OSHKOSH, Wis. – Family, friends, big fish and fun are on tap Feb. 10 for the opening day of sturgeon spearing season on the Lake Winnebago system.
The Winnebago System is home to the world’s largest self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon, with an estimated 19,000 adult females and 24,000 adult males, and a unique spearing season dating back more than 85 years.
Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago System sturgeon season brings together family and friends from across the state and beyond. Spearing licenses for 2018 were sold to spearers from 71 of 72 Wisconsin counties, 32 states and one Canadian province.Photo credit: Darcy Kind
“Spearers in 2018 will have another great opportunity to renew traditions and go after some really big fish,” said Ryan Koenigs, Department of Natural Resources sturgeon biologist. “As always, water clarity and ice conditions determine spearer success, and we won’t definitively know conditions until the season draws closer. However, preliminary water clarity readings collected Jan. 8 averaged 9 feet, which is similar to the 2017 season where 552 fish were harvested from Lake Winnebago.”
Interest in sturgeon spearing continues to be strong, as 12,979 licenses (12,505 for Lake Winnebago and 474 for the Upriver Lakes) were sold for the 2018 season. Licenses were sold to spearers in 71 out of 72 Wisconsin counties and representatives from 32 U.S. states and one Canadian province.
For the Muche family and many others, the Lake Winnebago sturgeon season is all about family, fun and big fish. Rachael Mathwig celebrates her success with her grandfather, on the left, and her father on the right. Photo credit: Ryan Koenigs
“Spearers continually tell DNR staff that it’s the chance to get together with family and friends, to relive old memories and create new ones that keeps them coming back year after year,” Koenigs said. “The success of the fishery and the fish population is a testament to the successful co-management of the sturgeon resource among DNR, public stakeholder groups, and a passionate general public.”
According to Koenigs, there are more fish in the system now than there have been for decades, with an impressive complement of large fish that has been unrivaled since inception of the modern spearing season in 1932. In 2017, 19.3 percent of the female sturgeon handled during spawning stock assessments were larger than 70 inches. Fish harvested in 2017 had fed well on a strong gizzard shad hatch in 2016 while the forage base observed in 2017 assessments was not as strong as years past.
In 2017 54 fish exceeding 100 pounds were harvested, including an 83.4 inch, 154.9 pound fish harvested by Gerald Petersen and a 78.5 inch, 154.7 pound fish taken by Sandra Schumacher, both registered at Stockbridge Harbor.
Season and license details
Sturgeon spearing opens at 7 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10 and may run for up to 16 days until Feb. 25. However, an earlier closure may be triggered if pre-set harvest caps are reached.
The system-wide harvest caps are similar to those set for the 2017 season: 430 juvenile females, 950 adult females and 1,200 males.
A sturgeon spearing license and tag is required to spear sturgeon. Spearing hours run from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and all sturgeon must be presented at a DNR operated registration station by 2 p.m. of the same day the fish is harvested.
Successful spearers must immediately validate their carcass tag by removing the validation stub. They do not need to attach validated carcass tags to harvested fish before registration as long as the spearer stays with the fish until registration. However, the harvest tag must be attached to the sturgeon if the spearer leaves the fish prior to registration. DNR staff recommend that spearers bring a clear plastic zip-top bag and tie to protect and secure the paper tag to the fish.
More details regarding sturgeon spearing throughout the Lake Winnebago system, including the complete rules and regulations and a list of 10 registration stations can be found at dnr.wi.gov, keywords “Winnebago system sturgeon.”