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Brad Dokken / Forum News Service, Published May 05 2013

Women wage battle against strong sturgeon

Baudette, Minn.

Cheri and Madelyn Petersen had done “a little bit” of fishing, including a charter boat trip for salmon on Lake Michigan, but they’d never tangled with anything like the behemoth that now was sending large bubbles to the surface from the murky depths of the Rainy River.

The fish, a lake sturgeon, was giving Cheri and her daughter, Madelyn, 14, everything they could handle, and they took turns at the reel. Not only to give their sore arms a break, but to share in a moment the likes of which neither of them had ever experienced.

The sturgeon without question is the largest fish they’ve ever seen up close.

A scoop of the big landing net and it’s in the boat, 60 inches of prehistoric power.

“This is why we came – right here,” Cheri said. “That was incredible. That’s a monster.”

Cheri and her daughter, from Webster, Minn., were fishing with volunteer guide Jon Frees of Bemidji as part of the sixth annual Becoming an Outdoors Woman sturgeon fishing trip last weekend.

Frees, who has volunteered all six years, said the fish was the biggest to come into his boat for a BOW sturgeon event; the previous best was “only” 57 inches.

“We’ve got a team record – 60 inches with a 26½-inch girth,” he said. Using a chart provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Frees estimates the sturgeon at 62 pounds and 30 years old.

The sturgeon is released after a few quick photos, perhaps to live 100 years or more.

Boats by the dozen

Springtime is prime time for sturgeon fishing, and dozens, perhaps hundreds, of boats dotted the Rainy River last Saturday in hopes of doing battle with one of the brutes.

After a slow morning of watching other boats catch fish, Cheri and Madelyn got their time in the spotlight after lunch. The key, Frees said, was finding a place to anchor out of the wind, a stiff southeast blow that rocked long stretches of river, making bites difficult to detect.

“It’s surprising for such a big fish how light they bite,” Frees said. “They’re just little nibblers.

“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of waiting them out. You could sit two or three hours, and all of a sudden, all of the rods are going.”

That was the case last Saturday; Cheri and Madelyn landed seven sturgeon after lunch and lost a couple of others, including one that would have given the 60-incher a run for bragging rights on the day.

“At least we got to fight him, and that’s the exciting part with these guys,” Cheri said.

About BOW

According to Linda Bylander, Becoming an Outdoors Woman coordinator for the DNR, the goal of the program is to provide women with outdoor skills in a relaxing, non-intimidating environment. Minnesota is one of 44 states, including North Dakota, to offer Becoming an Outdoors Woman programs.

The BOW program started in 1991 when Christine Thomas of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point decided to find out why women were so underrepresented in hunting and fishing.

Ideally, Bylander said, women will become proficient enough in a particular outdoor skill to venture out and enjoy it on their own. Minnesota’s BOW program will mark its 20th anniversary next year.

Learning the ropes

Cheri Petersen said she learned about the BOW sturgeon trip last year through a mailing from the DNR, but Madelyn wasn’t yet 14, the minimum age to participate. She said the whole family, including her husband, Lawrence, and son, Alex, got on the list after signing up for a Becoming an Outdoors Family program a few years ago near Lanesboro, Minn.

“We tried fly fishing, which was a disaster,” Cheri said. “It was really windy that day.” Still, she said, they had a good time with other events such as a high-ropes course and a hike to identify flora and fauna.

Cheri signed up for this year’s sturgeon trip as soon as she got the information.

“I told a couple of the guys I work with I was coming up here fishing, and they were thinking about shaving and putting on wigs and seeing if they could get in,” she joked.

That probably wouldn’t have worked, but if last Saturday is any indication, there’s a good chance mom and daughter will make the trek north again next year.

“I was kind of worried after the morning,” Cheri said later. “But it was an awesome afternoon.

“Madelyn told her dad it was the best fishing trip she’s ever been on. And it was so cool to see the fish that was tagged.”


Brad Dokken is the outdoors writer for the Grand Forks Herald