I have seen some reports already this early spring of sturgeon being caught, mostly from Nebraska’s Missouri River. I am confident a lot of the anglers catching those fish, especially the old “river rats” are very aware of what they are catching and their sturgeon identification. On the other hand, I realize there are new folks learning about new fishing opportunities all the time, and sometimes I worry they may not know what they are catching.
There are three species of sturgeon that can be found in the Missouri River, shovelnose, pallid and lake sturgeon. Shovelnose are by far the most abundant and in certain places at certain times can be caught in numbers. On the other hand, pallid sturgeon are listed as endangered everywhere, and lake sturgeon are listed as threatened in Nebraska waters. Any pallid or lake sturgeon that is caught must be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.
That means if you fish the Missouri River and lower reaches of any of our Missouri River tributaries, you should be familiar with sturgeon identification.
Surfing around the interwebs, I found this Missouri web page that is excellent, take some time, follow the link, look it over.
Let me give you a couple of clues: First of all, if you think you have caught the new, state record, shovelnose stugeon, you better be darned sure you know your identification. Had a couple of excited gentlemen bring the next rod & reel “state record” shovelnose sturgeon into the office for me to certify one time. I pulled the frozen fish out of the bag, looked it over real close, and then told them it was not a shovelnose, but a pallid sturgeon. I felt badly for them, you should have seen the looks on their faces; then they had a little conversation with a person in uniform with a badge on his chest.
Shovelnose are the smallest of the sturgeon species in the Missouri River. With any sturgeon of more than a few pounds, more than a couple of feet long, you better look close.
Lake sturgeon are actually the rarest in our waters, and likely have never been abundant in Nebraska, but from time to time they show up too. Had another conservation officer text me photos one time, direct from the banks of Salt Creek. He encountered some anglers with a sturgeon on a stringer, and one look at the snout is all it took to know they had a lake sturgeon.
Some basic knowledge of fish indentification is important; it will increase your appreciation of the fish you pursue, and it might keep you from receiving a pretty pink ticket!
Know what you caught!