AP NEWS

Do white sturgeon still exist in Lake Havasu?

April 8, 2019

If there was ever a monster in Lake Havasu, it was the white sturgeon.

The largest species of freshwater fish in North America, white sturgeon can grow more than 20 feet long, and can live as long as 100 years. Their bodies are a light-gray color, with white underbellies. And with their broad build, smooth appearance and the shape of their caudal and dorsal fins can lead people to mistake them for sharks at a glance.

They were first introduced in Lake Havasu in 1967, according to Arizona Game and Fish Department records, and locals envisioned a potential sport-fishing industry that could arise in Lake Havasu from their presence. Dan Delasantos has been a resident of Lake Havasu City for more than 45 years, and according to him, the white sturgeon was seen by others as little more than a fish story.

“It used to be like a fairy tale,” Delasantos said. “People thought it was a Loch Ness monster story, until they were caught.”

Delasantos has researched the subject of Havasu’s white sturgeon thoroughly, and recently discovered evidence of the species’ presence on Arizona’s west coast.

“They were predominantly around the Parker Dam area,” Delasantos said. “Every once in a while they could be seen from an aerial view -- they were so long that people actually thought there were serpents in Lake Havasu.”

Adding to the myth of the white sturgeon was a story that, according to Delansantos, is known from Parker to Bullhead City.

“Parker Dam is the second-deepest embedded dam in the world, and the sturgeon liked to hang out there,” Delasantos said. “Every two years, divers had to go down and inspect the dam. They’d bring these big floodlights. The story goes that one of these divers was down near the bottom, inspecting the dam. He turned around and saw this gigantic thing … the diver shot up to the surface, shaking and stuttering. When he said what he saw, people thought he’d been drinking. No one had ever seen anything that big in the lake.”

And for the past three decades, no one has seen it since. While Game and Fish records show white sturgeon having once resided in Havasu, officials doubt that any still remain.The last sturgeon reportedly caught in Lake Havasu was captured in 1976.

“It’s not impossible they’re still out there, but it’s unlikely,” said Ryan Fullman, a fisheries manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “They could live long enough, but this isn’t their native range, and Lake Havasu’s conditions aren’t ideal for white sturgeon. It’s a little warm for them here.”

According to Fullman, 39 white sturgeon were initially planted in Lake Havasu from a stock in San Pueblo Bay, California. The fish species tends to spawn in fast-moving waters, and is more commonly found in the Pacific Northwest. Fullman believes the transition from its native climate to Havasu may have been too much for the white sturgeon to endure.

“It wasn’t that many fish,” Fullman said. “And a lot of fish species planted that way don’t make it for various reasons.”

Angler John Galbraith has been fishing in Lake Havasu for nearly 40 years. Although he’s never encountered a white sturgeon in Havasu’s waters, he doesn’t dismiss the possibility they could still be out there.

“Every once in a while I’ll hear reports of people who have hooked something they couldn’t turn, or have had their lines snapped clean off, but none of them ever actually saw what did it,” Galbraith said.

Like catfish, white sturgeon search for prey along the bottom of a lake or river. They prefer to remain deep beneath the surface, Galbraith said, and areas such as the lake’s middle and the area of Parker Dam would be an ideal place for white sturgeon to hide, if any remain.

“They’re bottom feeders, and they don’t come up to the surface for anything,” Fullman said. “Near Parker Dam, the lake is about 80 or 100 feet deep, and anglers usually have about 150 yards of line on their poles. With a fish that big, they’d never be able to turn it or do anything with it … they could still be out there.”