeon, but keeping a sturgeon is strictly prohibited during their spawning season.

In fact, a look at the Michigan Fishing Guide is all it takes to verify that even catch-and-release sturgeon fishing is off limits in all Michigan waters from now through July 15. On July 16, catch-and-release fishing opens on most Michigan waters, including west Michigan rivers. Catching and keeping sturgeon remains illegal year-round in all waters except Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River, Otsego Lake, Black Lake and some Michigan-Wisconsin boundary waters. 

The bag limit for lake sturgeon is one fish per year, and a tag system is now in place to ensure that anglers do not keep multiple sturgeon. The sturgeon tag must be validated by the DNR or at a registration station within 24 hours of keeping a sturgeon. These tags are available to licensed anglers at any license vendor, but this does not mean that sturgeon fishing is legal in your area.

Even if you do not expect to catch a sturgeon, it is important to be familiar with these regulations.  Sturgeon are valuable fish and unscrupulous anglers are sometimes tempted to keep them despite the regulations. With only a handful of sturgeon returning to some west Michigan rivers, the killing of even a single fish can pose a risk to the continued health of the population.

Poaching sturgeon is a serious crime. If you see someone illegally taking sturgeon, contact the Michigan DNR’s Report All Poaching (RAP) hotline at (800) 292-7800.

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