Record-length sturgeon caught by retired Oakdale businessman


courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources • Jack Burke broke a Minnesota catch-and-release record for the longest lake sturgeon while fishing on the Rainy River with a neighbor May 4. The fish was 73 inches long with a 32-inch girth.

When Jack Burke got to a Rainy River boat landing around 6 a.m. May 4, he couldn’t have anticipated the success he would have fishing that day, but by 11 a.m. he had caught a 73-inch long lake sturgeon and set a new Minnesota catch-and-release record.

“Reeling in the fish was fun because we had 80-pound braided line, and you could fight a big heavy fish with the confidence that you were going to get it,” Burke said.

For years, Burke worked as a senior partner at Burke, Wheeler & Associates Certified Public Accountants, an accounting and business consulting firm in Oakdale, and served as treasurer on the Oakdale Area Chamber of Commerce, until his retirement in the summer of 2017. He also lived in the Battle Creek neighborhood on the East Side of St. Paul before moving to Stillwater.

Burke said the three day fishing trip was actually the first time he ever specifically targeted sturgeon while fishing. He said he typically fishes for walleye, but when a neighbor near his Rainy Lake cabin invited him on the trip, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The sturgeon fishing season in that area lasts for only 13 days between April 24 and May 7.

Burke explained that each morning of the trip he and his neighbor, Mike Orgas, anchored their boat, baited their hooks with as many night crawlers as they could, cast their lines and let the hooks sink to the bottom of the river with three ounce weights. Then they waited.

“The sturgeon are bottom feeders. They parade around the bottom of the [river], searching the bottom for things to eat, and that’s how they find your bait,” Burke said.

He added that while “reeling in the 73-incher was incredible,” he and Orgas had prepared for catching large fish by selecting the right gear. They used seven-foot musky rods, 80-pound braided line and circle hooks. Burke explained that the circle hooks are designed for catch-and-release fishing because if a fish were to swallow the hook, it wouldn’t get caught in its gut.

“[It] only gets caught in the corner of the fish’s mouth, so it allows for an opportunity to catch a big fish and land it and immediately release it without harming the fish,” Burke said.

Over three days, the pair caught 20 sturgeon, of which four were over 60 inches long and another four were over 50 inches long. The 72-incher had a 32-inch girth.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, the previous record was set by two separate anglers who both caught 70-inch sturgeon on the same day in April 2017.

“I just by chance had a copy of the regulations in my overcoat and after celebrating our moment with the fish, ... I decided to see if it was posted in there and sure enough the regulations showed the state records for all the area’s fish,” Burke said, adding, “[I]t was at that moment that we knew we had the record fish.”

In Minnesota, records for most species of fish are for the heaviest certified weight of a fish caught and kept by the fisherperson.

 However, for muskellunge, northern pike, flathead catfish and lake sturgeon, records are also kept for the longest length of a caught and released fish.

“We were in a location where I could count approximately 25 boats within visual presence of us and it seemed like at any given time, somebody in one of those boats was reeling in a sturgeon,” Burke added. “There’s still big fish in that river — bigger than I caught. That record’s going to get broken.”

Burke said he and his wife Jill, who also enjoys fishing, already have plans to get out on the river next sturgeon season, though that isn’t for almost a year.

Burke joked during his recent interview, “Jill and I are going fishing this afternoon, so we’ll see if we can get a record crappy this time.”

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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