‘Primitive fish’ caught in east Tennessee river predates the 21st century, state says

Mark Price
·2 min read

A lucky angler yanked a 5-foot-long fish out of east Tennessee’s Clinch River, but it’s not the size that drew the attention of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

It’s the age. State officials in a Facebook post estimated the 61.5-inch lake sturgeon is about 30 years oldtriple the life span of an average game fish in the state, according to experts.

State fisheries officials said they believe the fish was put in the river in 1992, as part of a restoration effort that included 3,200 sturgeon.

While 30 years seems old, state officials say it’s young for a lake sturgeon.

“Potentially one of the largest and longest living fish in Tennessee, the lake sturgeon is reported to grow to eight feet in length, weigh up to 300 pounds, and live 150 years,” the agency wrote.

The sturgeon was caught by Christopher Begley of Rogersville, Tennessee, as he stood on the Horton Ford bridge, officials said. He released it still alive back into the river, which is required by law. Begley hooked the fish using “cut suckers.”

The lake sturgeon is a “primitive fish” with a “sucker-like mouth” and rows of “bony plates” rather than scales. The species “dramatically declined” in Tennessee due to over fishing and river damming, the state says, leaving lake sturgeon now listed as endangered.

“Efforts have been underway to restore reproducing populations of this primitive species to Tennessee waters,” the state reported. “Since 2000, over 220,000 lake sturgeon have been stocked into the Cumberland River and the upper portion of the Tennessee River.”

In May 2020, the state reported a 9-year-old boy caught and released a 79.8-pound sturgeon in Old Hickory Lake. An age estimate was not provided for that fish.

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