BAUDETTE, Minn. — Already, it had been a good night for Morgan Gallus and her companions who were sturgeon fishing on the Rainy River near Baudette, Minn. They had caught a 50-inch and a 51-inch sturgeon and two smaller ones.
Gallus, of Delano, Minn., was out with Duluth native Grant Sorensen, now of Minneapolis, and two other friends. They were taping their sturgeon-fishing adventure for an upcoming episode of Sorensen’s “Superior Angling” show on WDIO-TV Channel 10 in Duluth. They already had plenty of content from the evening.
After starting to fish on the evening of Jan. 20, they were still fishing well after midnight on Jan. 21.
“At 2 a.m., we decided to give it another 15 or 20 minutes,” said Gallus, 27, who is Sorensen’s fiancee. “Then I hooked this fish at 2:15 a.m., and we didn’t land it until 4.”
The fish turned out to be a 66-inch lake sturgeon with a 30-inch girth. For comparison, the Minnesota state-record sturgeon, taken on the Kettle River in 1994, was 70 inches long with a 26½-inch girth. It weighed 94 pounds, 4 ounces. And that one was taken in open water.
Gallus’ fish likely would have weighed about 86 pounds, based on length and girth data, said Phil Talmage, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Baudette.
“That is a big lake sturgeon for any time of the year,” Talmage said. “The largest we’ve caught in our nets was 75 inches, although we’ve had reports up to 84 inches in the past 10 years.”
The 51-inch sturgeon that Gallus had caught when the night was young required just 15 minutes to land, she said.
“I knew right away this one was a lot bigger,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much bigger.”
The anglers were well-prepared to land sturgeon in their pop-up fishing shelter. They had augered two 8-inch holes side by side, then used an ice saw to trim away the connecting ice. Gallus was using 10-pound braided Sufix line and a ¾-ounce black jig tipped with three fathead chubs. She was fishing on the bottom in about 20 feet of water.
Fishing with Gallus and Sorensen were Eric Olson of International Falls and Mike Wilson of Fort Frances, Ontario.
“After about an hour and 15 minutes or an hour and a half, we got a glimpse of the fish underneath my hole,” Gallus said. “My heart dropped. … I saw Mike and Eric’s expressions, and they’d fished sturgeon their whole life.
“Then I got kind of scared. I said, ‘We have to do our best to land this fish. I’m not going to horse it. Let it get tired.’ ”
Sorensen kept the video rolling. After another short eternity, Gallus and friends saw the fish again.
“It was coming up nose-first,” she said. “It came into the hole. I said, ‘Grab it! Grab it!’ Eric reached his whole arm through the hole, grabbed his gill plate and lifted.”
He managed to lift the fish only 6 or 8 inches, Gallus said.
“Mike helped, and as soon as we saw that thing, I was crying. I knew it was a sturgeon of a lifetime,” she said.
Handling the bruiser gently, they got some quick video and photos and sent it back — but not without difficulty.
“We couldn’t get the right angle to release it,” Sorensen said. “We had to cut the hole bigger with the saw to release it.”
They could not have legally kept the fish. A catch-and-release-only sturgeon season began Oct. 1 and continues through April 23. Not that they would have considered keeping such a fish even if it were legal.
“I’m super-excited,” Gallus said. “There was so much emotion involved in that fight. I get goosebumps still, talking about it. It was one of those moments when everything right happens. There’s a lot more things that can go wrong.”
Sorensen’s new fishing program launches at Feb. 12 on WDIO. The show will run weekly at 6:30 a.m. on Sundays into May.
Sorensen said the sturgeon-fishing episode will air sometime during the first season.