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Shovelnose sturgeon

Shovelnose sturgeon


buff or olive drab above, lighter below; covered by heavy plate-like scales; flattened snout; long, threadlike filament attached to top lobe of tail fin (often missing); 4-8 pound fish common


Shovelnose sturgeon Distribution

Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, occasionally in larger tributaries


insect larvea, small mollusks and other bottom-dwelling organisms

State Record

12 pounds - Des Moines River, Van Buren County, April 1974 - Randy Hemm, Douds, Iowa

Expert Tip

most shovelnose sturgeon are caught accidentally by people fishing for catfish on the bottom


This species is rather widely distributed in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and is occasionally collected in the larger tributaries of these rivers. Nowhere is it abundant, but it is considered common in many navigation pools of the Mississippi.

Color of the shovelnose is buff or olive-drab above and light beneath. The entire body is armored with heavy plates. The snout is markedly flattened or shovel-shaped. There are no spiracles. There is a very long, thread-like filament attached to the top lobe of the tail fin, from whence the fish gets one of its common names -- "switchtail." This filament is very fragile and is often missing, especially in older individuals. This species commonly attains a weight of 6 to 8 pounds, although 4 or 5 pound specimens are more common. The state record is 12 pounds and was caught in the Des Moines River in Van Buren County.

The shovelnose is primarily a river fish, very seldom being found in the absence of a current. In the Mississippi River it frequents the tailwaters below wing dams and other structures which accelerate current flow.

Spawning occurs in May and June, with the spawning run being greatest during years of low flow. Little is known about the spawning activity of this species. Fish mature at 5 to 7 years of age when around 20 to 24 inches in length. Females do not spawn every year, and the larger specimens produce about 50,000 eggs. Growth in the Mississippi River is 8.4 inches FL at age I, 12.5 at age II, 16.1 at age III, 18.8 at age IV, 20.7 at V, 22.5 at VI, 23.8 at VII, 25.0 at VIII, 25.9 at IX, 26.7 at X, 27.1 at XI, and 27.4 at XII. Fish over 12 years of age are very rare.

The food habits of the shovelnose are similar to those of lake sturgeon. Primarily a bottom feeder, shovelnose sturgeon feed principally upon insect larvae, small mollusks and other bottom organisms. Algae and bits of higher aquatic plants are also consumed, but ingestion is probably incidental to feeding on bottom organisms.

Shovelnose are the only sturgeon which can be legally taken in Iowa, and they are actively sought by commercial and sport fishermen. Approximately 50,000 pounds are harvested annually by commercial fishermen from the Mississippi River.


Present in these Iowa water bodies:

Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 19, Mississippi River Lee Amenities listed are at City of Ft. Madison boat ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 19 33500.00
Pool 18, Mississippi River Louisa Amenities listed are for the Toolsboro Ramp. The ramp at Toolsboro is paved but the road to the ramp is gravel. Amenities vary by location in pool 18 13300.00
Pool 16, Mississippi River Scott The amenities list are for Buffalo Shores campground in Buffalo, Iowa. Amenities at other locations in Pool 16 vary by location. 13000.00
Pool 17, Mississippi River Muscatine Amenities list for Muscatine City Ramp. Amenities vary by location in Pool 17. 7580.00
Boyer River (Dunlap to Missouri River) Pottawattamie 34.00