Post date: Monday, March 5, 2012 - 20:55
Updated date: 4/17/14

Shovelnose, Spaceface, Switchtail, Hackleback!  The names bring out the true personality of this American legend of the river.  This is the most common sturgeon in the United States, and probably the world's most secure and populous species of sturgeon.


Other Names:  Hackleback, Switchtail, Sand Sturgeon, Flathead Sturgeon, Old Spade Face


The shovelnose is an elongated fish with an extremely flattened head.  Color of the shovelnose is sandy brown on top with a white underside. The entire body is armored with heavy plates, which can be extremely sharp. The snout is markedly flattened or shovel-shaped. There can be a very long, thread-like filament attached to the top lobe of the tail fin - like a tentacle - 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 Shovelnose Sturgeon is very similar in appearance to it's larger cousin, the Pallid Sturgeon.  Unlike the shovelnose, the Pallid Sturgeon is a critically endangered species, with very low and possibly declining populations.  The barbels of a shovelnose sturgeon occur in a straight line across the underside of the nose, while those of a pallid form a curved shape, with the outer two barbels being longer and farther back.  Pallid Sturgeon should always be carefully released, unharmed.



shovelnose sturgeon barbels

Above - Shovelnose Sturgeon Barbels are all the same length and arranged in a straight line.

Above - Pallid Sturgeon barbels are arranged in a curved shape, with the outer two barbels longer than the inner ones.



The shovelnose is a big-river fish, very seldom being found in the absence of a brisk current. In the Mississippi River it frequents the tailwaters below wing dams and other structures which accelerate or redirect current flow. The shovelnose is usually found over a sandy substrate, often (but not always) in water that is quite shallow.  It can be found in some medium-sized rivers that have a good, sandy substrate and clean water.


Tactics for shovelnose are pretty simple - fish a natural bait (nightcrawlers have accounted for all the shovelnose I've ever encountered or seen caught) stationary on the sandy bottom in current.  Usually, this means using a heavy weight, like a Pyramid Sinker, to help anchor the rig in the shifting sand.  Unfortunately, the heavy weight often keeps this spirited fish from jumping, spinning, and tailwalking much during the fight, due to the encumbrance of the weight holding it down.  Fishing directly downstream from a boat can allow you to use a lighter weight and tackle, which brings out the frantic fight of this amazing fish and allows them to vault into the air at will. 

Range Map

Photo Credits:

Donald Perkins, Cast-N-Blast, Dr. Flathead, Corey Geving

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