Black Lake sturgeon season ends in six hours

Doug Blaskowski, of Brutus, holds a 50-inch, 31-pound female sturgeon he speared during the recent Black Lake sturgeon season. Photos courtesy of Brenda Archambo

Doug Blaskowski, of Brutus, holds a 50-inch, 31-pound female sturgeon he speared during the recent Black Lake sturgeon season. Photos courtesy of Brenda Archambo

By Howard Meyerson

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — More than 300 anglers hoped to spear a sturgeon through the ice when Michigan’s Black Lake sturgeon-spearing season opened Feb. 7. But the five-day season lasted only five and a half hours. Four Michigan anglers, and one from Wisconsin, successfully filled the season’s five-sturgeon quota by 2:12 p.m. on opening day.

“The first fish was taken at 9 a.m.,” said Tim Cwalinski, a senior fish biologist from the Michigan DNR’s Gaylord office. “It was a 67-inch, 75-pound female. The guy from Wisconsin got the biggest. It was 71 inches and 87 pounds.”

The successful spear fishermen were:

  • Tom Madison, from Onaway, who speared the first sturgeon of the day;
  • Jason Crawford, of Indian River, who checked in at 9:51 a.m. with a 58.5-inch, 45-pound male;
  • Todd Zeller, of Cheboygan, who checked in at 1:13 p.m. with a 69-inch, 80-pound female;
  • James Bodinger, from Wisconsin, who checked in at 1:18 p.m. with the largest sturgeon; and
  • Doug Blaskowski, of Brutus, who checked in at 2:12 p.m. with a 50-inch, 31-pound female.

Black Lake is well-known for its sturgeon population. Located in Cheboygan and Presque Isle counties, the 10,130-acre water body contains just over 1,000 adult sturgeons, according to Cwalinski. His agency and the nonprofit Sturgeon for Tomorrow annually stock it with more than 3,000 young sturgeon that are reared at the nearby Black River sturgeon hatchery.

Todd Zeller - archambo

Todd Zeller shows his 69-inch, 80-pound sturgeon to the crowd that gathered for the Black Lake Sturgeon Shivaree.

The five-day spearing season draws thousands to the area. Most come for the Black Lake Sturgeon Shivaree, a weekend fund-raising event sponsored by the Black Lake Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow, a group working with the DNR to rehabilitate sturgeon populations in the Cheboygan River watershed.

“It was a resounding success. Close to 2,000 people showed up for the Shivaree,” said Brenda Archambo, with Sturgeon for Tomorrow. “Our collaborative recovery efforts have proved to be a conservation success.”

The Black Lake sturgeon fishery was an open fishery until 1997 when DNR researchers determined that the population had declined below historic levels. Discussions with local anglers led to the formation of the Black Lake Chapter of SFT, and a restricted season took effect in 2000. The chapter and DNR have since worked to increase numbers.

Archambo believes the sturgeon population is now large  enough to sustain an increased harvest in future years. The annual quota is determined by a formula that allows 1.2 percent of the adult population to be harvested, 12 sturgeon for the 2015 season. That allocation was split between anglers and five Indian tribes. The angler quota is set at five to avoid going over the six-sturgeon limit.

“We do it so we have a buffer,” Cwalinski said. “We set the limit back from the edge of the cliff rather than on the edge. Last year, we had a six-fish allocation. We hit five, and right away another one got a fish. It takes a few minutes for the cannons to go off and to knock on everyone’s door.”

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© 2015 Howard Meyerson

Appears in Michigan Outdoor News.

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