Tons of sturgeon occupy our lake, river!

When the sturgeon are spawning here in May, they may go unseen by everyone except our papermill workers, who can look down on schools of the lively fish headed into our canal below the bridge toll office and through our dam to lay their eggs.
I went over there a few years ago to witness the spectacular run while the mill workers threw their left-over lunches into the water for the fish. I took my camera, of course, but after seeing hundreds of sturgeon that day, I did not bring back a single picture because of the refraction effect caused by the water.
But I saw the 200-pounders taken by commercial fisherman much later, after the eggs had hatched and grown enormously.
The accompanying photo below shows a 202-pound sturgeon with my late wife, Emily, and our young son at the old fish house operated for many years by Spike Struve and Dan McCarthy on the upper river near Scott Street.
I also encountered one probably just as large when I went with Allan Kielczewski and his mother while they lifted their nets near the eastern end of Rainy Lake, or Rat River.
This can be a scary experience for anyone whose fishing doesn’t get more ambitious than taking game fish like walleye, bass, or northerns. Even the mighty muskie is dwarfed by a fully-grown sturgeon!
As Allan raised one side of his pound net, a monstrous fish head came over the side of our boat with its mouth gaping wide open!
No, I didn’t jump out the other side, but I can tell you this experience was a shock. It’s something that stays with you much later than merely landing a record walleye or jack.
Anyway, while I’m wondering what to do, Allan’s mother struck that big head with a sledge hammer. Our catch quit thrashing around to be hauled aboard.
And until you’ve landed your own sturgeon of that great size, either leave pound nets alone or approach one well armed. Our commercial fishermen like the Calders and Kielczewskis know this story well.
They don’t bring their sturgeon and other fish into town anymore since our fish house disappeared along with our other waterfront attractions. But commercial fishing was practised by more than a few hardy folks here at one time as a lively industry developed to supply the city markets and restaurants from our boundary waters.
The commercial fishermen all still store ice every winter, filling their own ice houses and hauling in sawdust by truckloads to keep the ice from thawing. And they brought fish boxes from town to fill with ice and fish for shipping.
Not much of that trade is seen of late although last I heard, Dan McCarthy, an American, had his son “Jimbo” still dealing and sometimes importing even Oriental fish for his customers.
The very size of the sturgeon itself has to be described as intimidating! Yet very few other fishermen, boaters, or bathers ever catch glimpses of one as it cruises about our waterways.
But if you want to see the parent stock in all its glory, the mother sturgeons as they come downriver past our papermill, ask someone to accompany you to the #1 grinder room in mid-May when the sturgeon run will be underway.
The sturgeons are nowhere near their future giant size yet, but they are very numerous as they invade our local waters. It’s truly a sight to behold and never forgotten!
Then just think of all their young ones grown to be at least 10 times heavier than their parent stock. Two hundred pounds in one freshwater fish almost baffles imagination.
Some make it to 300 pounds, I am told.
• • •
My favourite cold weather story involves a mystery.
One January morning many years ago, my mother phoned me to say my father believed his old crony, Angelo Paccito, had died the night before.
My dad believed it had been Angelo who, although some 40 miles away, had broken the dining room mirror in my family home because he and my dad had promised to let the other know whenever one of them died.
The fallen mirror was accepted by my father as a signal from Angelo. He managed a gold mine where my dad had worked before returning to town here back in the ’30s.
The pair had made a pact to notify the other somehow in case either had died. Both came from Italy, where such arrangements may have been popular.
Anyway, within days there came word that the ice on Bad Vermilion Lake had collapsed under a load of firewood that Angelo had been delivering one night for a widow.
My father responded immediately to his mirror breaking as if this was the pre-arranged message and managed to convince my mother, who was not known to hold such ideas. My dad was convinced there could be no other explanation.
This came to them on a bitterly cold evening about five years after they had left Mine Centre.
One more note on this subject: We often had walked or snowshoed or skied across that same lake and nobody ever heard louder thunder than Bad Vermilion would give off as it froze.
The ice-makers used to claim that lake held the best and thickest ice they knew anywhere—and seldom was it known to break before.
But that night it seems to have shattered as easily as my mother’s mirror! Could there have been some kind of occult connection?
Are other Italians familiar with such stories? My dad could thrill my young friends and I with yarns about witches from his own boyhood!

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