Roseau man reels in sturgeon derby

It wasn’t a big fish as sturgeon go but it was large enough for Brian Bakken to win capture the annual North American Sturgeon Championship last Saturday in Birchdale, Mn.
Bakken, a resident of Roseau, Mn., reeled in a 50.25-inch sturgeon from Rainy River with only 20 minutes left in the four-hour tournament–beating the next closest catch by more than four inches.
“I didn’t think it would be big enough,” Bakken said, who just got into sturgeon fishing in the last year.
The grand prize for the derby was half of the total registration fees. And with 233 anglers entered at $10 each, that added up to a whopping $1,165 (U.S.)
The other half of the registration fee is going towards community development projects in Birchdale.
“We came close to doubling the tournament [from last year],” noted tournament judge John Roach, who gave much of the credit to Koochiching County Commissioner Mike Hanson for promoting and organizing the event.
“And when you double the tournament, you double the payout,” he added.
The derby attracted anglers from as far away as California and Florida. Many had their families out in the boats with them, which Roach said is part of the sturgeon championship’s appeal.
“My grandkids have fished it each year,” he said. “This would be more of a tournament where anybody can fish it. Here, you pay a little entry fee and have fun for four hours or more.”
About 20 Canadian anglers had signed up for the derby, including long-time entrant Wayne Armstrong of Stratton. His nephew, Kevin, was the tournament leader at one point, catching a 45-inch sturgeon early on in the competition.
“It could have been a couple of inches longer–another five-and-a-half inches and it would have been nice,” Armstrong laughed.
But luck wasn’t on Paul and Linda Weir’s side. The Stratton couple weren’t able to get a bite but they didn’t seem to mind.
“We had a fun day,” she said. “It’s just fun fishing.”
Armstrong, who lives along the river, said he’s been fishing in the Birchdale tournament long before it was even called the North American Sturgeon Championship.
And he’d like to see a few more Canadians enter it next year. “Everybody should go–get it more half and half,” he remarked. “It’s a cheap afternoon of fun.”
“I’ve only hauled up a small sturgeon but can you imagine the fight with the 50-inch one that won?” Weir said. “[And] that was a pretty good payback–$10 for $1,165 U.S.”
Meanwhile, thoughts already are turning to next year’s tournament. And Hanson said the organizing committee probably will make catch-and-release mandatory rather than just a recommendation.
“My understanding is all of the legal fish were released–that’s what we asked them to do,” Hanson said. “So I think the transition to mandatory catch-and-release would be pretty simple.
“There were certainly not as many [Canadians] as we’d like to see,” he added. “We’re going to make much more of an effort next year to get them involved.”
There’s also the question of how big does the community want the tournament to get. Hanson said he could see organizers limiting the number of entries at some point but doesn’t know what that number may be.
“That dialogue will take place,” he noted. “There will be several people that will have input into any kind of situation like that, including discussions on what kind of impact it has on the fishery itself.”