Then the “bottom” began to swim off.
“It was peeling line off my reel and at first I thought I had hooked a big catfish,” says Kieffer. “I could feel its tail fanning back and forth as it swam.”
With light tackle and 10-pound-test line, Kieffer battled the big fish for 15 minutes before finally bringing it to the surface and getting a look at it.
He had hooked a 4-foot-long sturgeon in the tail.
“I knew there were sturgeon in the Cumberland River but I never expected to catch one,” Kieffer says.
He got the fish in the boat and hoisted it up for a photo – a nearby fisherman who had watched the battle puttered over to see the fish, and snapped a picture. Then he released it as required by TWRA regulations.
That sturgeon is one of some 205,000 released into the Cumberland River, the French Broad and the Holston by the TWRA since 2006. The released fish were about 18 inches long. Some being caught now are almost five feet long.
“I didn’t have any way to weigh or measure the one I caught, but I’d estimate it at about four feet,” Kieffer says.
During the winter, reports of surgeon catches increase as sauger fishermen bump lures and baits along river bottoms, as Kieffer was doing.
To date the TWRA has had over 300 reports of sturgeon catches. The Agency asks fishermen who catch one to report it, along with the date, location and the fish’s approximate size. In appreciation of the data, the TWRA will issue the angler a Lake Sturgeon Certificate of Appreciation.
Kieffer plans to report his catch to the TWRA. Reports can be called into the TWRA’s Fisheries Division: 615-781-6575.
Fishermen are reminded that it is illegal to keep a sturgeon. They can be measured and photographed, provided it is done quickly, before being released.
Sturgeon, an armor-plated primitive species, can grow up to eight feet in length and weigh over 300 pounds. They once thrived in Tennessee streams but vanished over a century ago due to pollution, damming of rivers and other changing environmental conditions.
Two decades ago the TWRA launched its sturgeon-stocking program with a goal of restoring the native species to the state and making it a renewable, fishable resource at some point.
In addition to catching the sturgeon, Kieffer also caught a 20-inch rockfish on his recent outing, but no sauger. He says that was the third trip on which he has failed to catch one, and other saugher fishermen have reported equally dismal results.
“I used to catch a lot of sauger in this area, but for the last three years I haven’t done any good,” Kieffer says.
Now that the TWRA’s sturgeon-restoration project is progressing well, it might be time to turn its attention to the waning sauger population.