Thousands of spearers are preparing to venture onto Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes in east-central Wisconsin this month for the annual sturgeon spearing season.
The season starts Feb. 9 and 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 are for Lake Winnebago and 479 licenses are for the Upriver Lakes (Lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan).
The Winnebago System is home to the world’s largest self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon, with an estimated 44,000 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.
Last season, Kyle Jenkins of Oshkosh speared a female fish weighing 143.7 pounds and stretching 84.5 inches, making it the longest sturgeon ever speared in the Winnebago System, according to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources record books.
The heaviest lake sturgeon confirmed speared in the Winnebago System was a 212.2-pound fish harvested by Ron Grishaber of Appleton on the opening day of the 2010 season. That fish checked in at 84.2 inches long. DNR officials at the time estimated the fish was more than 100 years old; some sturgeon, especially females, can live more than 150 years.
The 2018 spearing season brought mixed results between the two fisheries.
Unlike the 2016 and 2017 seasons, cold weather prevailed throughout the 2018 season and ice conditions held up. Water clarity was a different story, however, as readings on Lake Winnebago were the lowest (average of 6.5 feet clarity) since the 2006 spearing season (average of 6 feet). Lake Winnebago saw 654 fish harvested during last year’s full 16-day season.
The Upriver Lakes fishery, which isn’t affected as much by water clarity conditions due to the shallow water, saw 297 fish harvested during a shortened four-day season.
The 2019 system-wide harvest caps of 430 juvenile females, 950 adult females and 1,200 males are the same as the 2018 season.
DNR sturgeon biologist Ryan Koenigs said the 2018 gizzard shad hatch appears to have been fairly weak, but chironomid (red worms) catch rates during August sampling were higher than in 2016 and 2017. Gizzard shad and chironomids are two primary food sources for lake sturgeon.
The public is welcome to see fish brought in to be registered at these stations:
• Lake Winnebago: Waverly Beach Resort, N8770 Fire Lane 1, Menasha; Stockbridge Harbor Bar, 1919 W. Lake St., Chilton; Quinney Quencher, W5626 Quinney Road, Chilton; Jim and Linda’s Supper Club, W3496 County Road W, Malone; Wendt’s On The Lake and Harbor, N9699 Lake Shore Drive, Van Dyne; Jerry’s Tavern, 1210 Ceape St., Oshkosh; Payne’s Point Bar and Grill, 1557 Payne’s Point Road, Neenah.
• Upriver Lakes: Critters Wolf River Sports, 700 W. Main St., Winneconne; Indian Point Tavern, County Trunk H (half-mile east of Tustin); Boom Bay Bar and Grill, 884 Cut Off Lane, Larsen.