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ARCHIVED Weekly News Published January 25, 2011

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2011 Winnebago sturgeon spearing season opens Feb. 12

Record license sales following record fish in 2010

OSHKOSH -- Record numbers of spearers are expected for the Feb. 12 opening day of the 2011 Winnebago sturgeon spearing seasons, and fish populations, increased harvest caps, and conditions are coming together for another banner year, state fish biologists say.

"There are more trophy-sized fish in the system than at any time during the last 75 years, and we've been able to raise the caps because the population has increased," says Ron Bruch, Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor in Oshkosh.

"Three weeks out, ice conditions are excellent and water clarity, fair to good now, is expected to improve. All of these factors should come together for another record-setting year in terms of increased spearing opportunities and the chance to land that really big fish."

License sales for the season set a new record at 12,423 (including the 490 sold for the Upriver Lakes fishery), reflecting the growing interest in recent years by a wider range of people attracted by the growing success of spearers and the big fish.

Last year, Ron Grishaber of Appleton set a new state record on opening day with the 212.2 pound lake sturgeon he speared, erasing the previous record by 24 pounds. Recent state harvest and sturgeon survey results suggest that there are many more big fish to be had.

Trophy lake sturgeon are typically considered to be any fish 100 pounds or larger, and historically fish this size have made up less than 1 percent of the total annual harvest. But in the last decade, the percentage of trophy fish has gradually increased over the last decade to more than 5 percent in 2010.

Regulation changes developed through a joint effort by DNR and the Winnebago Citizens Sturgeon Advisory Committee since 1993 have lead to an increase in the Winnebago lake sturgeon stock, and an increase in the number of trophy size fish in the population and, subsequently, the harvest, Bruch says.

large sturgeon
The Lake Winnebago sturgeon spearing seasons are as much about family as about big fish.
Michael Kienitz Photo

"The sturgeon harvest management system we currently have in place on the Winnebago System is a world model," Bruch says. "Key to our success is not only effective control of harvest, but also the process we use to pro-actively involve the public in our sturgeon management program - the public has great ownership and pride in this program."

In 2010, the DNR estimated there were 15,800 females and 31,700 males in the adult spawning stock. "Given these robust numbers, we have been able to raise the harvest caps again for the 2011 season which should translate into more spearing opportunities."

Water clarity and ice conditions shaping up

Spearing success in any year is ultimately affected by ice conditions and water clarity on the Winnebago lakes, and this year ice conditions are excellent and water clarity, fair to good right now, is expected to improve unless there's a warm up that leads to melting snow or rain running off into the lake.

"Three weeks out, there is about 12 feet of visibility in most areas of the lake," Bruch says. "Clear ice on the lake in early January allowed enough sunlight through to generate an under-the-ice algae bloom. The bloom appears to be diminishing, and barring another bloom or run-off event soon, spearers are hoping water clarity will improve before opening day."

Ice thickness is generally 16 to 20 inches over most of the lakes, although people traveling on the lakes need to always exercise caution and know where expansion cracks and under-ice current areas are, Bruch says.

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. Christmas trees lying on their sides mark thin or dangerous ice areas.

Season details

Bruch expects nearly all 12,000-plus spearers will be out anxiously peering down their spearing holes when spearing officially begins at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 12. Spearers are allowed to spear each day the season is open from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Sturgeon spearing regulations for the 2011 season are nearly identical to 2010. The rules are the same on Lake Winnebago as they are on the Upriver Lakes, with the exception of different harvest cap triggers and participation rules.

The Lake Winnebago season runs from Feb. 12, 2011, through Feb. 28, 2011, 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 Upriver Lakes season runs from Feb. 12, 2011, through Feb. 28, 2011 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. Participation in this season was determined by a lottery for the required sturgeon tag, with 500 people selected from among those who submitted an application by Aug. 1, 2010.

Successful lottery winners had until Oct. 31, 2010, to purchase a spearing license for the Upriver Lakes. Sturgeon spearing licenses for the Lake Winnebago season were not limited and were available to those spearers who purchased them by Oct. 31, 2010.

Spearers can only participate in the season for which they have a spearing license. A full listing of regulations for the Winnebago System sturgeon spearing season can be found on the Lake Winnebago sturgeon page of the DNR Web site or at DNR service centers.

Spectators welcome

Four generations of spearers.
Four generations of Schumachers enjoyed a successful 2010 season.
Michael Kienitz Photo

Opening weekend is especially an exciting time as the largest number of fish are typically brought in to registration stations those two days Besides spearers bringing their fish in to one of the 11 registration stations scattered around the lakes, thousands of onlookers also crowd many of the stations to catch a glimpse of the large pre-historic fish being brought in. The sturgeon spearing season lasts an average of about eight days before the harvest caps are hit, and in that short time spearers and other sturgeon enthusiasts produce an economic impact to the Winnebago region of more than $3.5 million dollars.

Sign up for e-mail sturgeon spearing updates

People can sign up for an improved e-mail subscription service or wireless updates to make it easier to learn about Winnebago system sturgeon spearing updates. Visit the Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Season 2011 page of the DNR website to sign up. Look for "Fishing Updates" and check "Sturgeon Spearing" to get the updates.

Updates will include a daily summary report from Ron Bruch, Department of Natural Resources lead sturgeon biologist, daily (and running) system harvest totals, and miscellaneous news from the day.

"If people want the information, they won't have to look for it anymore, it will find them," says Karl Scheidegger, DNR fisheries outreach leader.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Kendall Kamke, Winnebago fisheries biologist (920) 424-7880; or Ron Bruch, fisheries supervisor, (920) 424-3059.



145,500 permits issued for 2011 spring turkey hunt

Season to run April 13 through May 22

MADISON - More than 145,500 permits were recently issued for the spring 2011 Wisconsin wild turkey season through the spring turkey preference drawing. Postcard notifications to successful applicants will be going out in the mail later in the week.

Hunters who do not receive a postcard by mid-February can check on the status of their permit application online through the Department of Natural Resources Online Licensing Center or by calling the DNR Customer Call Center from 7:00 a.m. through 10:00 p.m., seven days a week, at 1-888-WDNRINFo (1-888-936-7463).

In total, 225,729 permits are available for the spring 2011 turkey season, the same number as during the 2010 spring season. Of those, 309 permits were available in State Park and Disabled Only Turkey Hunting Zones.

The spring 2011 turkey hunting season will run from April 13 through May 22. The season is divided into six 5-day time periods, each of which runs from Wednesday through Sunday. A total of 7 zones, 15 state parks, and Fort McCoy will be open for hunting. Hunters are reminded that Fort McCoy runs a separate spring turkey hunting season, different from the State of Wisconsin spring turkey hunt. Hunters that do not receive an approval to hunt turkeys through the state drawing in a Wisconsin turkey hunting zone for the 2011 spring season are eligible to apply for a spring permit at Fort McCoy. Applications can be obtained from Fort McCoy by calling (608) 388-3337 or by visiting their website at (exit DNR).

Hunters harvested 47,722 turkeys during the 2010 spring season. Final harvest numbers for the 2010 fall season will be published in the 2010 Wisconsin Big Game Hunting Summary in the spring of 2011.

Youth Turkey Hunt set for April 9 and 10
Mentored Hunting Program expands opportunities for youth ages 10 & 11 to participate

The Spring Turkey Youth Hunt was created in 2007 to provide youth under the age of 16 with an opportunity to hunt turkeys and gain valuable hunting experience by working closely with an experienced mentor before the regular season opens. Youth ages 12-15 who have already completed Hunter Education may hunt during the Youth Hunt while accompanied by an adult aged 18 or older. Thanks to the Mentored Hunting Program that took effect in the fall of 2009, youth hunters aged 10 and 11 may now also participate in the 2011 Youth Turkey Hunt without first having completed Hunter Education as long as they do so with a qualified adult mentor and follow the rules laid out under the laws of the program. Each youth must have a valid spring 2011 turkey harvest permit, license, and Wild Turkey Stamp.

Youth are allowed to hunt on April 9 and 10 in the Turkey Management Zone for which their permit is valid, regardless of the time period for which their permit is issued, and may harvest only one male or bearded turkey during the two-day hunt. Youths who do not successfully harvest a turkey during the two-day Youth Hunt may use their unfilled permit during the time period and in the zone for which the permit was issued. All other spring turkey hunting regulations apply. More information on the Spring Turkey Youth Hunt and the Mentored Hunting Program is available on the DNR website.

Free Turkey Hunter Education Clinics offered statewide starting in late February

Free Turkey Hunter Education Clinics will again be offered this year around the state. These free clinics are presented by volunteer instructors and are sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Clinics typically last two to three hours and are designed to cover wild turkey biology and behavior, hunting methods, regulations, safety precautions, and landowner / hunter ethics, as well as tips for scoring trophy birds and a few ideas for preparing turkeys at home. The Turkey Hunter Education Clinics are for all ages and experience levels from beginning turkey hunters interested in learning wild turkey hunting techniques to experienced wild turkey hunters looking to brush up on their skills and learn new techniques.

These clinics will be held from late February through late March. Information and a listing of the dates and locations for each clinic will be available soon on the wild turkey page of the DNR website or may be obtained by calling the DNR Customer Call Center from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m., seven days a week, at 1-888-WDNRINFo (1-888-936-7463). For the latest additions or changes in the schedule, please refer to the DNR website.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Walter - (608) 267-7861, Krista McGinley - (608) 264-8963 or Sharon Fandel - (608) 261-8458



Leftover spring turkey permits go on sale March 21

MADISON - Remaining permits for the 2011 spring turkey hunting season will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis starting March 21. Leftover permits will be first issued for sale by zone, one zone per day, with each zone having a designated sales date.

In total, 225,729 permits were available for the spring 2011 turkey season. More than 145,500 permits were issued to hunters who applied for permits by the Dec. 10, 2010 application deadline, leaving just more than 80,000 permits available after the drawing.

Hunters should check the turkey zone map (pdf) to verify where they want to hunt and then check the turkey permit availability page to see if permits are available for the period and zone in which they wish to hunt.

Leftover spring turkey permit sales will be held on a zone-per-day basis for five consecutive days, with customers able to purchase one permit per day. Sales will start at 10:00 a.m. on March 21 and will continue through midnight each day, or until permits are sold out. Any remaining leftover permits for all zones will go on sale Saturday, March 26, and will continue until sold out or the season ends.

The following zones have leftover permits, and the scheduled sales dates are as follows:

A limited number of disabled-only turkey permits for state park areas is available among the leftover permits. Disabled hunters who have been issued either a Class A or Class C Disabled Hunter Permit should visit a DNR Service Center or call the DNR Customer Call Center at 1-888-WDNRINFo (1-888-936-7463) beginning on March 21st after 10:00 a.m. to purchase one of these permits.

The fee for turkey permits is $10 for residents and $15 for non-residents. All hunters will also be required to purchase a spring turkey license and 2011 Wild Turkey Stamp, unless they have previously purchased the license and stamp or are a 2011 Conservation Patron License holder. Residents and non-residents will have equal opportunity to purchase over-the-counter permits. Purchasing these permits will not affect preference point status for future spring or fall turkey permit drawings.

Leftover permits can be purchased through the Online Licensing Center on the DNR website, at all authorized license agents, at DNR Service Centers (Hours for service centers vary; check the DNR website for service center days and hours of operation; DNR Service Centers are not open on Saturdays), or by calling toll-free 1-877-LICENSE (1-877-945-4236). Hunters should have their DNR customer ID number ready. Hunters with any questions about when or how to buy permits may call the DNR Customer Call Center from 7 a.m. through 10 p.m., seven days a week, at 1-888-WDNRINFo (1-888-936-7463).

As a reminder, the spring 2011 turkey hunting season will run from April 13 through May 22. The season is divided into six, 5-day time periods, each of which runs from Wednesday through Sunday.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Walter - (608) 267-7861, Krista McGinley - (608) 264-8963 or Sharon Fandel - (608) 261-8458



Final mission of state Great Lakes research vessel finds low numbers of yellow perch

MILWAUKEE -- The last mission of the state research vessel Barney Devine was a melancholy one: its annual search for yellow perch turned up low numbers of the fish fry favorite, heavy ice cover in Sturgeon Bay resulted in a small hole in the vessel's hull that let on water, and the crew was having a hard time saying goodbye.

The Department of Natural Resources plans to retire the 74-year-old boat from active duty when its replacement, the Coregonus, is delivered later this spring. Burger Boat Company in Manitowoc is building the 60-foot RV Coregonus to replace the Barney Devine, which has become technologically obsolete and is facing increased maintenance costs.

"For the crew here in Sturgeon Bay, the boat isn't gone yet but when it disappears it will be like a part of everyone's life is gone," said Brandon Bastar, who captains the Barney Devine.

The vessel steamed out of Milwaukee Harbor on Dec. 8 and 9 and again on Dec. 15, 16, 17, for one last netting survey aimed at looking for yellow perch of all ages.

"This is the time of year where we don't see the fish segregate by size or sex. We think it's the best time to get an idea of number, size, sex ratio and age composition of the perch population," says Brad Eggold, fisheries supervisor for southern Lake Michigan, who was on the vessel. "Unfortunately, we caught a lot fewer fish than previous years."

Over the past five years, DNR's December yellow perch surveys had netted about 1,000 or more fish per survey; in December 2010, that number was only in the high 200s, Eggold says.

"So we were quite a bit down," he says. "We were in the same spot, same location, same time as past years, so there's nothing to explain the numbers drop in terms of our sampling."

More worrisome than a one-year drop in numbers is that the nets were virtually devoid of any small fish from the last few years of natural reproduction, even though some of those years saw bumper crops of young fish hatched.

"We didn't really see any small fish from the last couple of year classes," Eggold says. "We're seeing fish from the 2005 year-class and some from 2002."

For some reason, while other DNR surveys show that yellow perch seem to be reproducing in good numbers, the young fish aren't surviving to their second or third year. For example, beach seine and micromesh gill net surveys in August and September 2005 of fish born earlier that spring found the largest number of yellow perch ever. But that hasn't translated into the largest year-class ever. Likewise, August 2009 surveys saw pretty good numbers in the nets, "but we're not seeing them in this assessment," Eggold says.

"We updated all the yellow perch models and data, and looked at it all over the course of several meetings in 2010 and came to the conclusion that we were not going to make any changes to bag limits or to the closed commercial season," Eggold says. "Population is lower than it had been historically, and while the adult population still seems to be relatively stable, there is a lack of young fish coming up, certainly not enough to have a higher bag."

Eggold says there's a lot of speculation that the failure of perch hatched in the spring to survive to the next spring and beyond is tied to fishes' difficulty in finding enough food. "Food availability is nowhere near what it was back in the 1980s when you saw large year classes being produced over a 10-year span."

Quagga mussels, an invasive aquatic species that now carpets the bottom of Lake Michigan, are believed to be a huge factor in yellow perch sustainability. "It is number one on the list" of why food availability for these young fish has decreased, he says.

Quagga mussels, which feed on plankton at the base of the food chain, are closely related to another invader, the zebra mussel. Both are native to the Caspian Sea in Eurasia and both most likely arrived as stowaways in the ballast water of ocean going ships. Zebra mussels were first found in Wisconsin's Lake Michigan waters in the late 1980s, and quaggas within the last decade.

Quagga mussels are considered even more damaging than zebra mussels because they can live in a wider range of water temperatures, water depths, and they feed all year, even in winter when zebra mussels lie dormant. In fact, in Lake Michigan, quagga mussels have essentially outcompeted and displaced zebra mussels in the last few years.

DNR and counterpart agencies around Lake Michigan started detecting very few small fish nearly 20 years ago. And while the number of adult female yellow perch has been recovering and there have been some years with good, even great natural reproduction, the number of fish surviving to catchable size is not improving.



Last Mission of the RV Barney Devine

The 74-year-old RV Barney Devine steamed out of Milwaukee Harbor in December for one last netting survey aimed at looking for yellow perch of all ages.


    RV Barney Devine breaking through ice in Sturgeon Bay


    A view from the pilot house


    Cheryl Peterson, fisheries technician from Milwaukee tries her hand at piloting the boat


    Dave Schindelholz, Brad Eggold, Pradeep Hirethota, and Cheryl Peterson pose for one last picture on the Barney Devine


    A look at sea conditions off Milwaukee during Barney's last yellow perch assessment


    "Pancake ice" two miles offshore


    Staff buoy showing the location of yellow perch nets


    Dick Pagel, retired captain of the RV Barney Devine holds down the fort


    Fisheries technician, Dave Schindelholz, boxes yellow perch nets under the watchful eye of Captain Dick Pagel


    Dick Pagel and Dave Schindelholz stop to pose for a picture


    Tim Kroeff, fisheries technician, monitors the setting of the yellow perch gill net


    The crew picks out fish from the net as it comes out of the water


    Research Vessel Captain, Brandon Bastar, holds a trophy-sized yellow perch


    Dick Pagel, Brad Eggold, Cheryl Peterson, Tim Kroeff, Brandon Bastar and Pradeep Hirethota take some time for a group photo during one of the last surveys


    The RV Barney Devine makes its way through the ice


    Ken Royseck, fisheries technician; Scott Hansen, fisheries biologist; and Pat McKee, fisheries technician, gather round to bring in the RV Barney Devine from its last mission.


    The RV Barney Devine gets tied up at the WATER Institute in Milwaukee


    Crew for one of the last trips onboard the RV Barney Devine after the cruise: Pradeep Hirethota, Brad Eggold, Dave Schindelholz, Brandon Bastar, Dick Pagel, Cheryl Peterson and Tim Kroeff




State game farm accepting applications for 2011 pheasant chick program

POYNETTE, Wis. - Wisconsin conservation clubs have until March 5 to apply to participate in a program where clubs help the Department of Natural Resources rear pheasant chicks from the State Game Farm for later release on public and private hunting lands.

The Cooperative Day-old Chick Program has been in place since 1936 to increase opportunities for pheasant hunting across the state. Under the program, cooperating conservation clubs are provided day-old rooster pheasant chicks hatched at the State Game Farm near Poynette. In return, the clubs agree to cover all costs related to rearing, feeding, maintaining and properly caring for the pheasant chicks.

The pheasants are later released near the club on private and state-owned lands that are open to public pheasant hunting. The program includes a "cost-share" option that allows cooperating clubs to keep a high percentage of the pheasants they raise for their own use, while returning a percentage of the birds back to the state.

"This program is an excellent opportunity to provide pheasant hunting opportunities in addition to the department's public hunting ground pheasant stocking program," says Bob Nack, State Game Farm manager. "We really enjoy working with clubs on this."

A list of current cooperating conservation clubs, Future Farmer's of America programs, and application materials to become a cooperating club are available on the State Game Farm page of the DNR website or by calling the State Game Farm office at (608) 635-8120. 2011 Day-Old-Chick program applications should be sent to the local wildlife biologist by March 5, 2011.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Bob Nack, State Game Farm Manager, (608) 635-8120



Timber wolf tracking and ecology clinic offered

BABCOCK, Wis. - People interested in learning more about gray wolf ecology can attend a Timber Wolf Ecology Clinic at the Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 19-20.

Area biologists and volunteers from the Timber Wolf Information Network have teamed up to provide instruction on aspects of wolf ecology, including status, population biology and field study techniques. Saturday afternoon will be spent outdoors exploring wolf habitat.

Registration is limited to 25 people ages 12 and up on a first-come, first-served basis. Register by mailing in $80 per person by Feb. 9. This fee includes instructional fees, transportation on Saturday afternoon, Saturday supper and Sunday lunch, and Saturday evening dorm use. The clinic runs from 9 a.m. Saturday to noon on Sunday.

Checks should be made out to DNR-Skills Center. Include the name of each participant, and the address and daytime phone number of one person in each party. Participants may stay in the center's dorm on Friday evening for a donation of $15 per person per night. Send your registration fee to: Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center, PO Box 156, Babcock, WI 54413. Inquiries on the status of registrations may be sent via e-mail to:

The Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center] is located 20 miles west of Wisconsin Rapids on County Highway X, 1 mile north of Highway 80 near Babcock, Wisconsin on the 9,000 acre Department of Natural Resources Sandhill Wildlife Area.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Sandhill Skills Center at: (715) 884-6333 or (715) 884-2437


Read more: Previous Weekly News

Last Revised: Tuesday, January 25, 2011

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