2017 surveys show plenty of big fish for unique winter fishery
MADISON — The deadline to purchase licenses for the 2018 Lake Winnebago sturgeon spearing season is Oct. 31, with state biologists forecasting great opportunities to land the fish of a lifetime while enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.
“Getting together with family and friends is what keeps people coming back year after to year, but spearers will be happy to know that our 2017 assessments once again show there are a lot of really large fish out there to challenge them,” says Ryan Koenigs, Department of Natural Resources Lake Winnebago sturgeon biologist.
“We handled nine fish greater than 75 inches and 65 fish over 70 inches this spring,” he says. “The biggest fish we measured was 81 inches, so it should be a really exciting year for everyone enjoying this unique winter event.”
The Winnebago System is home to one of the largest populations of lake sturgeon in North America. DNR’s careful management of that population, in conjunction with citizens and conservation groups, allows the continent’s largest recreational harvest through a unique winter spear fishery dating to the 1930s.
The 2018 spearing seasons open on February 10, with separate but simultaneous seasons for Lake Winnebago and for the Upriver Lakes. Participation in the Upriver Lakes season is determined by lottery.
The seasons run for 16 days or until harvest caps are reached; those harvest caps for 2018 will be set on Oct. 18 when DNR biologists meet with the Winnebago Citizens Sturgeon Advisory Committee, which helps set the harvest caps.
The 2017 season included some impressive fish, including Gerald Peterson’s 83.4-inch, 154.9 pound sturgeon and Sandra Schumacher’s 78.5-inch, 154.7 pound fish.
Photo Credit: DNR
Deteriorating water clarity and ice conditions as the 2017 season wore on combined for a lower total harvest but included some impressive fish, including Gerald Peterson’s 83.4-inch, 154.9 pound sturgeon and Sandra Schumacher’s 78.5-inch, 154.7 pound fish. Thirteen fish weighed in at 130 pounds or larger.
A total of 847 fish were harvested during the 2017 seasons, 552 from Lake Winnebago and 295 from the Upriver Lakes. This total is down from averages over the last decade, but still the largest recreational spear harvest for sturgeon in the world and an increase over the 2016 season total of 703 fish, Koenigs says.
Again this year, 12-year-olds are eligible to purchase a license and can participate in the lake sturgeon spearing season. Also, adults whose names were drawn in the Upriver Lakes sturgeon spearing lottery can transfer their tags to youth ages 12-17, allowing youngsters a chance to spear on the lakes, where success rates have historically been higher.
How and where to get spearing licenses
Licenses are again $20 for residents and $65 for nonresidents and can be purchased by visiting GoWild.Wi.gov or any license sales location. To find a license agent near you, go to dnr.wi.gov and search with key words “license agent.”
The minimum spearing age is 12 years, and youth who turn 12 between Nov. 1, 2017, and the last day of the 2018 spearing season can still buy a spearing license after Oct. 31. Military personnel home on leave can also purchase a license after Oct. 31.
There are unlimited license sales on Lake Winnebago, while the Upriver Lakes fishery is managed by a lottery and limited to 500 permitted spearers. Once a person is authorized to buy an Upriver Lakes license for a season, they are not able to buy a license for Lake Winnebago.
Spearers are now able to transfer Upriver Lakes spear licenses to youth spearers (age 12-17) and can do so by filling a transfer of license form at least 15 days before the 2018 sturgeon spear fishery. Spearers who applied for an Upriver Lakes license in the lottery but were not authorized received a preference point and can still buy a Lake Winnebago license before Oct. 31.
For more information on harvest trends and management of the Lake Winnebago sturgeon fishery, visit dnr.wi.gov and search “Lake Winnebago sturgeon spearing.”