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Kraig Kelliher, left, and Doug Endlich showed the lake sturgeon they harvested on Lake Winnebago on the final day of the 2019 sturgeon spearing season on the Winnebago System.

Every year, thousands flock to Lake Winnebago and Upriver Lakes to participate in the sturgeon spearing tradition. With the 2021 sturgeon spearing season fast approaching, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reminds both seasoned pros and first-timers that there are some important changes to this year’s registration process.

The 2021 season on the Winnebago system begins Feb. 13 and runs a maximum of 16 days or until any pre-determined harvest caps are met.

For the upcoming sturgeon spearing season, the DNR is implementing a contactless registration process at registration stations. To ensure the safety for the public and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, all DNR registration stations are now drive-thru only and have been relocated to boat landings, city parks and government building parking lots for the 2021 season.

To help with the new registration process, the DNR is asking spearers to place harvested sturgeon on tailgates or in an easily accessible location and remain in their vehicles throughout the registration process. This change allows the DNR to collect the critical data necessary to effectively manage the Winnebago system sturgeon fishery while keeping spearers, spectators and staff safe.

Data collected from harvested fish help implement the harvest cap system and set caps for future seasons. The DNR remains committed to returning registration station locations to local businesses for future seasons following the pandemic.

The 2021 season will also be the first year where spear size and tine arrangement will be restricted. A new regulation limits the maximum spearhead width to 18 inches, and tines can only be arranged in a single plane. Additional information can be found in the 2021 sturgeon spearing regulations.

Home to one of the world’s largest, self-sustaining lake sturgeon populations, Wisconsin’s Winnebago system has an estimated 42,000 adult lake sturgeon. Approximately 12,200 sturgeon spearing licenses were sold for the 2021 season. Harvest caps for the 2021 Winnebago system spearing season are set at 430 juvenile females, 950 adult females and 1,200 males.

The deadline to apply for an Upriver Lakes sturgeon spearing permit was Aug. 1, 2020. Spearing licenses for the fishery on Lake Winnebago needed to be purchased before Oct. 31, 2020.

Spearers must carry a paper copy of their sturgeon spearing license while spearing. A receipt of purchase, driver’s license or GoWild card will not be accepted as proof of a spearing license. Any harvested sturgeon must be presented by the spearer at a DNR-operated registration station by 2 p.m. on the day the fish was speared.

To help stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep our communities safe and healthy, spearers and spectators are reminded to wear a mask, wash their hands, carry hand sanitizer, and staying 6 feet apart.

More information on the 2021 Winnebago system sturgeon spearing season is available at https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/fishing/sturgeon/WinnSysSturgeonSpear.html. Learn more about the DNR’s response to COVID-19 at https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/covid-19.