August 21, 2012
POYNETTE - The hook and line sturgeon season opens Sept. 1, 2012, on select major rivers and lakes and promises a great opportunity to reel in the fish of a lifetime as sturgeon numbers and size are improving, fish biologists report.
A Poynette man and his daughter reported catching and releasing a sturgeon that they measured at 86 inches in March while catfishing on Lake Wisconsin and last year, an 82-inch fish was harvested from the Lower Chippewa River.
"The 60-inch minimum length limit seems to be helping keep the sturgeon numbers strong and allow more of these fish to grow larger, reproduce, and continue to contribute to the fishery," says Karl Scheidegger, co-chair of the Department of Natural Resources sturgeon management team. "Anglers should find lots of great catch and release opportunities and a few harvest opportunities as well on those waters open to sturgeon fishing."
The 60-inch limit was enacted in 2007 when harvest rates on some populations 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. Overharvest can cause population declines that take years to recover from.
Heath Benike, fisheries biologist stationed in Eau Claire, says that recent surveys confirm that a large number of sturgeon just under the 60-inch minimum length limit are present in Lower Chippewa River. "Catch and release sturgeon fishing is growing in popularity locally and anglers who just enjoy catching sturgeon and not necessarily harvesting sturgeon will find sturgeon fishing good to excellent on this stretch of river," he says.
Nate Nye, fisheries biologist stationed in Poynette, notes that yearly population estimates for the Prairie Du Sac Dam tailwater from 2008 to 2011 have ranged from 125 to 225 fish. The fishery can vary based on environmental conditions like river levels, weather, etc., the number of people fishing for sturgeon, and the number of fish actually present in the tailwater area.
"Fishing in early September may actually be better on Lake Wisconsin with the Prairie du Sac fishery improving later as water temperatures cool off and flows increase, bringing fish into the lower Wisconsin River from the Mississippi," he says.
More season details
The hook and line season is open Sept. 1 - 30 on segments of the Chippewa River, the Flambeau River, Butternut Lake in Price County, segments of the Jump River in Rusk County, Yellow Lake, Little Yellow Lake, Danbury Flowage, and the Yellow River from Yellow Lake downstream to the Danbury Dam (Burnett Co.) and the Wisconsin River downstream from the Wisconsin Dells Dam. For specific listings of the river segments open to harvest, please consult the Wisconsin fishing seasons: Lake sturgeon web page.
There is a minimum length limit of 60 inches and a bag limit of 1 per season.
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. 1-30.
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 on the boundary water for sturgeon.
All anglers must have a Wisconsin general inland fishing license unless they are under 16 years old, or were born before Jan. 1, 1927. Active military personnel who are Wisconsin residents and in active service but on furlough or leave are eligible to receive a free annual fishing license.
Anglers who do plan to harvest a sturgeon this season 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.
Anglers who harvest a legal-size fish must immediately attach the harvest tag to the fish. All harvested sturgeon must be registered at a registration station by 6 p.m. the next day.
Lake sturgeon populations are strong on the lower Chippewa River from the Holcombe Flowage downstream to Lake Pepin. In 2011, 13 lake sturgeon were harvested from this stretch of river with the largest fish measuring 82 inches in length. This is the largest number of legal length fish harvested since the 60 inch minimum length limit went into effect in 2007. In addition, many anglers report catching and releasing large numbers of sub-legal fish in the mid-upper 50 inch range and recent DNR fish surveys confirm that a large number of sturgeon just under the 60 inch minimum length limit are present in the fishery at this time. Catch and release sturgeon fishing is growing in popularity locally and anglers who just enjoy catching sturgeon and not necessarily harvesting sturgeon will find sturgeon fishing good to excellent on this stretch of river. Anglers who harvest fish: note new registration location hours at some stations. - Heath Benike, fisheries biologist, Eau Claire
Anglers have opportunities to harvest lake sturgeon this fall on Lake Wisconsin and the lower Wisconsin River. In recent years most of the angler catch has been concentrated below the Prairie du Sac Dam on the Wisconsin River. Specifically Prairie du Sac fishery concentrates from the dam tailwater down to the US-12 Bridge. Anglers can access the river by boat in Prairie du Sac from the VFW boat launch, and may fish from shore as well from the Village Park on VFW Drive. Shore fishing access to the tailwater may be gained by walking down the bank from a parking lot on Dam Rd. off of Highway 78 just north of Prairie du Sac.
In Lake Wisconsin, anglers have historically concentrated in the area around Tipperary Point, and in the Dells anglers will focus their effort between the Kilbourn Dam tailwater on the Wisconsin River downstream to Hawk's Beak.
Radio telemetry data collected in late July 2012 showed that most of the sturgeon that were tagged on the lower Wisconsin River were still in the Mississippi River. Fishing in the early part of the season may actually be better on Lake Wisconsin with the Prairie du Sac fishery improving later as water temperatures cool off and flows increase, bringing fish into the lower Wisconsin River from the Mississippi River.
The 60-inch minimum length limit seems to be helping and sturgeon numbers in the lower Wisconsin River remain strong. Since implementation of the 60-inch minimum in 2007, harvest at Prairie du Sac has averaged 8 sturgeon per year and we expect somewhere between 5 and 15 sturgeon to be harvested again in 2012. Harvest on Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River in the Wisconsin Dells has been lower in recent years, but sturgeon numbers in the system remain strong. We expect anywhere from zero to 5 sturgeon to be harvested from Lake Wisconsin and the Dells area in 2012. - Nate Nye, fisheries biologist, Poynette
The forecast for the Menominee River remains the same as for last year: plenty of catch and release action and a few legal fish available. Just soak some crawlers in the deep holes. - Mike Donofrio, fisheries supervisor, Peshtigo
The lake sturgeon population on Yellow Lake is showing many positive signs of recovering from over-harvest and poor reproduction in the 1920s through the 1950s. Research suggests lake sturgeon on Yellow Lake would require more than 60 years to attain their maximum size potential. Increasing numbers of these older fish are being found in Yellow Lake surveys. As these fish continue to grow, anglers may start catching some of these exceptionally large fish in upcoming years. - Jamison Wendel, fisheries biologist, Spooner
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Karl Scheidegger, (608) 267-9426; Heath Benike, (715) 839-2877; Mike Donofrio, (715) 582-5050; Nate Nye (608)635-8122