IDAHO FALLS – White sturgeon are a rare find for anglers in eastern Idaho, but the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has stocked them in rivers and reservoirs for more than 20 years.
Fish and Game officials introduced four sturgeon into the Snake River near John’s Hole Bridge last week and EastIdahoNews.com caught it on camera.
Those who happen to catch one are in luck. Greg Poulsen of Eagle Mountain, Utah hooked a monster sturgeon from the CJ Strike Reservoir near Bruneau this summer. It was over 10 feet long. Under Idaho’s rule, he had to let it go because sturgeon are only catch-and-release in the Jewel State.
John Heckel with Fish and Game was one of several people who helped bring in the four adult sturgeon, each between five and six feet long.
“Through our introductions, we’ve created a population of white sturgeon fish here,” Heckel says. “They are native to the Snake and Columbia River system further down the drainage and have co-evolved with salmon.”
Heckel says building a thriving sturgeon population is a little difficult. Although fish tend to have long lifespans, it can take a decade or more before they reach sexual maturity.
“It depends, but sturgeon often don’t mature until they’re about 20 or 30 years old,” Heckel says.
Melissa Wagner of the College of Eastern Idaho was on hand during last week’s sturgeon average. He says the sturgeon that were brought in were between seven and 10 years old.
The IDFG recently partnered with Idaho Power for a conservation program to help increase sturgeon populations throughout the Snake River. Officials conducted genetic testing at the Niagara Springs Sturgeon Hatchery in Wendell earlier this year to test the fish’s fertility.
According to officials, sturgeons with eight sets of chromosomes are able to reproduce, and 13 of the 1,613 fish tested were euthanized because their chromosome counts were abnormal.
But regardless of spawning ability, Heckel says there are several ecological benefits to having a sturgeon population.
“Sturgeons are bottom feeders,” explains Heckel. “And because they’re bottom feeders, they’re known to eat decaying salmon carcasses, eggs and other things. (They) feed on some of that benthic prey.”
Although Fish and Game has been stocking sturgeon statewide since 2000, Heckel says they’ve only stocked fish as large as those in Idaho Falls a few times.
“So it’s a pretty unique opportunity for anglers to have the potential to catch one of these big giants,” he says. “We have special regulations for them, and you can refer to our fishing regulations to find out what kind of gear you can use.”