Angler Catches Super-Rare 'Dinosaur' Fish in Kansas River, Throws It Back

An extremely rare species of fish was recently caught in the Kansas River by an angler. This was only the 16th reported catch of the endangered lake sturgeon in Kansas in over 25 years, the state's Department of Wildlife and Parks said.

The department shared the news of the catch in a post on Facebook. "I knew I had a special fish once I landed this fish," fisherman Kevin Zirjacks said in response to the post. "Never thought I would ever see one of these dinosaurs, let alone be able to actually hold one. Definitely a catch I will remember for the rest of my life."

After taking photos with the fish, Kirjacks released it back into the water.

Lake sturgeon can be found throughout North America, from Hudson Bay to the Mississippi River. They are the oldest and largest species native to the Great Lakes, first appearing in the fossil record about 135 million years ago, 70 years before the dinosaurs went extinct.

Lake sturgeon
Kevin Zirjacks is seen with the rare lake sturgeon he caught in the Kansas River. After taking the photos, he returned the endangered fish back into the water. Kevin Zirjacks/Kansas Wildlife and Parks

Lake sturgeon themselves can live very long lives, with females reportedly living for as long as 150 years, the National Wildlife Federation said. They are also massive, growing up to 6.5 feet long and weighing up to 200 pounds.

Before the 19th century, lake sturgeon were abundant throughout the Great Lakes. However, overfishing in the 1800s and 1900s dramatically reduced their populations. Today, the species is dwindling in its northern territories, and it is considered endangered in the southern parts of its range.

Efforts to reintroduce this freshwater fish have been slow because of their long life cycle. Females usually do not start producing eggs until they are at least 20 years old.

Zirjacks detailed how he used special equipment to avoid injuring the endangered fish. "The green thing is an unhooking cradle," he said, referring to the green tarpaulin seen in his photograph. "It's a great tool when catch and release fishing. Gives you a padded place to put your fish after landing them.

"It's raised off the ground to keep them nice and clean.... Makes handling the fish way easier and lets you get them back in the water quicker. Really comes in handy when handling bigger fish," he said.

While efforts continue to attempt to revive this population, the lake sturgeon is facing other environmental threats. Water pollution and invasive aquatic species have made their habitats less hospitable, and climate change is expected to decrease the quality and quantity of nursery and spawning sites and exacerbate existing problems.

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