Every winter outdoor enthusiasts gather on Black Lake in Cheboygan County Michigan, not far from Lake Huron, on a crusade to catch the state threatened prehistoric fish.
Black Lake is about six miles long– and every February anglers cut holes in the ice, wheel out shacks, and tie up spears. They're preparing to go after the Lake Sturgeon—a fish that some say is “as old as the dinosaurs”.
It's an ancient bottom feeder that can grow to more than seven feet long and live to be 150 years old.
Back in 1997, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources raised the alarm when sturgeon populations in the Great Lakes dipped from 1,600 to just over 500.
Dave Borgeson is the Northern Lake Huron Unit Supervisor for the DNR. He oversees the lake sturgeon fishing season. He said strict quotas were put in place, on how many sturgeon can be taken from the lake.
"Back then it was five, we allowed five people on the ice," Borgeson said.
That’s five fish for the entire season, and only five people allowed on the ice to catch the fish.
Now, it’s 14 sturgeon for the entire season, that’s seven for US anglers and seven for members of the Northern Band of Odawa Indians. Also, an unlimited number of people, are now allowed to fish for the sturgeon.
This year more than 400 people are registered—to be the one to make big catch. Borgeson says, the restricted season seems to have worked. Lake Sturgeon populations have reached about 1,200 fish.
Anglers like Chad Mushlock is from Cheboygan says Lake Sturgeon season has become a tradition. He and a few friends were prepping their shack on an early Saturday morning, sometime between 6 and 7:30, a grey light just beginning to poke through the clouds.
“We’re gonna try fishing in a group with a lot of peeled eyes, that’s what brings us here," said Mushlock, who said his strategy for catching sturgeon is "See one, stick'em."
Borgeson, says this was the highest participation the DNR has seen in a season.
“Sturgeon for whatever reason, once people see them or get involved with them, they love them," he said. "It’s a big lovable beast that folks gravitate to. It’s nice to see the interest.”
With any luck, Borgeson says, that interest will help keep this prehistoric beast alive for generations to come.