, Gloucester, MA

May 25, 2013

Outdoors: Sturgeon in the Merrimack River

Dave Sartwell

---- — The fishing is really starting to heat up. Stripers, cod, haddock, cusk, flounder, sturgeon and other game fish are following the migration of the bait fish and are just stacking up both offshore and in the rivers. As we reported last week, the baitfish are returning in good numbers which seems to be stimulating the fishing.

Last week Monday the folks on the south shore jetty at the mouth of the Merrimack River were catching some small but legal stripers. One fellow hooked up and the line started to scream off his reel. A huge fish took his cut bait and headed for the ocean.

Obliging fishermen reeled in their lines and get out of his way as he tried to turn his catch. After about a half an hour he got the fish tired out and headed in to shore. What he finally saw at the end of his line, however, was not the huge striper he was expecting. Instead he had landed a four-foot long sturgeon! He had to let him go, of course, but the onlookers got quite a treat.

These monsters of the deep still run the river. There are two kinds of sturgeon: the Atlantic sturgeon and the shortnose variety (Acipenser oxyrinchus oxyrinchus and Acipenser brevinostrum for you Latin fans).

The shortnose still uses the river. According to NOAA there are less than 100 adults that return each year to spawn. They go up river as far as Haverhill and spawn in the fresh water there in the rocks between the Comeau and Basilier Bridges. No one knows why they do not go upstream further to the rocks above. They are much smaller than their Atlantic cousins averaging about 3-4 feet in length and weighing in at about 50 lbs. They are freshwater amphidromous, so they will use the Merrimack River around Newburyport to forage.

These fish do not mature until at least 10 years of age with many waiting as long as 15 years. The males will spawn after that but not every year. The females will lay as many as 2,000,000 eggs every 3 to 5 years. They do live an incredibly long time for fish. The females can exist for as much as 60 years! The males are not so lucky. They only make it to 30.

Once hatched out, the juveniles will stay in the river for up to six years before moving out into the ocean. Because of the late maturation and the fact that they do not spawn every year, their numbers remain low and they are on the federal endangered species list.

The good news is that there a great number of shortnose that eventually spawn in the rivers in Maine that seem to use this river to forage. Because of that, researchers are hopeful that the number of spawners will increase.

Their Atlantic counterparts do not spawn in the Merrimack, but they do use the river in the summer to forage for food. They do spawn in other river to the north. These fish get huge. They can reach 14 feet in length and a mature adult can weigh as much as 800 pounds. They too are a protected species.

These fish are quite agile for their size and have been known to leap completely out of the water. They mature later than the shortnose, not spawning until they are 20 years of age. The females will lay eggs every 2-5 years and the males will cover every 1-5 years.

They are both bottom feeding fish that eat crustaceans and worms. Many a fisherman who was bouncing the bottom with sea worms and light tackle, has been spooled by an unknown fish he never saw.

Their skin used to be made into leather and used for clothing and book bindings. Their roe is a much sought after for caviar and can sell for more than $250 per pound. So the next time you are fishing in the river, do not be surprised when the big fish on the end of your line is not a striper.

World Record Cod

A massive cod has been landed by . Michael Eisele of Kiel, Germany. Weighing in at an incredible 103 lbs., this fish appears to have broken the existing world record by more than five pounds. The previous record was for a 98 lb. fish caught off the coast of New Hampshire in 1969. The International Game Fish Association (IGFA), the world record keeping authority, has yet to confirm the catch, but the application has been filed.

Fishing about 10 miles off the island of Soroya in Norway, it took him an his crew about thirty minutes to haul this five foot fish over the rail. The cod was donated to a museum in Bergen, Norway.

World Record Freshwater Striper

A freshwater striper measuring 44.1 inches long, a huge 37.5 inches at the girth and weighing 69 pounds 9 oz. was certified in this past week by IGFA as a new record holder, breaking the existing record that has stood for 21 years. . Landed by 65-year-old James R. Bramlett while fishing in the Black Warrior River in Alabama, this fish is now at the taxidermist.

According to Bramlett he saw the fish roll on the surface, so he through his bait in that direction. Once the fish latched on, it took him about 25 minutes to land him. Several witnesses saw the battle that took place just off shore from the Gorgas Steam Plant. Bramlett used a Mustad 6.0 hook, Ambassador 7000 reel, a catfish Ugly Stik rod with Berkley Big Game 30 pound test line to catch the fish of a lifetime.

The all-tackle largest recorded saltwater striper tipped the scales at 81 lbs 14 oz and was landed by Greg Myerson in August of 2011. This surpassed the previous record of 78 pounds 8 oz held by Albert McReynold set in 1982.

Myerson caught his record striper fishing near the Outer Southwest reef in Connecticut. He was using a live eel, trolling it just off the bottom. When he landed his big fish, he noticed that it had stuck in its lip an old hook with about six feet of line still attached,

There are still big fish out there.