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Dave Buatala of Eveleth poses for a picture with the 72-inch sturgeon he caught April 11 on the Rainy River.

EVELETH — Dave Buatala had never fished for sturgeon until two years ago, and he doesn’t expect to give it up any time soon.

That’s because Buatala, who was fishing with Ken Lorenz and Logan Nelson, hauled in a sturgeon that was at least 72 inches long on a trip to Rainy River on April 11.

How much did it weigh?

“It’s something we’ll never know,” Buatala said. “The length was roughly 72 inches, but we didn’t know that you’re supposed to squeeze the tail, so it could have been a couple of inches longer.”

Buatala has been fishing since he was a teen-ager, but he didn’t start fishing seriously for sturgeon until 2019.

“I was talking with someone I work with, and he wanted to do a trip to Rainy River,” Buatala said. “That was my first year. I didn’t catch anything, but some of the guys caught a few. It was a slow first year for me.

“Last year, we planned another trip, but we didn’t get to go. This year, we planned the trip, and I’m glad we did. We had more action.”

Sturgeon fishing is a lot different than fishing for walleye or crappie.

First off, Buatala used a heavy-duty muskie rod, with a circle hook. His bait consisted of a cluster of worms and shiner minnow. He also used a four-ounce sinker to hold the bait on the river bed.

They found a spot on the river, anchored the boat, then Buatala tossed out his line. Now, it was a waiting game.

Buatala wasn’t sure how long it took, around four or five hours, but all of a sudden, it took the bait.

“You see it start taking the line, then you grab the rod and pull back against it,” Buatala said. “You feel the weight, then you start reeling it in. You start fighting it.”

It was a good, tough fight.

“I fought it for a while and got it to the surface,” Buatala said. “I saw its head and got excited to see how big it was.”

Buatala said the sturgeon decided to run a few times, but he hunkered down and got it along the boat.

“When it surfaced, we freaked out,” Buatala said.

After about 30 minutes, Lorenz netted the fish, and it took two of them to get it into the boat.

“It was tiring,” Buatala said. “With the way it was going, I had to switch hands to work the reel. At times, I had to stop pulling on it. A couple of times, I had to let my arm hang down and shake some blood back into it.

“My arm was still sore two days after that.”

Once it was in the boat, nobody could believe the size of the sturgeon.

“The three of us stood there and stared at it for awhile,” Buatala said. “We said, ‘Now what?’ What do we do?’ They started taking pictures of it. Logan took the measurement, and we were amazed at how big it was, and the whole process that it took to land it.

“We didn’t realize that it was that big. We didn’t think we’d be close to anything record-wise.”

Now, Buatala needed to hold the fish for a picture. Getting that set up wasn’t easy.

“It was a struggle,” Buatala said. “Ken and Logan lifted it up into my arms. I was shaking pretty good from holding that. They took the picture, then sent it on its way.

“We didn’t want to injure the fish. We did what we could do, then we sent it back.”

What does Buatala do for an encore?

“That’s the highlight of my sturgeon career,” Buatala said. “You always try to better yourself.”

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