Incredibly Rare Giant Fish Caught in Ozarks, Thrown Back Into Lake

An angler has caught an incredibly rare giant fish in the Ozarks before throwing it back into the lake.

Troy Staggs was fishing in the Lake of the Ozarks when he found himself in a 47-minute long battle with a lake sturgeon, the Missouri Department of Conservation said in a statement. Staggs caught the fish by wrapping his tackle around its tail.

Once he finally reeled in the sturgeon, Staggs found it measured 4.6 feet and weighed around 50 to 55 pounds.

After taking a few pictures, Staggs threw the gentle giant back into the lake.

Sturgeon are incredibly rare and one of the most endangered species on earth. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 23 of the 27 different species of sturgeon are critically endangered.

Lake sturgeon
The Missouri Department of Conservation shared photos of the catch to Facebook. The fish weighed around 50 pounds. Missouri Dept. of Conservation

The ancient fish have been around for millions of years and are under threat of extinction because of overfishing, habitat loss and the illegal caviar trade. The species outlived the dinosaurs, having evolved during the Jurassic era.

Lake sturgeon are the second-largest fish found in Missouri and the state's longest-lived animal – some sturgeons can live for over 100 years. Some of Missouri's lake sturgeon can grow up to 8 feet. The lake surgeon's relative, the white sturgeon, is the largest freshwater fish in North America – these fish have been found to reach 20 feet in length.

Staggs said on a Facebook comment that it was "most definitely a catch he will never forget."

"The toughest fish I have ever caught and the luck of no hooks. Glad it swam away like it was never bothered," he said.

In Missouri, the species is protected, meaning killing or harming them is illegal. If anglers catch the giants, they must be released immediately after capture. People are also encouraged to report any sturgeon sightings to the Department of Conservation so that their numbers can be tracked.

Staggs said on Facebook he caught a smaller sturgeon 3 years ago, and from that experience knew what to do with this much larger fish.

This lake sturgeon was the sixth caught in the river since 2016, the Missouri Department of Conservation said.

The Missouri Department of Conservation began stocking lake sturgeon into the state's waters in order to help recover the endangered species.

Despite being called the lake sturgeon, this species is usually only found in larger rivers. The species prefers bodies of water with firmer bottoms of gravel, rock and sand. Once the fish become adults, they move into tributary rivers to breed. The Missouri Department of Conservation said this makes them "more visible" in shallow waters.

Lake sturgeon
The gentle giant was 4.6 feet long. Missouri Dept. of Conservation