Book it: New state record fish pulled from the Rock

Erie, Ill. — Turns out, there were two fish caught in 2013 that broke an Illinois state hook and line record.

Larry Morine caught a 9.51-pound shovelnose sturgeon on the Rock River in Whiteside County on Aug. 31, setting a new record fairly close to where the last record shovelnose sturgeon was caught in 2003.

It had been reported that only one state record had fallen in 2013, when an angler caught a 2.28-pound skipjack herring on the Des Plaines River in late December, based on an interview with a top DNR fisheries official.

But Morine knew there was one other record fish that had been overlooked.

Morine, 56, a sponsored catfish angler, was prepared for catching a state record sturgeon, even if he hadn’t necessarily set out to do so. Before the season, he and other fishing friends had discussed the possibility of catching a record shovelnose sturgeon, since the previous record, a fish that weighed 8 pounds, 5 ounces, had been caught on water they regularly fish for catfish.

“Each of us catch a half-dozen of them every year,” said Adam Tiemann, Morine’s neighbor and fishing buddy.

Added Morine: “We looked at that weight, and thought we may have turned loose [shovelnose sturgeon] bigger than that.”

The two were pre-fishing for a coming tournament, as they often do – in separate boats but close by in order to work more water – when the sturgeon bit.

“We were working our way down river, and before I knew it, he was hooked onto something that was larger than we normally catch there,” Tiemann said. “We are always moving back and forth, trying to find fish on the river.”

The battle lasted about 10 minutes.

“He was a pretty good tussle,” Morine said. “I thought I had, comparatively, a 10- or 12-pound flathead catfish the way it was fighting. He put up a fair struggle.”

Morine was using 12-pound line.

And, still, Morine texted his son to double check the weight of the then-current standing state record shovelnose sturgeon.

Morine and Tiemann kept the fish in a livewell and took it over to nearby Shaheen’s Village Market, where an employee at the meat counter agreed to weigh the fish on the store’s certified scale. The store employee cleaned the scale, weighed the fish, then cleaned it again afterwards, Tiemann said.

Morine also called the local conservation officer, making sure he followed proper procedure for getting the fish certified. After filling out the required forms and snapping detailed pictures, he released the fish back into the river, though the DNR typically prefers to have a biologist examine the fish in person.

Illinois DNR district fisheries biologist Ken Clodfelter was able to certify the fish using the pictures.

“Generally, we do a DNA plug, depending on the species,” Clodfelter said, noting that shovelnose sturgeon, with their dinosaur-like armor, are pretty easy to verify and nearly impossible to mistake for other species, given good pictures. The only related species in Illinois is the lake sturgeon, which have a very distinct look themselves.

Clodfelter said it’s difficult to say how old the fish might have been.

“A sturgeon can live a long time,” he said. “It depends on the individual fish, but you are looking at least a 15- or 20-year-old fish. It could be much older than that.”

Similar-sized fish have been sampled by DNR fisheries biologists on that same stretch of the Rock River, Clodfelter said, when flathead catfish surveys were being conducted.

“I have no idea what attracts them to that particular area,” Clodfelter said. “There is something there that they seem to like. There are some big holes there, some wintering holes that the catfish congregate at right before winter.”

Clodfelter said a commercial fisherman once reported catching a shovelnose sturgeon there about a pound larger than Morine’s fish. And about a month before, Tiemann said he thinks he caught a shovelnose sturgeon even bigger than Morine’s, but he put it back, forgetting, even after their spring conversation, that it could be a state record.

“He gave me a hard time,” Tiemann said of Morine, jokingly. “He said, ‘Next time, you’ve got to weigh that fish.’”

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