MADISON -- Lake Winnebago's sturgeon population is benefiting from a rebound in gizzard shad and other prey species heading into the 2017 spearing season.
Sturgeon spearing opens on Feb. 11 at 7 a.m. and state fisheries biologists expect a season offering great opportunities to experience this unique tradition and pursue the fish of a lifetime. To answer questions about the season, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will host a live online chat with fisheries and law enforcement experts on Tuesday, Jan. 31 starting at noon.
"In terms of our sturgeon population, things continue to look very good with respect to both fish abundance and size structure of the population," said Ryan Koenigs, DNR Lake Winnebago sturgeon biologist. "We continue to observe big fish in the system each spring during spawning stock assessments and we're pleased with the results from bottom trawling and chironomid lake fly assessments indicating a strong forage base to sustain the population."
Wisconsin's current sturgeon ice spearing season dates to 1931, when the Legislature created a season after all sturgeon harvest had been banned in 1915. The DNR's careful management provides spearers with annual sustainable harvests unparalleled in the U.S.
Interest in sturgeon spearing continues to be strong with 12,962 licenses sold for the 2017 season, including 12,479 for Lake Winnebago and 483 for the Upriver Lakes. For 2017, the system-wide harvest caps are similar to 2016 with 430 juvenile females; 950 adult females and 1,175 males. It takes at least 10 years for a sturgeon to reach the legal harvest size of 36 inches, while fish at the 100 pound mark are at least 45 years of age.
The season may run for up to 16 days until Feb. 26, 2017; however an earlier closure may be triggered when pre-set harvest caps are reached.
One important difference for successful spearers this year involves tagging procedures. Tag validation must occur immediately upon harvest by writing the date and time on the tag, but the tags do not need to be attached prior to registration unless the spearer leaves the fish before registration. If you leave it, tag it. DNR recommends spearers bring a clear plastic zip-top bag and tie to protect and secure the new paper tag to the fish.
Spearing hours run from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and all sturgeon must be presented at a registration station by 2 p.m. on the same day they are harvested for registration by DNR personnel.
The online sturgeon spearing season chat will cover everything from tips on spearing techniques to the latest water clarity conditions. To join the chat, which runs from 12-1 p.m. Tuesday, visit dnr.wi.gov and look for the box on the right to enter the chat, or search the phrase "ask the experts." Or, enter via DNR's Facebook page by clicking the "Cover it Live Chat" box at the top. The online chats are archived and available for viewing after they are held.