The Westman fishing season got off to an exciting start this past Tuesday when local real estate specialist Pat McKenzie pulled a 53.5-inch lake sturgeon out of the Assiniboine River in Brandon.
McKenzie told the Sun on Thursday that the afternoon started out quietly enough, since she barely got any bites after arriving at her spot by the river around 12:30 p.m.
However, McKenzie finally received a big tug on her fishing line at approximately 5 p.m., just when she was about to pack up and leave.
What followed was an intense 25-minute tug-of-war between the Realtor and the sturgeon, with some nearby fishers cheering her on in the background.
"It was all about determination," McKenzie said on Thursday. "Just tire him out and get him closer to the shoreline."
As McKenzie gradually pulled the fish closer to shore, she eventually discovered it was far too large to handle solo.
Since the sturgeon couldn’t fit into her net, McKenzie asked some bystanders to drag the fish up on land to take its picture and some measurements before releasing it back into the river.
"I couldn’t believe how big he was. I was shocked," she said. "You can’t really comprehend how big he was until you got him out of the water."
If McKenzie’s measurements are correct, this 53.5-inch fish represents the biggest local Assiniboine River lake sturgeon catch in recent memory.
In 2015, the Sun reported on the story of friends Sebastion Pulak and Mac Mulligan, who wrestled a 51.5-inch sturgeon to shore.
Local Dustin Knapp made the newspaper twice in 2018 after scoring a pair of sturgeons that measured 43 and 44 inches, respectively.
However, according to Manitoba’s Master Angler website, Mulligan went on to catch the biggest Assiniboine River sturgeon on record in September 2018, which measured 55 inches in length.
If this ranking is to be believed, then McKenzie would be tied for fourth place when it comes to sturgeon catches in the Assiniboine River alongside fellow anglers Rhiannon Timbury and Joshua Loewen.
McKenzie told the Sun she is no fishing expert, having only picked up the hobby in 2019 for the first time since her teenage years.
Despite this large gap in time, McKenzie said she’s already found great success fishing in the Assiniboine River, claiming to have caught and released more than 100 carp with her friends in a single day.
The rookie angler said she’s also going to start keeping track of the weight, length and location of every fish that crosses her path this upcoming fishing season.
Even if none of these new discoveries measure up to her sturgeon, McKenzie said she will always remember the thrill and excitement associated with Tuesday’s monster catch.
"This is by far my biggest catch, and I probably will never, ever see that again," she said. "But that’s OK. I will treasure the memory. It was just an awesome experience."
McKenzie’s recent catch also bodes well for Manitoba’s lake sturgeon population in general.
Until 1996, the species was considered extirpated in the Assiniboine River, meaning there weren’t any of them to be found. For the next 12 years, the province collected broodstock from the Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Nelson rivers to facilitate the reintroduction of approximately 16,683 lake sturgeon into the Assiniboine near Brandon.
Despite this recovery, the species is still classified as a "special concern" by the federal government.
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson