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August 17, 2010

High water the wild card this season

MADISON - High water in many of the rivers that open Sept. 4 for the 2010 hook and line sturgeon season means that fishing prospects for the state's oldest and largest fish are murky three weeks out but that one thing is clear: bring bug spray.

Wisconsin's September hook and line sturgeon season offers a chance to fish for the state's largest and longest lived fish. Sarah Weeks released this 58-inch sturgeon she caught in 2008 from the Chippewa River.

"The story is the incredible amount of water and the mosquitoes," says Dan Fuller, Department of Natural Resources fisheries technician based in Poynette. "Right now the Wisconsin River, for instance, is running high. Normally it's 4,000 cubic feet per second, now it's 11,000 cfs."

Information on water levels can be found on the U.S. Geological Survey website at [] (exit DNR).

Fuller is not sure how those high water levels will impact the fishing. On the one hand, there is a lot of food washing into the river so the sturgeon may not be as hungry and interested in the baits anglers offer. On the other hand, the increase in water levels from the rain can start the fish moving.

For sure, the high water levels mean a bumper crop of mosquitoes will greet anglers casting from the shore, Fuller says. "Bring bug repellant."

A dozen waters open to harvest and a new C & R opportunity

Anglers looking for a real big fish story can find one on any of the dozen or so waters open for the 2010 season, which runs Sept. 4-30. Additional season information can be found in the current Wisconsin fishing regulations

The 2010 season marks the fourth year that the minimum length for harvesting sturgeon is set at 60 inches, with a one-fish limit per season. There is a catch and release season on a stretch of the Menominee River downstream from the Hattie Street dam to Green Bay.

New this year is a catch and release season on the lower St. Croix River from St. Croix Falls Dam downstream to the Mississippi River from Oct. 1 through Oct. 15 to allow Wisconsin and Minnesota to have the same regulations for the same species. This is not reflected in the Fishing Regulations 2010-2011.

"We continue to provide people with surgeon angling opportunities," says Karl Scheidegger, a DNR fisheries biologist in Madison who co-chairs the state's sturgeon committee. "There are fish out there. With persistence and a little know-how, anglers stand a good chance of landing one of these giants."

Lake sturgeon are slow-growing, late maturing fish, with females spawning for the first time when they are 20 to 25 years old and then only every four to five years thereafter. Because females are larger than males, they are often targeted by anglers, and their overharvest can cause population declines that may take years to recover.

So to protect these vulnerable fish, the state's sturgeon management program seeks to limit harvest to 5 percent of the adults in a particular population. On some waters, harvest rates were significantly exceeding that rate.

"One of the things we wanted to try to accomplish through the regulation change was the reduction in harvest," Scheidegger says. "Clearly we've done that but we need to continue to look at how we manage sturgeon so we can improve management in all areas."

Remember to buy a harvest tag

If anglers do plan to harvest a sturgeon this season, they must purchase a harvest tag before they fish. The sturgeon harvest tag was implemented for the first time in the 2006 hook and line season. All revenues from the harvest tag sales go directly to projects dedicated to the improvement of sturgeon populations and habitats and therefore, better fishing opportunities. No tag is needed if anglers are catch and release fishing only.

The harvest tag is available throughout the season and costs $20 for residents and $50 for nonresidents. It can be can be purchased: over the Internet through the Online Licensing Center; by calling toll-free 1-877-WI LICENSE (1-877-945-4236); at license sales locations; or DNR service centers during their regular business hours (check service center link for hours of operation, which vary by service center).

Anglers who harvest a legal-size fish must immediately attach the harvest tag to the fish and take it to a registration station by 6 p.m. the next day for registration.

All anglers must have a Wisconsin general inland fishing license unless they are under 16 years old, or were born before Jan. 1, 1927. Military personnel who are Wisconsin residents and in active service but on furlough or leave are eligible to receive a free annual fishing license. They still need to purchase the $20 lake sturgeon harvest tag if they plan to keep a lake sturgeon.

Fewer Menominee River sturgeon registration stations

Of note on the Menominee River sturgeon season would be a reduction in the number of registration stations. Beginning this year there will be only four stations, two each in Wisconsin and Michigan. Those locations are:

In Wisconsin:

In Michigan:

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Dan Fuller - (608) 635-8127 or Karl Scheidegger - (608) 267-9426

Last Revised: Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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