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August 23, 2011

"Excellent" fishing forecast for some waters

MADISON -- Anglers looking for a unique fishing opportunity don't have to look far. The 2011 hook and line season for sturgeon season opens Sept. 3 on about a dozen waters statewide and gives anglers the chance to reel in one of Wisconsin's largest and oldest fish.

The opening date is wrong in the Guide to Wisconsin Hook and Line Fishing Regulations 2011-2012, anglers should note, and Sept. 3 is the correct opening day.

Lake sturgeon can grow to more than 200 pounds and live more than 100 years. The 2011 season marks the fifth year that the minimum length for harvesting sturgeon is set at 60 inches, with a one-fish limit per season. The season runs through Sept. 30, 2011.

There is a catch and release season only on a stretch of the Menominee River downstream from the Hattie Street dam to Green Bay from Sept. 3-30.

And anglers will find an extra catch-and-release opportunity on the lower St. Croix River from St. Croix Falls Dam downstream to the Mississippi River from Oct. 1 through Oct. 15. This catch-and-release season allows Wisconsin and Minnesota to have the same regulations for the same species.

There are signs that the 60-inch length limit Wisconsin put in place is working to increase fish size and protect the vulnerable female population on some waters, fisheries biologists say.

"Sturgeon fishing on the Chippewa River in Chippewa and Eau Claire counties should be good to excellent," says Heath Benike, fisheries biologist for those counties.

"Sturgeon surveys conducted this field season on the Chippewa River in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties showed that 10 percent of the lake sturgeon captured were over 60 inches in length."

The largest lake sturgeon was just over 67 inches and weighed almost 60 pounds. There also are a good number of mid- to upper-50 inch fish that will be available for anglers who prefer catch and release angling, Benike says.

The length limit is also helping boost the sturgeon population in the upper Menominee River, according to Mike Donofrio, fisheries supervisor in Peshtigo. "Our assessment indicates likely very few sturgeon over 60 inches in the upper Menominee river but for those anglers interested in catch and release, the population estimate of sturgeon over 50 inches from the White Rapids dam to the Upper Scott dam is more than 1,000."

Sturgeon fishing on Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay should be good this fall and into the ice fishing season consistent with previous years, according to Peter Stevens, Lake Superior fisheries team supervisor. Stevens says 30 percent of sturgeon captured in spring surveys were larger than 50 inches with the largest fish coming in at a little over 64 inches and about 68 pounds. Surveys continue to show good recruitment with the bulk of the fish in the 30 to 40 inch range.

"Catch per hours of effort continues to show a steady upward trend, indicating that the best days of fishing may still be in front of us," Stevens said.

The Lower Wisconsin River and Lake Wisconsin both support healthy populations of lake sturgeon. Previous to the implementation of the 60 inch size limit the harvest would often exceed 30 percent of the estimated adult population, according to David Rowe, DNR fisheries biologist at Poynette.

"With the higher size limit harvest has been maintained below the 5 percent safe harvest limit except for 2010 when harvest was estimated at 6 percent," Rowe said. "There appear to be many fish between 50 and 60 inches as observed in spring and fall gillnet surveys and fishing should continue to be good for these big river wanderers. There are several radio tagged lake sturgeon in the Lower Wisconsin River and we continue to follow their movements from the Mississippi River and deep water habitat where they spend the summer, through their long swim back up the river this fall and begin to stage for spawning next spring."

The 60-inch limit was enacted because harvest rates on some waters were significantly above 5 percent, the level of harvest DNR considers safe. 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.

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.

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.

Additional Menominee River sturgeon registration station

Of note on the Menominee River sturgeon season is that one more registration station has been added on the Wisconsin side this year. A complete list of lake sturgeon registration stations is available on the hook and line sturgeon fishing page of the DNR website.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Karl Scheidegger, (608) 267-9426; Heath Benike, (715) 839-2877; Mike Donofrio, (715) 582-5050

Last Revised: Tuesday, August 23, 2011

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