Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing
Planning Ahead: The 2024 Spearing Season
The spearing season begins on the second Saturday in February and lasts for 16 days or until any of the sex-specific harvest caps for that fishery have been reached. The 2024 sturgeon spearing season will open on Feb. 10 at 7 a.m. and close on Feb. 25 unless one of the harvest caps is reached earlier.
Spearers can fish from 7 a.m.-1 p.m. each day the fishery is open and is required to register their fish at a DNR-operated registration station by 2 p.m. of the same day the fish is harvested. Length, weight, sex and tagging information are collected from each registered fish, which is used to determine season length.
2024 Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Regulations
Review the 2024 Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Regulations for the upcoming season.
Important information for the 2023 season
- Lake Winnebago Water Clarity
Water clarity is one of the strongest predictors of lake sturgeon harvest in the Winnebago System during the spearing season. The latest water clarity report is available for review: Lake Winnebago Water Clarity Report, 2023.
- Sturgeon Registration Stations in 2023
Registration Stations – Registration stations have returned to pre-pandemic locations, and some will have drive-thru options. To help with the registration process, the DNR asks that all harvested sturgeon be placed on the tailgate or in an easily accessible location. Please follow the signs and cones at each registration station to ensure a smooth registration. Locations with drive-thru options are marked in red.
- Sturgeon Season Photos
Season Photos – Sturgeon spearing in Wisconsin is a sport rich in tradition. The DNR would love to see your highlights of the season. Photos of spearers with their catch, cutting in, shanty life, scenic views observed during the season or any other captivating spearing traditions are encouraged. Please include a brief description for use in future outreach efforts. Please send us your photos using this photo submission form.
2023 Spearing Season Summary
- Feb. 26, 2023
This is it; today, we wrapped up the 2023 sturgeon spearing season! The last day continued to prove to be exciting on Lake Winnebago with cold weather and sunshine. On this final day of the season, 53 Lake Sturgeon were harvested (4 juvenile females, 29 adult females and 20 males). Josh Ausloos speared the final "biggest fish of the day" for this season, a 106.9 pound, 75.4 inches F1 female registered at the Pipe registration station.
This season was one for the books, with a variety of weather patterns packed into a short 16 days: warm weather, rain and a winter storm. It has not made it the easiest season for spearers to navigate. On opening weekend, only about 3,000 ice shanties were counted. This is half of what was counted in 2022. But for those that found safe ice, the fish were there and seemed to be plentiful. For the season, 1,405 fish were harvested on the entire Winnebago system (155 juvenile females, 599 adult females and 651 males). For comparison, 1,519 fish were harvested in 2022 when ice conditions were ideal.
The southeast corner of Lake Winnebago saw the highest harvest for the season. The Pipe registration station took the lead in the number of fish registered on opening weekend with 124 fish and has consistently had the highest registration numbers throughout the season with a final count of 399 fish. The Southwest Winnebago and Stockbridge registration stations both had the next most fish registered at just about 200 fish each.
There were plenty of big fish to see this season, with 46 fish over 100 pounds for the season (9 fish from the Upriver Lakes and 37 fish from Lake Winnebago). The largest fish this season was a 177.3 pound, 79.9 inches F4 female that was speared on Lake Winnebago and registered at the Southwest Winnebago registration station.
We hope every spearer had a great season. It was great seeing everyone back at the regular registration stations; we enjoyed being able to celebrate with you and hear your spearing stories.
Congrats to everyone who successfully speared a fish. We can't wait to see everyone out on the ice next year.
- Feb. 25, 2023
Many spearers took to the ice to enjoy the last two days of the season. It was nice to see families and friends taking advantage of the last weekend of this spearing season. Today, 29 fish were harvested on Lake Winnebago with 3 juvenile females, 15 adult females and 11 males. Pipe continues to put up big registration numbers, with more fish registered today (18 fish) than the other shacks combined.
Two fish today were registered over 100 pounds. Both came from the Pipe registration shack, including the fish speared by Alex Wilkens at 101.6 lbs. (a 66.5-inch, F2 female).
With so many big fish registered this year, many might have noticed that these larger individuals look slightly different from younger Lake Sturgeon in the population. When sturgeon are young, they have sharp scutes along their bodies that are modified scales used for protection. As sturgeon grow to larger sizes, such as the 100-pound fish we see during the spearing season, they do not need protection from these scutes. These scutes will then wear down and either fall off or, as the lake sturgeon gets larger, the skin will envelop the scute. While other species of sturgeon, such as Atlantic and Gulf sturgeon, have scutes, these sturgeon will keep the scutes for their lifetime. Unlike Lake Sturgeon, these species have to contend with large predators such as sharks even after they grow too big sizes.
There is only one more day for the 2023 sturgeon spearing season for anyone who has not yet filled their harvest tag for Lake Winnebago.
- Feb. 24, 2023
As the snow passes and the sun comes out, spearers are starting to take to the ice again. It was another slow day with 11 fish harvested on Lake Winnebago – no juvenile females, 5 adult females and 6 males. In total, 115 juvenile females have been harvested, 481 adult females, and 442 males on Lake Winnebago. Southwest Winnebago had four fish registered, the highest on the lake today. The big fish for the day was an 87.6 lbs., 72.8-inch M2 male speared by Aaron Muche.
Although a cold weather spell brought lots of snow, spring is just around the corner. As the spearing season wraps up, many of the sturgeon ready to spawn this year are going to look towards the Upriver Lakes and the Wolf River to prepare for their migration. Like many of us, Lake Sturgeon is looking for warmer spring weather. That warmer weather isn't the only thing that triggers them to begin their migration upriver to their spawning grounds; higher water flows in the spring from rain and winter run-off are also major triggers.
For those who are still enjoying the winter and spearing season, good luck this weekend. Be safe!
- Feb. 23, 2023
Only 7 fish were harvested from Lake Winnebago today, with 1 juvenile female, 3 adult females and 3 males. The snow and winter weather likely caused the slow spearing day. This makes a total of 1,027 Lake Sturgeon harvested for Lake Winnebago. Father and son duo Paul and Eli Muche both speared big fish during this snowy Thursday. Paul registered a 91.3-pound, 68.8-inch, F1 female, while his son, Eli, nabbed a bigger fish at 111.2 pounds, 74.7 inches, F1 female.
As we approach the weekend, we wish all the spearers luck.
- Feb. 22, 2023
Despite the impending winter storm, a few anglers made it out on the ice Wednesday. Only 7 fish were harvested, with 0 juvenile females, 3 adult females and 4 males. This was the lowest harvest day this season, bringing the total to 1,020 Lake Sturgeon harvested for Lake Winnebago and 1,305 for the entire Winnebago system so far this season. The largest fish harvested today was an 81.1-pound male, 64.5 inches long. It was speared by Jackson Goldapske and registered at the Southwest Winnebago station.
As part of the registration process, the DNR is looking for Lake Sturgeon that have been previously tagged. Particularly those that are tagged during the spring sturgeon spawn. These Passive Integrated Transponders, or PIT tags, used by the DNR are about the size of a grain of rice and inserted just behind the fish's head. This tag has no battery, a distinct 15-digit ID number and will last practically forever. The DNR tries to tag as many Lake Sturgeon during the spring with these PIT tags as possible. It is the proportion of Lake Sturgeon harvested that have these tags from the spring to the sturgeon harvested that do not have tags that help the DNR understand the general population size of Lake Sturgeon in the system. Since around the 2000s, the DNR has tagged over 20,000 fish with these PIT tags in the Winnebago system.
With more snow coming, we will see what weather conditions have in store for the Winnebago spearers. Be safe if you are headed back out onto the ice.
In 2004, the DNR partnered with multiple conservation groups to create a network of acoustic telemetry receivers to track sturgeon movements within the rivers, lakes and tributaries of the Winnebago System.
From these movement data, we can answer questions about seasonal migrations, river residency and spawning habits. This array expanded from 22 receivers in just the Wolf River in 2004 to more than 60 as of 2022 throughout the entire Winnebago system, including Lake Winnebago and the upper and parts of the lower Fox River.
The partnerships we have with the spearing community, the funding generated from sturgeon spearing and the donations from various sportsman's groups have made our movement, or "telemetry," program possible.
We look forward to what we'll learn from the years of tracking individual fish in the Lake Winnebago System.
- Feb. 21, 2023
Tuesday was another nice day on the ice with sunshine and cold weather. On Lake Winnebago, 21 fish were harvested with three juvenile females, nine adult females and nine males. This makes 1,298 lake sturgeon harvested for the entire Winnebago system so far this season. The Pipe registration station continues to have the highest daily harvest, with 11 fish and 354 fish for the season. One of the nine fish was the 90.7 lbs., 77.9-inch F1 female speared by Russel Gulig.
The DNR biologists report that many lake sturgeon stomachs are full of Gizzard Shad. This small, oily forage fish has a drastic boom and bust population cycle in Lake Winnebago. Gizzard Shad are not native to Lake Winnebago and do not tolerate the freezing winters well. When Gizzard Shad populations are plentiful, they prove to be a good food source for the Lake Sturgeon. The Gizzard Shad population during the Winnebago trawl assessment saw a small uptick in densities but nothing compared to previous boom years. Yet both spearers and biologists report good numbers of shad within sturgeon stomachs, particularly in the southern portion of the lake. Years with good Gizzard Shad populations correlate with years when Lake Sturgeon increased weight due to the fat deposits from this fatty forage source. It will be interesting to see what the warmer weather this winter does for the Gizzard Shad populations in Lake Winnebago, and if it influences the number of large, heavy lake sturgeon we see next spearing season.
Congrats again to all our spearers. With the wintery weather expected for the next few days, please be safe on the roads as you travel to Lake Winnebago and while out on the ice.
Young of year Gizzard Shad abundances in Lake Winnebago during the Lake Winnebago trawl assessment.
Because of intensive management efforts and countless habitat improvement projects, many of the lake sturgeon in the Winnebago system has the potential to live long lives.
In 2022, the longest fish speared was an 83.6-inch female weighing 157.5 pounds. This lake sturgeon was approximately 83 years old and had lived through a lot.
During her first few years, she grew and thrived while World War II was waging in Europe. By the end of World War II in 1945, she grew to be an estimated 31 inches. As she continued to grow, she swam through the Winnebago System for about 13 years, dodging the set lines on the Upper River lakes until 1952, when set lining was eliminated. At 30 years old, she was most likely enjoying the warmth and searching for some tasty chironomids below the water's surface in 1969, the same time Neil Armstrong was looking down on Earth, becoming the first man to walk on the moon.
DNR staff have conducted an annual spring spawn survey since 1975. Although this female sturgeon was about 36, well within spawning age and spawning every four to five years, she was never handled or pit tagged by the DNR during the annual spawn surveys.
While she stayed off the DNR's radar during this time, in 1977, Sturgeon for Tomorrow's founders were creating an organization to protect her and other Winnebago sturgeon. In 1979, the same year ESPN launched its cable network, the first successful efforts to propagate lake sturgeon artificially occurred. These efforts have helped strengthen and grow sturgeon populations nationwide, including Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.
In her 40s, she started to see the technological advancements ice fishing anglers were using in the lake. In 1980, she saw the introduction of the first flip-top portable canvas ice shanty. Then, in her 50s, the lake began rumbling as the first fuel-injected snowmobile took to the ice in 1991.
She showed how she could persevere through challenges as a 'dinosaur fish' when she endured a deadly heat wave in 1995. The heat index ranged from 120-128°F during the summer, some of Wisconsin's highest temperatures recorded.
At the start of the new millennium, at about 60 years old and roughly 74 inches long, she started to feel vibrations from the music playing around the lake after the convenience of the iPod was invented by Apple in 2001. She even lived long enough to see the first commercial space flight in 2004. In 2008, cities surrounding Lake Winnebago were hit with a large storm, causing major flooding and extensive damage to many homes around Lake Winnebago. At almost 70 years old, she knew how to weather that storm.
She lived in the Winnebago System from roughly 1939 to 2022, thriving for about 83 years. She lived through many changes in governments, environmental impacts, technological advances and regulation changes. Only through the meticulous management of the lake sturgeon population in the Winnebago System can sturgeon such as this one thrive.
- Feb. 20, 2023
Today, 26 fish were harvested on Lake Winnebago (3 juvenile females, 13 adult females, and 10 males). The season on the Upriver Lakes is closed.
There was one 100-pound fish harvested today. The largest fish harvested was an M2 male that weighed 130.8 pounds and measured 79.5 inches long from the Stockbridge registration shack. This fish was speared by Kenneth Rach.
If you've visited a registration station, you may have seen a big sturgeon with flat or even bowl-shaped bellies. Sturgeon with this appearance are often females that have spawned the previous spring. This reproductive stage is called F6. Before spawning, a female's belly becomes stretched out to accommodate all the eggs inside her. After a spawn, most of her eggs are released, and she is often left with a concave, empty belly. At the registration station, DNR staff look for signs of this spawning activity while they are identifying a sturgeon's sex. If they see any eggs that look like salt and pepper (unsuccessfully laid eggs), then they know they have an F6 female. To learn more, visit our sturgeon registration stations and ask our friendly DNR staff about F6 females.
Moving forward, the Neenah registration station will remain closed for the rest of the season. If you plan on registering your fish there, please head to the next closest registration station. We will continue to post updates on what stations are open or closed. Locations are listed in the sturgeon season regulation packet or on the DNR sturgeon spearing webpage.
Congratulations to all successful spearers. Good luck to those spearing tomorrow, and stay safe.
- Feb. 19, 2023
Today, 73 sturgeon were harvested on Lake Winnebago (13 juvenile females, 26 adult females, 34 males). The season on the Upriver Lakes is closed.
There was 1 fish over 100 lbs. harvested today. The largest fish harvested was an F2 female that weighed 123.6 lbs. and measured 76.1 inches long. This fish was speared by Michael Meetz and registered at the Pipe registration shack.
Tomorrow, the Neenah registration station will be closed. If you planned to register your fish there, please head to the next closest registration station. We will continue to post updates on what stations are open or closed. Locations are listed in the sturgeon season regulation packet.
Congratulations to all successful spearers. If you are returning to the ice tomorrow, we wish you the best of luck, and, as always, please be safe.
- Feb. 18, 2023
ATTENTION STURGEON SPEARERS: The sturgeon spearing season on the Upriver Lakes is now closed, and Upriver Lakes spearers with unfilled tags can no longer harvest a sturgeon.
Spearers with tags for Lake Winnebago may continue to harvest sturgeon on Lake Winnebago until harvest caps are reached or until the Lake Winnebago System harvest caps are reached.
For up-to-date harvest information, visit our sturgeon spearing webpage.
Saturday brought a sunny and cold morning with lots of action for our spearers. One hundred and five fish were harvested between Lake Winnebago and the Upriver lakes. Ninety-three fish were harvested from Lake Winnebago (11 juvenile females, 49 adult females, and 33 males).
This was the last day to spear on the Upriver Lakes. Today, 12 lake sturgeon were harvested from the Upriver Lakes (0 juvenile female, 1 adult female, and 11 male). For the season, the Upriver Lakes harvested 33 juvenile females, 74 adult females, and 178 males for a total of 285 fish.
This year's Upriver season lasted 8 days compared to 4 in 2022. Red worm abundance was up on the Upriver Lakes this year, but the harvest was more affected by ice conditions than anything else. Access points near Indian Point made it difficult to access the lake. As a result, only one fish has been registered at the Indian Point registration station since Tuesday. The largest fish from the Upriver lakes was a 162.6 lbs., 76.1-inch female from Lake Poygan.
This year, 9,474 people applied for a tag or purchased a preference point for the Upriver Lakes. A minimum of 8 points were necessary to be drawn for a tag. With 285 fish harvested Upriver this spearing season, there was just over a 50% success rate for spearers with Upriver tags.
Today's largest fish was a 154.0 lbs., 79.5 inches F2 female speared on Lake Winnebago by Michael Eggers. As an F2, this female is preparing to spawn but probably would not have spawned until the spring of 2024. When spawning, females can hold 50,000-700,000 eggs. This can be almost 30 additional pounds. At 154 pounds with only the beginning stages of eggs, we can only imagine how big this female would have weighed next year when she would have been ready to spawn.
We are halfway through the season. Even with all the weird weather, it has been a successful season so far. Congrats to all successful spearers. Continue to be safe if you are headed back out tomorrow.
- Feb. 17, 2023
Today, spearers reached between 90-99% of the harvest cap on the Upriver Lakes. Spearers with tags for the Upriver lakes can continue to spear until 1 p.m. tomorrow, Feb. 18, 2023. Spearers with tags for Lake Winnebago may continue to harvest sturgeon on Lake Winnebago until harvest caps are reached or until the Lake Winnebago System harvest caps are reached. Upriver Lakes harvest numbers, representing 90-99% of the harvest cap, were set at 70 juvenile females, 79 adult females and 246 males.
Cold weather finally prevailed today, and spearers took to the ice. Sixty-one fish were harvested between Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes. Fifty-four fish were harvested from Lake Winnebago (5 juvenile females, 28 adult females, 21 males) and 7 from the Upriver Lakes (0 juvenile females, 3 adult females, 4 males). All of the fish Upriver were registered at the Winneconne registration station. The Pipe registration shacks continue to have the highest harvest rates, with a season total of 267 fish registered. They also have registered the most fish over 100 pounds.
There were 3 fish harvested today over 100 pounds. The biggest fish harvested was an F4 female weighing 136.5 lbs. and measuring 80.5 inches long. This fish was harvested by Joshua Genske at the Pipe registration shack. While this fish might not be the heaviest of the year, at 80.5 inches, it is a long fish. When fish get to this size, they tend to slow their growth rate. At this size, a fish might only grow 2 inches in a matter of 6 years as opposed to their quick growth rate early in life.
Congrats to all successful spearers. To everyone headed back out tomorrow, remember to be safe.
Tomorrow, the Neenah registration station will reopen. The Quinney and Poygan registration stations will remain closed.
- Feb. 16, 2023
Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes remain slow. Today, only 19 fish were harvested between Lake Winnebago and the Upriver lakes. Sixteen fish were harvested from Lake Winnebago (1 juvenile female, 6 adult females, 9 males) and 3 from the Upriver lakes (1 juvenile female, 1 adult female, 1 male). This means there is still 1 adult female left until the 90% trigger is activated or 9 more adult females until the 100% cap is reached on the Upriver Lakes. The season will resume Upriver tomorrow.
There were no 100 lb. fish harvested today. The biggest fish harvested was an F1 female that weighed 83.3 lbs. and measured 72.0 inches long from the Wendt's registration shack. This fish was speared by Anthony Bovee.
Remember: No Ice Is Safe Ice
Ice conditions are worsening in the Winnebago System. The DNR has received reports of off-highway vehicles and ice fishing shacks going through the ice. The winds have blown away hazard markers, indicating cracks and shoves. Keep close attention to local spearing/fishing club reports. Your safety is a top priority.
If you choose to go out, please review our ice safety tips.
- Feb. 15, 2023
Only 11 fish were harvested today between Lake Winnebago and the Upriver lakes. This is the first time we've seen harvest this slow since 2019, when we had a few days with only 10 fish harvested. Eight fish were harvested from Lake Winnebago (0 juvenile females, 4 adult females, 4 males) and three from the Upriver lakes (0 juvenile females, 1 adult female, 2 males). There are still 2 adult females left until the 90% trigger is activated or 10 more adult females until the 100% cap is reached on the Upriver lakes. Colder weather is on its way into the area tonight, so that we may see an increase in spearing activity tomorrow. The Upriver Season will continue to be open tomorrow.
There were no 100 lb. fish harvested today. The biggest fish harvested was a 75.4 lbs. F1, a female that measured 67.1 inches long, was speared by Anthony Woelfel.
While we get excited about seeing the big fish come in, it is also good to see smaller fish. Why? Small fish means more new fish are growing in the population. It's these smaller fish (generally 55 inches or smaller) that will one day replace the larger fish. This balance between a good number of big fish and fish on the smaller end of the spectrum is another indication of a healthy sturgeon population in the Winnebago system. There are enough resources for the fish to grow to over 100 lbs. but also enough resources to allow the next generation to thrive.
Hopefully, the tides will turn, and the forecasted lows will help solidify ice conditions if you are headed out tomorrow, good luck and, as always, be safe.
- Feb. 14, 2023
With warmer temperatures continuing to prevail today, only 72 fish were harvested throughout the system, with 58 from Lake Winnebago (5 juvenile females, 27 adult females, 26 males) and 14 from the Upriver lakes (0 juvenile females, 3 adult females, 11 males).
Upriver, there are still 3 adult females left until the 90% trigger is activated or 11 more adult females until the 100% cap is reached. If the 90% trigger is hit, there will only be one more day to spear after that. If 100% is reached, then the season will close that afternoon. But so far, harvest Upriver has been slow, and the season will continue to be open tomorrow.
Despite the slow day, a record-setting fish was caught! James Gishkowsky speared a massive 177.3-pound, 79.9-inch female sturgeon from Lake Winnebago. This is the 7th largest fish ever speared from the Winnebago system! This female was an F4 or black egg fish.
When you register your fish, DNR staff not only identifies the sex of the sturgeon as female (F) or male (M), but they also identify where they are in their reproductive cycle. Female stages are V, 1, 2, 4 or 6, while male stages include V, 1 or 2. FV or MV stages indicate a fish that is not yet sexually mature. For females, stages F1 and F2 indicate a fish that was not ready to spawn this year or even next. F4 female fish is a female that is full of eggs and would have spawned this year (spring 2023). This is why many of the largest fish registered are indicated as F4s. They are full of an additional 20-30 pounds of eggs. F6 females are fish that spawned last season (spring of 2022). Male stages are similar, with M1 males not ready to spawn, while M2 males were ready to spawn in spring 2023. Congrats James! That fish is incredible!
Because of the warm weather and the concern about ice conditions after the expected rain tonight, we are temporarily closing the Neenah registration station. We will continue to keep you posted on what stations are opened or closed. If you'd planned on registering your fish there, please head to the next closest registration station. Locations can be found in the sturgeon season regulation packet or on the DNR sturgeon spearing webpage.
- Feb. 13, 2023
With the warm temperatures, today was again a slow day for spearing on the Winnebago system. In total, 127 fish were harvested throughout the system, with 100 from Lake Winnebago (7 juvenile females, 53 adult females, 40 males) and 27 from the Upriver lakes (1 juvenile female, 9 adult females, 17 males). This weekend, many spearers were seen pulling their shacks on both Lake Winnebago and the Upriver lakes before the forecasted warm weather and rain set for tomorrow.
Today, another large female was speared just off of downtown Oshkosh. Joe Sheilds speared a 125.6 lbs., 73.4 inches, F4 female. This makes 5 sturgeon over 100 pounds registered at the Oshkosh registration station for the season. The only station with more is the Pipe registration station, with 6 fish registered over 100 pounds.
-Many of our spearers who stuck it out today were rewarded with their first speared fish, including 12-year-old Trent Rotering, who successfully speared a 59.9 lbs. F1 female on the east side of Lake Winnebago and Larry Gordon spearing his first sturgeon on the west side of the lake.
Tomorrow, the Quinney registration station on Lake Winnebago and the Poygan registration station on the Upriver Lakes will be closed. If you'd planned on registering your fish there, please head to the next closest registration station. Locations can be found in the sturgeon spearing regulation packet or the DNR's sturgeon spearing webpage.
Good luck to those who brave the ice and rain tomorrow. Remember to be safe and that no ice is 100% safe.
- Feb. 12, 2023
The second day of the 2023 Winnebago Sturgeon spearing season was considerably slower than yesterday.
Continued warm weather today likely caused spearers to leave the ice early. Because of this, only 261 fish were harvested throughout the system (42 juvenile females, 93 adult females and 126 males). This is about half the fish that were registered yesterday.
On Lake Winnebago, 211 fish were registered (31 juvenile females, 83 adult females and 97 males). Only 50 lake sturgeon were harvested Upriver (11 juvenile females, 10 adult females and 29 males). Spearers were reporting cloudy water on the Upriver lakes today, likely due to the run-off from the warm weather. The Pipe registration station continues to see the highest harvest of the season, with a daily total of 59 fish. Locals report some decent Gizzard Shad values in this southeastern section of Lake Winnebago, which is likely drawing spearers to this area.
Even though it was a slower day, it was still full of big fish. While only 5 fish harvested today were over 100 pounds, Samuel O'Connell speared a gigantic 162.6 lbs., 76.1 inches, F4 female on Lake Poygan. The last fish to be registered this size Upriver was in 2012. Congrats Samuel!
The warm weather may have prevented many spearers from taking to the ice, but it did make for an enjoyable weekend at the registration stations. Many families came out to see some of the big fish.
At Winneconne, Griffin Hechimovich helped register Grandpa Hank Heckmovich's fish, a 67.3 inch, 75.6 lbs., M2 male. Meanwhile, in downtown Oshkosh, Croix, JJ, and Remi Holz helped their dad, Josh Holz, measure his 30.3 lbs., 52.9-inch sturgeon.
We hope to see all these future spearers successfully registering fish when they are old enough.
Once again, congratulations to all our successful spearers. While we all continue to hope for cold weather, Monday's forecast continues to look bright, sunny and warm. This will likely mean the ice will continue to change.
Do not forget to check with your local fishing club for up-to-date ice conditions. And as always, if you head back onto the ice tomorrow, remember to be safe. We wish the best of luck to everyone!
- Feb. 11, 2023
Happy opening day of the 2023 Winnebago Sturgeon spearing season!
Spearers who could get out onto the ice safely experienced a warm, sunny day and good water clarity. It was good enough that spearers reported seeing the bottom in many locations around Lake Winnebago. Ice conditions, however, likely prevented many from participating this year. Only 3,100 shacks were counted during Saturday's aerial counts, down significantly from the almost 6,000 shacks last year.
Many who took to the ice today found success, with 522 sturgeon harvested. There were 169 lake sturgeon harvested Upriver (20 juvenile females, 46 adult females and 103 males) and 353 harvested on Lake Winnebago (35 juvenile females, 171 adult females and 147 males). The Pipe registration station saw the highest number of harvested fish for Lake Winnebago, with 124 lake sturgeon. Indian Point registered the most fish Upriver, with 73 fish.
Not only were spearers successful today, but they were also treated to some large fish. There were 21 fish harvested over 100 lbs., with 16 from Lake Winnebago and 5 from the Upriver Lakes. The biggest fish on the Upriver Lakes weighed in at 143.2 lbs. at the Poygan registration station. This massive fish was an F4 female measuring 75.6 inches and speared by Rebecca Van Handel. The biggest fish speared on Lake Winnebago was a 135.5 lbs, 76.1 inches, F4 female speared by Korey Krupp.
Rebecca and Korey weren't the only ones with stories to tell. We talked to many excited participants, like 12-year-old Abigail Derksen, who registered her first fish from Lake Winnebago!
Another one came from Charles Jet, who seems to know what he's doing when it comes to spearing. Today, he harvested 80.8 lbs. F2 female from Lake Winnebago. But he was also one of only six successful spearers to harvest a fish during the short, hour-long sturgeon spearing season on Black Lake in Michigan last weekend.
Pete Halbach was another successful spearer Upriver today. After spearing his fish, he registered it at the Indian Point registration station. Liv Halbach, his daughter studying fisheries at Stevens Point, was working the station as a volunteer with the DNR. It was great to see so many participants and their families come out once again to the registration stations.
Congratulations to all our successful spearers today! For those headed back onto the ice tomorrow, be sure to put safety first. We wish you good luck and clear water.
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Upriver Lakes Harvest
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The Sturgeon Spearing Tradition
The Winnebago system is home to one of North America's largest lake sturgeon populations and hosts a unique winter spear fishery. Further, the system is one of only two locations where lake sturgeon can be harvested with a spear (Black Lake, Michigan, is the other). The first modern sturgeon fishery took place in 1932. Although regulations have changed through time, the premise of using a spear to harvest a sturgeon through the ice has remained constant.
There is no residency requirement for participating in the sturgeon spearing season, but license holders are predominantly Wisconsin residents residing within 60 miles of the Winnebago system. Over the years, the season has grown into a unique cultural event rich in tradition. Most spearers fish in groups comprised of family and friends. Each spearing group has its traditions that they celebrate with each passing year. For many, the season is defined by the time spent with loved ones, not the harvesting of a fish. Harvesting a fish is a bonus for spearers with good fortune, and each fish comes with a unique story that will be shared countless times over the hours and years that follow. The social and traditional aspects of the sport keep most people coming back year after year.
The spearing season and how you can participate
There are two spearfishing opportunities for lake sturgeon on the Winnebago System. Both require a spearing license to participate. One fishery occurs on Lake Winnebago, where the number of licenses sold for that fishery is not restricted, and an individual spearer can only purchase one license per season.
The other fishery takes place on the Upriver Lakes (Butte des Morts, Winneconne, and Poygan). It is restricted to 500 license holders per season due to the higher success rate of licensed spearers (62% vs. 9% on Lake Winnebago). Spearers interested in fishing the Upriver Lakes must apply for a permit or purchase a preference point before an Aug. 1 deadline. Licenses are issued through a drawing where priority is granted to applicants with the most preference points. All applicants that are not awarded a permit accumulate a preference point for use in future drawings. Following the drawing, there is no deadline for those who are successful to purchase a license on the Upriver Lakes.
Spearers who wish to participate in Lake Winnebago must purchase a license for Lake Winnebago before the Oct. 31 deadline.
The minimum spearing age is 12 years old. Youth who turn 12 years of age between Nov. 1 and the last day of the spearing season can purchase a spearing license after the deadline. Military personnel home on leave can also buy a license after Oct. 31. Licenses for both fisheries are $20 for Wisconsin residents and $65 for nonresidents and can be purchased through the GoWild system or at any license sales location.
The Use of Technology during the Sturgeon Spearing Season
In 2013, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was asked about using cameras in the sturgeon hole during the sturgeon spearing season. Two surveys were conducted in 2013 and 2018 to evaluate spearers opinions on technology. In 2019, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress (WCC) and Sturgeon Advisory Committee voted to move forward with banning technology, and the DNR began working on a scope statement. Part of the scope statement included sending one final survey in 2021 to determine the growing interest in technology during the spearing season. The survey not only asked about on-camera opinions but also about the use of the sturgeon hole and other technologies during sturgeon spearing and other recreational fishing activities. The survey also asked about spearers' involvement in sturgeon management with the WCC or other committees and general knowledge of lake sturgeon life history. The latest survey results and comparisons to the last two surveys are included in the report below.
Frequently asked questions about the spearing season
The questions below are some of the more frequently asked by spearers.
- Do I need to tag my sturgeon?
Carcass tags must be validated immediately upon harvest by removing the validation stub. The validated tag must stay with the sturgeon until presented at a DNR-operated registration station. The tag does not need to be attached to the sturgeon unless the license holder leaves the fish.
- Can my friend sit with me in the shanty and not have a license?
Yes, the person with a valid license is the only person who can spear a fish. An unlicensed person or person who has already filled their tag cannot be inside a hut alone with a spear. Note: As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the DNR urges spearers and spectators to practice social distancing and to wear a mask when social distancing is not possible.
- What do spearers do with the fish after they are harvested?
Most fish are consumed by the spearer, with smoking and frying being the two most common preparation techniques. Some fish are mounted as well.
- How do I register my sturgeon?
A person who spears a sturgeon must accompany the fish to a DNR-operated sturgeon registration station by 2 p.m. on the day it was speared. Any fish harvested from Lake Winnebago must be registered at one of the registration stations on Lake Winnebago. Any fish harvested from Lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne or Poygan (the Upriver Lakes) must be registered at one of the registration stations on the Upriver Lakes.All DNR registration stations will be drive-thru only for the 2022 season. Spearers must remain in their vehicles throughout the registration process. To help with this new registration process, the DNR asks that all harvested sturgeon be placed on the tailgate or in an easily accessible location. Please follow the signs and cones at each registration station to ensure a smooth registration.
- What kind of equipment will I need to spear a sturgeon?
The equipment needed to participate in sturgeon spearing is relatively specialized. A darkened shack or enclosure is required for better visibility. A saw is needed to open a hole in the ice, although this service can typically be obtained at a cost. Once the hole is cut, the equipment used to attract and harvest a fish is often hand-crafted heirlooms passed down through generations.
For example, spearers typically use decoys as attractants. Most decoys are carved into the shape of a fish, but spearers are also superstitious by nature and have been known to deploy just about anything as a decoy, including copper jello molds, CDs, and white coffee cups. The spears used are also hand-made by local vendors and come in all shapes and sizes. Generally, the spears are constructed with long handles, 6-8' in length, and have detachable spearheads. The equipment needed to get started with sturgeon spearing may seem intimidating. Still, there are guide services available that range from cutting a hole to providing a fully furnished shack.
- What can I put on the bottom or use for a decoy?
Whatever is placed in the water must be removed or retrieved when requested. In most cases, items are attached to a string or can be "hooked" for removal. Decoy types are unlimited if they don't involve any artificial lights (glow sticks are illegal) or hooks. Minnows can be used, provided they are in a sealed container. Regulations related to minnow use and transportation (VHS rules) on the Winnebago system apply.
- Can I be in a shanty after hours with a dismantled spear (head removed)?
Spearers can be in a shanty after hours, but they cannot be in one with a spear after hours. This includes those shanties where the hole is temporarily covered. If the spearhead is removed, it must be placed outside the shanty when occupied.
Winnebago System sturgeon spearing successful spearer list 2023
Winnebago system sturgeon spearing final harvest reports 2016-2023
- Winnebago System sturgeon spearing season summary, 2023
- Winnebago System sturgeon spearing season summary, 2022
- Winnebago System sturgeon spearing season summary, 2021
- Lake sturgeon harvest report 2020
- Lake sturgeon harvest report 2019
- Lake sturgeon harvest report 2018
- Lake sturgeon harvest report 2017
- Lake sturgeon harvest report 2016