NEW ULM - John Schroeder had a couple of surprises when he went fishing in the Minnesota River near New Ulm on Monday.
First, he was jigging for walleyes when he hooked a sturgeon. That's not so unusual. Sturgeon have been showing up in the river a lot in recent years.
When Schroeder pulled the sturgeon into his boat, however, he got a second, bigger surprise.
John Schroeder with his catch
Another fish was attached to the sturgeon's head, a foot-long, skinny eel-like fish. As they hit the bottom of the boat the second fish detached, revealing a round, tooth-filled mouth.
"I didn't know WHAT it was," Schroder said this week. "I thought it was some kind of big leech. It started crawling over toward my leg, and I said, 'That's enough of that,' and kicked it to the side of the boat."
Schroeder returned the sturgeon, which had a pink, round wound on its head where the fish had attached, to the river.
Later, he showed the strange fish to a neighbor, Mike Haase. Haase showed pictures of the fish to the Regional DNR staff which identified it as a silver lamprey.
Ron Bolduan, a river expert at the Minnesota River Center in Riverside Park, saw the pictures and was amazed.
"I've been a river rat since I was a kid, and I've never seen anything like that in the river," Bolduan said.
Schroeder hopes he doesn't see too many more of these silver lampreys in the Minnesota, but he's going to be keeping this one.
"I talked to my taxidermist, and I'm going to have it mounted and put it on the wall next to my walleyes."
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Assistant Southern Regional Fisheries Manager Brian Schulz said the native silver lamprey was the first of its kind the DNR has seen in the Minnesota River.
"They're more common in the Red River," Schultz said.
Silver lampreys, that average nine to 14 inches long as adults, are also native to the Rainy River basin, including Lake of the Woods. It should not be confused with the exotic and destructive Sea lamprey, according to the DNR website (www.dnr.state.mn/areas/fisheries/baudette/lamprey.html.
Schlutz said lake sturgeon are less common than the usually smaller shovel-nose sturgeon in the Minnesota River.
"The gentleman said he's caught several lake sturgeon in the Minnesota River," Schultz added. "
Lake sturgeon are sometimes called a living dinosaur of the fish world. Lake sturgeon can live for more than a century, grow to more than nine feet long and weigh up to 400 pounds. Their meat has so much oil content that they have been used to power steam boats, according to the DNR.
They feed in areas with sandy, gravelly and muddy bottoms using their snouts to stir up material, and their powerful sucking mouths to draw in water and floating debris. Smaller sand and muck particles are expelled through gills and larger food items are consumed, according to the DNR.
Sturgeon-spawning habitat is being threatened by the introduction of zebra mussels, the DNR added.
Lake sturgeon are currently listed as a species of special concern, with strict harvest regulations in Minnesota, according to the DNR.
(Staff Writer Fritz Busch contributed to this story).