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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published January 29, 2013

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Excitement builds with good prospects for another record-setting sturgeon spearing season

OSHKOSH, Wis. - Excitement is growing for the 2013 sturgeon spearing seasons on the Lake Winnebago system as prospects are good for spearing record-setting fish, state fish biologists say. The season opens on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 6:30 a.m.

"The sturgeon population is strong. We estimate there are nearly 29,000 adult males and 19,000 adult females in the Lake Winnebago system," said Ryan Koenigs Department of Natural Resources senior fisheries biologist, who took over this season as DNR's sturgeon biologist.

"Seven of the top 10 fish have been harvested in the past three years, including the current state record fish, a 212.2 pounder harvested in 2010," Koenigs said. "The 2013 fishery will present spearers with the opportunity to harvest the next record sturgeon, as we know there are fish large enough in the population."

In spring 2012, DNR crews captured, tagged and released an 87.5 inch, 240-pound sturgeon below the Shawano Dam and surveys show a large number of trophy fish, those over 100 pounds.

Another exciting aspect of the 2013 spearing season is that 12- and 13-year-olds are allowed to spear for the first time, Koenigs said. Previously, spearers had to be 14 years or older. "The change in the spearing age is geared toward attracting a new generation to this winter tradition," he said. "We hope some of our experienced spearers take a kid spearing with them this year so they can learn the history and tradition of this sport."

Wisconsin residents who turned 12 after Oct. 31, 2012, can still buy a spearing license through the end of the 2013 spearing seasons and join their family in the spearing tradition. Wisconsin residents serving in the U.S. Armed Forces who are home on leave during the 2013 spearing season may also still buy spearing licenses through the end of the year."

Through Oct. 31, 2012, the deadline for purchasing sturgeon spearing licenses, a total of 12,092 licenses were sold for the upcoming 2013 spearing season on Lake Winnebago (11,601 licenses) and the Upriver Lakes (491 licenses), where there is a lottery for the 500 available licenses.

This total ranks third highest of all time and the popularity of the upriver lakes lottery fishery continues to grow, as a record 4,894 people applied for the 2013 lottery fishery.

Ice conditions

Spearers are advised to use caution when taking to the ice in the coming weeks. Strong winds a week ago created massive ice shoves on the east shore of Lake Winnebago and opened up water on the west side. Another round of cold air later this week should help in the rebuilding of ice on the west shore, Koenigs said. While the ice is seemingly better overall than it was last year, spearers are reminded that no ice is ever safe and they should be aware of current ice conditions before heading out on any lake.

Fishing and spearing clubs around the lake system mark and maintain a network of roads on the lakes, as well as bridges over expansion cracks, for safe travel. Roads are marked every one-tenth of a mile with an upright Christmas tree, Koenigs said. Christmas trees lying on their side mark thin or dangerous ice areas.

2013 season details

The 2013 Lake Winnebago season runs from Feb. 9 through Feb. 24, 2013, or until the pre-set harvest cap for Lake Winnebago is reached, or the pre-set harvest cap for the entire Winnebago System is reached, whichever comes first. The Lake Winnebago harvest cap is 320 for juvenile females, 745 for adult females and 960 for males.

The Upriver Lakes season runs from Feb. 9 through Feb. 24, 2013, on Lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan, or until the pre-set harvest cap for the upriver lakes is reached, or the pre-set harvest cap for the entire Winnebago System is reached, whichever comes first. The upriver season harvest cap is 80 juvenile females, 83 adult females and 240 males.

Participation in the upriver season was determined by a lottery for the required tag with 500 people selected from among those who submitted an application by Aug. 1, 2012. Spearers can only participate in the season for which they have a spearing license. More information on regulations and a list of registration stations is available on the Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Season 2013 page of the DNR website. Go to and search for sturgeon spearing.

New hotline alerts spearers to harvest totals

New this year, DNR is offering a sturgeon hotline number, 920-303-5444, where callers can get updated information on the sturgeon harvests including daily reports and updates. Interested sturgeon guard volunteers can also receive updates on the sturgeon guard program by hitting option 2.

People can get the same updates delivered to their email or cell phone. The information will include a daily summary report from Ryan Koenigs, daily (and running) system harvest totals, and miscellaneous news from the day. To get this free enhanced service, subscribe by using the drop down menu to choose either an email or wireless (SMS/text) alert and enter the information requested at the prompt.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Ryan Koenigs, 920-303-5450 or Trish Ossmann, public affairs manager, 920-662-5122



New biologist takes the reins as Wisconsin sturgeon specialist

OSHKOSH, Wis. - For the first time in 22 years, people gathered at sturgeon registration stations around the Lake Winnebago system will hear a new voice on the radio and see a new face at the scales.

Biologist Ryan Koenigs officially takes over Feb. 9 as the new leader of Wisconsin's efforts to manage lake sturgeon. This ancient fish species can live more than 100 years and exceed 200 pounds, providing a unique harvest season that brings together generations of families and friends.

Koenigs takes over from Ron Bruch, DNR's lead sturgeon biologist from 1990 through 2012. Bruch now directs budgeting, strategic work planning, and communications and outreach for DNR's statewide fisheries program.

"I am looking forward to my first sturgeon spearing season in my new job," says Koenigs. "I know I have big shoes to fill after taking over for my predecessor and mentor Ron Bruch, but I am looking forward to the responsibilities and challenges that lie ahead during the upcoming season and the rest of my career."

Koenigs, who turns 28 on Feb. 2, is only the third sturgeon biologist in the past 40 years in a century-old sturgeon management program that has gained international acclaim for its pioneering research and management, as well as television and cinematic fame. DNR has played a leading role in helping other states and countries restore their sturgeon populations by providing technical expertise, sturgeon eggs and other assistance.

Koenigs follows Bruch, and before him, Dan Folz. Folz, nicknamed "Father Sturgeon," is credited with building the initial population assessment program the DNR used as a foundation for the modern harvest management program.

Bruch, Koenics and Folz
Dan Folz, left, Ron Bruch, center, and now Ryan Koenigs, right, have led efforts to manage Lake Winnebago lake sturgeon.
WDNR Photo

Bruch expanded that assessment program and helped foster strong public involvement in the program to sustain the fish population and fishery. Working with the Winnebago Citizens Sturgeon Advisory Committee, Bruch led successful efforts to develop a harvest cap system and other protective regulations to sustain and grow populations of the slow-growing, late-maturing fish while preserving a unique spear fishery.

Bruch's work, along with Folz's, grew from the original biological studies and science-based management program on lake sturgeon in the Winnebago System that began in 1941 and continued under Ed Schneberger, Robert Probst, Tom Wirth and Gordon Priegel.

Dan Groeschel, president of the founding chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow, says that both Bruch and Folz have been very good and they are looking forward to working with Ryan Koenigs.

Sturgeon for Tomorrow, which was founded in 1977, has played a critical role in helping manage lake sturgeon, raising more than $800,000 to supplement state resources to buy boats and other equipment, while also promoting research and habitat improvement projects.

Groeschel said Koenigs is off to a good start.

"He's going to be a great follow up to Ron," Groeschel said. "He's on top of the sturgeon management issues, he can conduct himself well in the public and he's pretty good at explaining about sturgeon and walleye. He's a real down-to-earth and intelligent young man."

Koenigs holds a bachelor's degree in fisheries and limnology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a Master's Degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

He served as a seasonal fisheries technician with the U. S. Forest Service in the Hiawatha National Forest before joining DNR as a part-time fisheries research technician and then as a fisheries management technician stationed in Oshkosh for the past four years.

Koenigs grew up a few miles from Lake Winnebago and remembers going out during the spearing season with his father. He has participated in the spearing season every year since he could legally spear.

"One of the real joys of this job is interacting with the heavily engaged public in the area. I enjoy getting out and interacting with sturgeon enthusiasts, and I am very excited to once again experience the unique culture that accompanies sturgeon spearing."

Bruch and Folz will be visible presences at the sturgeon registration stations, and both remain very active in sturgeon management issues. Folz, though long retired, works most during sturgeon spearing season and spawning assessments. He plans on working the full 2013 sturgeon spearing season.

Bruch also will be helping out at DNR registration stations during the spearing season and will remain active in sturgeon issues statewide and internationally. He was among the founding members of the World Sturgeon Conservation Society, was successful in bringing the 4th International Symposium on Sturgeon to Oshkosh in July 2001 and is currently the president and a founding member of the North American Sturgeon and Paddlefish Society.

Bruch, who helped hire Koenigs, says the time was right to add to the sturgeon management lineage.

"I figured I wasn't going to be around forever and we had a chance to hire an exceptional biologist able to carry on the program and take it to new heights," he said. "Ryan is a very well-trained biologist and in addition to his outstanding analytical skills he has exceptional people skills."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Ryan Koenigs, 920-303-5450 or Ron Bruch, 608-267-7591



'Sturgeon Week' to offer multi-media features telling the stories behind the lake sturgeon

MADISON - Wisconsin's answer to "Shark Week" cruises into view Sunday, Feb. 2.

Discover "Sturgeon Week," a week's worth of web-based, multi-media features will tell the stories behind the lake sturgeon, a prehistoric fish that's a distant cousin to sharks and is more abundant in Wisconsin than anywhere else in the world.

Sturgeon Week
People don't have as much to fear from a sturgeon's mouth as from a shark's. Tune in to "Sturgeon Week" on DNR and learn more about the extendable mouth of this ancient fish species.
Michael Kienitz Photo

"Sturgeon Week" can be found on the features page of the Department of Natural Resources website.

Web users will find videos, interviews, slide shows, interactive timelines and more to learn more about the fish and the DNR staff, conservation organizations and citizens who have nurtured populations of this fish, which can grow to more than 200 pounds and live more than 100 years.

Web users will also learn more about the unique spearing season that opens Feb. 9, on the Lake Winnebago system, the secrets to telling how old a sturgeon is, to understanding how DNR carefully controls harvest of the species, and the craft, culture and traditions tied to the sturgeon.

"This is an ancient species that dates to the late Jurassic period 150 million years ago," said Ron Bruch, longtime DNR sturgeon biologist for the Lake Winnebago System. "Whatever killed the dinosaurs didn't kill the sturgeon. Join us to learn more about this amazing fish and its survival story and the cultural importance it has for so many of our families in Wisconsin."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Lisa Gaumnitz, 608-264-8942



Variable snow conditions mean people should call ahead for candlelight events

17 candlelight events are scheduled over the next two weekends

MADISON - The greatest opportunities for people to get out and ski, snowshoe or hike by candlelight will be during the next two weekends with 17 events scheduled at Wisconsin state park and forest properties around the state.

But with this winter's variable snow conditions, state park officials are encouraging people to call ahead or check the Department of Natural Resources website for updates before heading out for candlelight events.

"We surveyed properties who have events scheduled and most indicated the event would go ahead as hikes if there is not enough snow for skiing or snowshoeing," said Paul Holtan, state parks, forests and recreation public affairs manager for the DNR. "But events could be cancelled if there are hazardous conditions such as icy or muddy trails or sub-zero temperatures."

Candlelight events have become some of the most popular winter activities at Wisconsin state parks. A candlelight snowshoe hike at Rib Mountain State Park drew more than 450 people last Saturday and a candlelight ski and grand opening of a new warming shelter at Blue Mound State Park in January attracted more than 1,000 people.

Blue Mound bonfire
More than 1,000 people showed up for a candlelight event last month at Blue Mound State Park, where visitors also enjoyed a bonfire.
Joe Warren Photo

Areas of northern Wisconsin received 6 to 7 inches of snow earlier this week, but that was followed by warmer temperatures and rain over much of the state. The forecast is for some areas of the state to receive additional snow this week, and then for temperatures to drop into the single digits late this week, before moderating for the weekend.

"With the rollercoaster swings in the weather, it's difficult to predict what conditions we will have the next two weekends, so that is why we suggest people call ahead to confirm events will be held and what conditions are like," Holtan said.

Most candlelight events are held on fairly easy trails, usually 1 to 2 miles in length that are lit by hundreds of candles, or in some cases by tiki torches. Some events offer cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking, others just skiing. Pets are not allowed on groomed trails. Many events also feature bonfires, with most also having food and beverages available.

Most candlelight events are sponsored by friends groups for the different parks, forests or trails, with volunteers from those groups setting out the candles and offering the refreshments for sale as a fundraiser for the property. Daily or annual vehicle admissions stickers are needed for entry into most park and forest properties.

Following the events during the next two weekends, there will still be three additional events the last two weekends of February.

For a list of the events, search for keyword candlelight on the DNR website.


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, January 29, 2013

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