Jon Eiden doesn’t need to embellish this fish story.
The mammoth fish speaks for itself.
Less than two hours into the 2019 sturgeon spearing season, Eiden harvested a long-sought 85.5-inch, 171-pound lake sturgeon, one of the largest ever pulled up through the ice of Lake Winnebago.
Eiden has been spearing alongside his father, John Eiden, since he was in high school, but the sturgeon he speared near Oshkosh on Feb. 9 weighed more than his previous three sturgeons combined.
The fish is believed to be 100 to 130 years old, if not older, meaning it may have hatched in the late 1800s. It’s the longest recorded sturgeon speared in the Winnebago System.
“Disbelief and awe,” the 34-year-old Appleton resident said in describing his emotions. “Seeing it in person right when it came out of the water was unbelievable.
“I knew it was a really big fish, but beyond that I didn’t have an appreciation for what we had and the significance until the day went on and we registered it and saw it was 171 pounds.
“And then we found out it was the big fish people have been talking about that was tagged seven years ago. That’s when the magnitude of everything started to sink in.”
In April 2012, the sturgeon Eiden speared was tagged during a spawning run near the Shawano dam, about 60 miles from Oshkosh, drawing significant buzz in sturgeon spearing circles. (The same fish also was captured by DNR officials eight years prior to that in the same area). That tag enabled Wisconsin DNR sturgeon biologist Ryan Koenigs to track down some of the fish’s history.
The much-talked-about sturgeon eluded spearers until this year.
Eiden’s father first spotted the sturgeon at about 8:45 a.m. on opening morning as the men looked through their ice shanty hole. The fish was swimming along the bottom in about 10.5 feet of water with relatively good visibility.
Eiden speared the sturgeon slightly behind the midway point of its body, but neither he nor his father realized the overall size until it inched closer to the surface. Eiden said the largest of his three sturgeons in previous years weighed about 60 pounds; he last speared a fish in 2015.
“(Feb. 9) was a blur of telling the story to people,” said Eiden, noting he ended up meeting the biologist that day who netted his sturgeon for tagging back in 2012. “It’s kind of a surreal flurry of action all because of a fish being hauled out of the ice.”
Eiden’s sturgeon this year stretched 85.5 inches, setting a record for the longest sturgeon speared in the Winnebago System, surpassing an 84.5-inch sturgeon (weighing 143.7 pounds) speared last season by Kyle Jenkins of Oshkosh.
The heaviest lake sturgeon confirmed speared in the Winnebago System was a 212.2-pound fish harvested by Ron Grishaber of Appleton on opening day of the 2010 season. That fish checked in at 84.2 inches long.
Eiden said he was thankful to share the experience with his father.
“I have a long list of incredible adventures with him, memories that will last a lifetime — and more often than not it ends with me getting to take the shot,” he said. “He’s a really incredible dad and something for me to aspire to as a young father.”
The Eidens were among thousands of spearers who have ventured onto Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes in east-central Wisconsin this month for the annual sturgeon spearing season. The season continues through Feb. 24, or until harvest caps are met. Spearing hours are 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A total of 12,890 licenses from 70 Wisconsin counties and 32 other states were sold this season. Of that figure, 12,411 licenses were for Lake Winnebago and 479 licenses were for the Upriver Lakes (Lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan).
The Winnebago System is home to one of the world’s largest self-sustaining populations of lake sturgeon, with an estimated 40,000-plus adult fish.
Lake sturgeon can grow to more than 200 pounds, making them the largest fish in the Great Lakes. They are considered living fossils since they have survived, virtually unchanged, for more than 100 million years.
“Although this fish (that Eiden speared) is no longer in the population, what she represented still persists,” Koenigs said. “This fish was an example of the big fish that call the Winnebago System home, but I assure you she was not alone. In fact, there have been fish longer than 83 inches harvested during each of the past three spearing seasons.
“It’s only a matter of time until another sturgeon is captured from this population and captivates the attention and dreams of thousands of spearers and sturgeon enthusiasts.”