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February 7, 2012

OSHKOSH, Wis. - Sturgeon spearers anxious to start the season this Saturday are urged to check with local clubs and sport shops around Lake Winnebago and the Upper River Lakes for the latest information on ice conditions and to keep safety as the top priority when participating in this year's season.

Sturgeon Spearing
Four generations of Schumachers -- three pictured here -- gather every year for sturgeon spearing season. See DNR's multi-media sturgeon spearing news feature for more photos, videos and stories.
WDNR Photo

As of Monday, the thickness ranged from 3 to 13 inches - and it has been constantly changing thanks to temperature fluctuations, runoff and wind. Department of Natural Resource conservation wardens in the spearing region credit local fishing clubs members for checking ice conditions and thickness.

Despite poor ice conditions now, the spearing season is set and goes on as scheduled, according to Ron Bruch, DNR sturgeon biologist as Oshkosh. The long-range forecast over the possible 16-day season (if spearers do not reach a harvest cap that would close the season earlier) includes colder temperatures that could improve ice conditions.

"Working with the public, Natural Resources Board, and the legislature, the DNR sets the seasons for fishing and hunting," Bruch says. "The anglers, spearers, and hunters who participate in these seasons are responsible for their own actions in the pursuit of their sport. Sportsmen and women make their own decisions, and may elect not to go out on the lakes to fish during thunderstorms, to hunt during ice storms, nor to spear or ice-fish on marginal or dangerous ice. Make sure you use good judgment when going out there."

Winds can cause ice shifts which, in turn, cause cracks in the ice. Water flow from creeks that are running also help to weaken ice in spots.

"It is hard to put out an accurate report because of these changing conditions," DNR Warden Supervisor April Dombrowski of Oshkosh said. "The bottom line is to be careful and get information from locals in the know before venturing on to the ice."

Todd Schaller, DNR recreation safety chief, says the ice is always unpredictable, but this year because of the warmer Wisconsin winter it's worse.

"It is important that spearers use caution if they choose to venture out," Schaller said, adding sturgeon spearing is a social event attracting family, friends and observers. "If ice thickness is unknown, stay on the shore and stay dry. You can enjoy the winter and stay safe at the same time.

Schaller says follow these safety tips if you do intend to go out on the ice for sturgeon - or other ice-fishing.

How to dress

Dress for the conditions. That means the proper clothing and equipment. Please include a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Personal Flotation Device (vest or coat) that will help you stay afloat and slow body heat loss should you fall in. Extra mittens and gloves should be standard so you always have a dry pair. Wear ice creepers on your boots to prevent slips.

Before you go

Contact local sport shops of fishing clubs to ask about ice conditions in the area you plan to travel or fish. Learn about the water you are going to use. Know if the lake has inlets, outlets or narrows that have currents known to thin the ice.

When you go

Do not go out alone. If you do, carry a cell phone and let someone know where you are and your expected return time. Follow that timeline.

Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas during daylight only. Carry a couple of spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull yourself - or others - out of the ice.

Do not travel in unfamiliar territories, especially at night.

Watch out

Watch out for pressure ridges, cracks or ice heaves. These can be dangerous due to thin, unstable ice and open water, and may be an obstruction to a car, truck or snowmobile.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Todd Schaller, DNR recreation safety chief, 608-267-2774

Last Revised: Tuesday, February 07, 2012

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