The 2019 sturgeon spearing season in the Winnebago System concluded with a total of 786 sturgeon harvested, including 479 on Lake Winnebago and 307 on the Upriver Lakes.
This year marked the fourth consecutive full 16-day season on Lake Winnebago and the seventh full-length season in the past nine years. The number of sturgeon harvested on Lake Winnebago between Feb. 9 and Feb. 24 ranks 52nd highest dating back to 1941.
The most sturgeon harvested on Lake Winnebago was 3,173 in 1995.
Of the 12,411 people who received licenses to spear on Lake Winnebago this year, 3.9 percent filled their tag.
The largest sturgeon of the season was speared on opening day by Jon Eiden of Appleton. His fish, harvested less than two hours after the season began, stretched 85.5 inches and weighed 171 pounds. It was one of 31 fish harvested this year from the Winnebago System weighing more than 100 pounds; 18 of them came from Lake Winnebago.
Overall, 12,890 licenses were sold to spearers from 70 Wisconsin counties and 32 other states.
The Upriver Lakes, comprised of Lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan, saw 307 sturgeon harvested out of 479 total licenses. That portion of the season lasted 10 days, finishing on Feb. 18 and tying it for the second-longest season since the lottery fishery format was implemented in 2007.
Ryan Koenigs, Winnebago System sturgeon biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, described the season as a success.
“Yes, the fishery went the full 16 days on Lake Winnebago and the season harvest was below the long-term average, but when you look at the season as a whole, how could you characterize it as anything other than a success?” he said on the final day of the Lake Winnebago season.
“There were over 4,600 shanties on Lake Winnebago opening day, and this season provided over 12,411 license holders (on that lake) with an unrivaled opportunity to harvest a lake sturgeon through the ice with a spear. This fishery is so unique that even in seasons with below-average harvest, we must step back and look at how remarkable the sturgeon resource in our backyard is.”
Koenigs said the 2019 season provided spearers with another opportunity to renew traditions and make memories.
“Those memories can’t be traded for anything and are what will have many spearers looking back fondly on the 2019 sturgeon spearing season,” he said. “I, like many spearers, am already looking forward to the 2020 spearing season.”
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. They can grow to more than 200 pounds, making them the largest fish in the Great Lakes. And they are considered living fossils since they have survived, virtually unchanged, for more than 100 million years.