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What a catch: sturgeon spearing tradition continues

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February 10, 2010 - Area ice fisherman weary of catching small panfish all winter may want to check out what one area resident found on a frozen lake in northern Michigan.

Jenny Olsen, a 1986 graduate of Brandon High School and Goodrich resident who hosts, produces and edits "Michigan Out-of-Doors" on PBS, made a trek to Black Lake located about 40 miles south of Mackinaw City.

Olsen, along with her crew, filmed a segment earlier this month featuring a local tradition of sturgeon spearing through the ice. Olsen said the sturgeons often weigh more than 100 pounds and can reach lengths of more than six feet. The size requires anglers to cut a massive hole in the ice, some as large as 4 feet square with special ice saws—ice fisherman then slide large shanties over the opening and use large sucker decoys to get the sturgeon in under the hole in the ice for a shot with a weighted spear.

"One man on Black Lake spearing sturgeon used a pom-pon in an attempt to draw a fish under the hole," said Olsen. "Keep in mind these fish are not predators, rather bottom feeders that eat May flies and other nymphs off the lake bed."

"The fish have come back over the years," she said. "The problem was people poaching the sturgeon in the summer, as they come into shallow waters of the rivers to spawn. People could wade right out pick the fish up—it was very common until just a few years ago when a local group, Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon For Tomorrow have worked in the area to help build up the population."

Olsen said the biggest changes to the sturgeon season regulations is replacing the lottery-style system with a fish-at-will system used in other states. Other years, fisherman would complete an application for a chance to be one of 25 anglers per day selected by lottery to spear or fish for sturgeon. New for 2010, all who register can fish for sturgeons. In addition the 36-inch size limit is dropped and smaller fish can be taken, keeping the larger fish which are more likely to spawn around longer.

The sturgeon season will stay open on the first Saturday in February - Feb. 6 this year. The season will be open for five days or until a five-fish limit has been reached. In the past, the season ran for only nine days, or until a five-fish limit was reached.

"Some of these fish are estimated to be between 80 and 100-years-old," she said. "It's a trophy hunt for these fish." On the day Olsen was out on the ice, she filmed a six-foot, 100 pound sturgeon speared and landed. "Michigan Out-of-Doors" can be viewed on PBS every Thursday, at 8:30, 9, or 9:30 p.m. depending on viewer location.

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