Winnebago Sturgeon Spearing Seasons opened Saturday February 11
Opening day of the 2012 sturgeon spearing system on the Winnebago Lakes lived-up very close to pre-season expectations: Significantly reduced numbers of spearers on Lake Winnebago and fair water quality resulted in a modern record low harvest for an opening day on the big lake with 39 fish, while close to normal effort and clear water resulted in a higher than average opening day harvest of 171 fish from the Upriver Lakes lottery fishery.
The registered harvest today of 39 fish on Lake Winnebago was the lowest since 2007 when 183 were registered opening day that year. On Lake Winnebago we are a very long way off from tripping any harvest closure trigger and likely may not trip any trigger before the season maximum of 16 days is reached.
The registered harvest of 171 on the Upriver Lakes ties the most fish recorded opening day on those waters since the lottery began in 2007 when 171 were also registered opening day that year. Nine more adult females need to be registered on the Upriver Lakes to trip the 90% closure trigger on those waters.
Despite purchasing a record 12680 licenses for the 2012 season, many spearers elected to stay off Lake Winnebago this opening day due to variable ice conditions and less than optimal water clarity. 2197 shanties were set up on the ice of Lake Winnebago on opening day. Normally spearers set over 4,500 shanties on Lake Winnebago, and about 500 on the Upriver Lakes. Wile a record 4597 spearers applied for a 2012 Upriver Lakes license the Department of Natural Resources authorizes the purchase of 500 licenses for the Upriver Lakes each year through a lottery drawing.
Out of the 210 fish registered system-wide today 12 fish were 100 pounds or larger in weight (5.7%), 2 from Lake Winnebago and 10 from the URLs, with the largest a 79.6 inch, 179.9 pound female taken by a lady spearer Chris Haedt of Oshkosh (see attached photo by DNR). Chris's fish is the 5th largest fish on record since the fishery began in 1932, now number 5 on the all-time list right behind a 180 pound fish taken by Elroy Schroeder of Appleton in 1953 that stood as the Winnebago record until 2004. The current record is a 212.2 pound fish speared in 2010 by Ron Grishaber of Appleton. We have consistently seen fish in excess of 200 pounds in our spring spawning assessments over the last 10 years so we know they are out there and it is merely a matter of time before another 200 pounder shows up in the harvest. We estimate our Winnebago sturgeon stock is probably in as good of shape it has been since the 1800s.