Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing
The Use of Technology during the Sturgeon Spearing Season
In 2013, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was asked about the use of 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 both voted to move forward with banning technology, and the DNR began work 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, as well as general knowledge of lake sturgeon life history. The results of the latest survey and comparisons to the last two surveys are included in the report below.
2022 Spearing Season Final Results
2022 Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Season
The 2022 Winnebago System sturgeon spearing season opens Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022, and runs through Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022 (unless the season is shortened by reaching one of the harvest quotas).
2022 Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Regulations
Review the 2022 Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Regulations for the upcoming season.
Important information for the 2022 season
- Sturgeon Registration Stations in 2022
Registration Stations – All DNR registration stations will once again be drive-thru only for the 2022 season. Spearers must remain in their vehicles throughout the registration process. To help with the registration process, all harvested sturgeon must 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.
Registration stations will be relocated to boat landings, city parks and government buildings for the 2022 spearing season. The DNR remains committed to returning registration stations to businesses for future seasons once the pandemic is over.
- Spear Head
Spear Head – The maximum width of a spearhead is restricted to 18" or less, and tines can only be arranged in a single straight line.
- 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. Send us your photos using this photo submission form.
2022 Spearing Season Summary
- Feb. 27, 2022
Today was the final day of the 2022 sturgeon spearing season. The last day’s harvest on Lake Winnebago was similar to day 15 as 83 fish (11 juvenile females, 38 adult females, 34 males) were harvested.
In total, 1,518 fish were harvested on the Winnebago System, consisting of 203 juvenile females, 627 adult females, and 688 males. Of the 1,518 fish harvested, the Lake Winnebago harvest consisted of 1,169 fish (158 juvenile females, 539 adult females, and 472 males), while the Upriver Lakes harvest was 349 (45 juvenile females, 88 adult females, and 216 males).
After the full 16-day season, the Lake Winnebago and Winnebago System-wide caps remained far from being reached. This year’s Lake Winnebago harvest was lower than the 2021 season but still ranks relatively high among recent years (second-highest harvest since 2015).
The 10.7-foot average water clarity contributed to the season's success. The season averages for water clarity from 2015 to 2022 ranged from 6 to 9 feet resulting in drastically lower harvests. Although water clarity was not great this season and harvest caps were not met on Lake Winnebago, the Lake Winnebago success rate was close to average at 9.5%.
The Upriver Lakes season saw a high success rate, and the adult female harvest cap triggered on day three, resulting in a four-day season. The four-day season was the shortest Upriver Lakes season since the 2018 harvest. Despite the season's length, this was the second most fish harvested on the Upriver Lakes since the lottery system was implemented in 2007.
A total of 88 fish on the Winnebago System weighed in over 100 pounds making up 5.7% of the total harvest. This year, the percentage of fish over 100 pounds is the largest since 2018 (6.6%) and aligns more closely with percentages of the early 2010s when many of the record-breaking fish were harvested.
Today, the busiest registration station was Calumet Harbor, with 20 fish coming in. Stockbridge Harbor led all registration stations this year, registering 348 fish, followed by Calumet Harbor with 230 fish and Grundman Lane with 221.
Justin Lammers speared the largest fish today, a 112.6 pounds, 76.9 inches, F1 female registered at the Blackwolf registration station.
Congratulations to all of the successful spearers that harvested a lake sturgeon this year! We are already full of anticipation for the opening day of 2023!
- Feb. 26, 2022
Day 15 of the sturgeon spearing season was successful for many spearers, due in part because of the sunshine. Today, spearers harvested 71 fish on Lake Winnebago (9 juvenile females, 36 adult females and 26 males). With it being a sunny Saturday, more people were out on the ice than during the week, and the sunlight helped increase visibility in the water.
Lake Winnebago season totals have increased to 147 juvenile females, 501 adult females and 438 males for a total of 1,086 fish.
Tomorrow is the last day of the 2022 season. With more sunshine in the forecast, we expect a similar harvest. Good luck to everyone heading out for one last attempt!
Christina Stolle’s 131.8 pound, 76.2-inch F2 female was the biggest fish harvested on Lake Winnebago today. She registered it at the Stockbridge Harbor registration station. Four fish harvested today weighed 100 pounds or more, bringing the season total for the system to 84 fish weighing over 100 pounds.
There have been a number of large fish harvested this season. The current number of fish weighing 100 pounds or more is up around 6%, despite the lack of a measurable gizzard shad year class since 2016. In recent years, the percentage of 100+ pound fish in the harvest has been around 4%, and lower than the 6-9% during the large shad year classes of the early 2010s.
This season, we are on track to see a percentage that closely aligns with gizzard shad years. This shows that plenty of food is available for lake sturgeon in the Winnebago System, and that fish can grow to be quite large. In fact, the 174.3 pounds and 171.1-pound fish harvested earlier this season have made their way into the “Heavy Hitters” club, making the list of the top 15 heaviest fish harvested of all time.
- Feb. 25, 2022
Day 14 of the 2022 sturgeon spearing season had more spearers on the ice leading up to the final weekend resulting in an increased harvest.
There were 46 lake sturgeon harvested on Lake Winnebago today, including four juvenile females, 20 adult females and 22 males. After today, the total harvest on Lake Winnebago has increased to 1,015 (138 juvenile females, 465 adult females and 412 males).
Today, Blackwolf Landing and Grundman Lane tied for the busiest registration station with 10 fish brought in; however, Stockbridge continues to lead the way this season with a total of 310 fish registered.
Today's largest fish harvested on Lake Winnebago was the impressive 112.1 pound, 70.2 inch F4 speared by Steve Supple. Steve registered his fish at the Oshkosh registration station.
Although the 2022 Lake Winnebago harvest has surpassed 1,000 fish, it's unlikely that this year's Winnebago harvest will exceed the 1,468 fish harvested on Lake Winnebago in 2021.
Winnebago System sex-specific harvest totals have increased to 183 juvenile females, 553 adult females and 628 males for a total of 1,364 fish.
With the 2022 season winding down and harvest caps far out of reach, it's shaping up to be the seventh straight season that spearers will not meet Lake Winnebago harvest caps or system-wide harvest caps.
See the full day 14 harvest breakdown below.
Good luck to the spearers heading out this weekend in pursuit of their harvest during the final days of the 2022 season.
There are many characteristics of a spearing season that play a role in the overall harvests, such as ice conditions, water clarity, number of participants, weather, etc. Through the years, these characteristics have varied.
- Feb. 24, 2022
Day 13 of the 2022 sturgeon spearing season saw another small number of sturgeon speared. On Lake Winnebago, 35 sturgeon were harvested today.
The 35 speared sturgeon consisted of three juvenile females, 17 adult females and 15 males. This is the highest harvest since Sunday and is likely attributed to more spearers on the ice as the weekend approaches.
After today, the total fish harvested on Lake Winnebago increased to 969 and the Winnebago System total increased to 1,318.
The Blackwolf registration station registered the most fish today with 12 and was closely followed by Grundman Lane with 10. As the last weekend of the 2022 spearing season approaches, we expect more spearers to take to the ice and harvest to increase slightly. See the full day 13 harvest report below.
Today, Timothy Schoppenhorst speared the largest fish, a 120.6 pounds, 77.7 inches F2 female registered at the Grundman Lane registration station.
Several aspects of fisheries management contribute to the successful management of a population. One of these aspects is understanding the age and growth of fish within the population. Having accurate estimates of age and growth plays an important role in understanding the population's survival, mortality, maturity, etc.
For many fish species, methods of estimating age and growth are well-defined. However, for lake sturgeon, methods can be more difficult due to lake sturgeon characteristics of being long-lived and slow-growing.
The DNR and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point recently collaborated on a research project focusing on methods better to estimate the age and growth of lake sturgeon.
- Feb. 23, 2022
The clouds finally broke for day 12 of the sturgeon spearing season. With calmer winds and plenty of sunshine, spearers harvested 21 sturgeon today, bringing the season total for Lake Winnebago to 934 fish (131 juvenile females, 428 adult females, and 375 males).
Currently, 60% of the allotted adult female sturgeon have been harvested for the entire Winnebago system, while only 50% of the males have been harvested.
Aaron Muche speared the only fish over 100 pounds today. It was a 72.8-inch, 100.8-pound F2 female registered at the Blackwolf registration station. Blackwolf has now registered 21 fish over 100 pounds for the season. Congrats on the fish, Aaron, and good luck to the remaining spearers.
Remember to be safe out on the ice.
- Feb. 22, 2022
Day 11 was another slow day, with only 17 fish harvested. The icy and rainy conditions most likely resulted in fewer spearers, while the overcast skies likely decreased visibility, further inhibiting harvest.
Today, only one juvenile female was harvested, but spearers also brought in six adult females and 10 males. The Stockbridge registration station again had the highest harvest with seven fish registered.
The largest fish registered today at the Grundman Lane registration station was speared by Mark Kanitz. The fish, an F6 female, weighed 141.2 pounds and measured 78.8 inches. We can only imagine what this female weighed last year when she was full of eggs and ready to spawn.
Many factors determined whether the eggs from this F6 female sturgeon and all spawning sturgeon survive and hatch successfully. The Wisconsin DNR and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point are looking to better understand what factors contribute to successful spawning events along with egg and larvae survival, particularly within the Upper Fox River.
- Feb. 21, 2022
Day 10 saw the lowest amount of sturgeon speared this season. Only 22 sturgeon were harvested today.
The 22 speared sturgeon brings the total fish harvested on Lake Winnebago to 128 juvenile females, 414 adult females and 354 males.
Today, all stations registered five or fewer sturgeon except Stockbridge, which registered 11 fish. The fish registered includes two juvenile females, four adult females and five males, bringing the Stockbridge registration station to 280 fish.
Jackson Goldapske speared the largest fish today, a 123.0 pounds, 74.5 inches, F4 female registered at the Blackwolf registration station. Blackwolf also leads all registration stations with 20 fish harvested over 100 pounds.
So far, the total number of fish harvested over 100 pounds on Lake Winnebago is 61 fish.
- Feb. 20, 2022
Day 9 of the sturgeon spearing season was a slow harvest day with only 46 fish harvested. This is most likely due to the high wind gusts around Lake Winnebago. Of the 46 fish harvested, 6 were juvenile females, 23 adult females and 17 were males.
This brings the total on Lake Winnebago to 874 fish. Spearers have harvested a total of 1,223 fish on the entire Winnebago system.
Calumet Harbor had the highest harvest registered for the day with 19 fish (2 juvenile females, 8 adult females, 9 males).
View the full details in today’s full harvest report.
Brian Zblewski speared the big fish for the day. It was a 127.2 pound, 72.4-inch F4 female registered at the Grundman Lane registration station.
Today we also saw a 100+ pound male sturgeon. Nick Schaus registered a 106.4-pound, 75.3-inch, M1 male sturgeon at the Harrison registration station. Males this large are uncommon, making an exciting catch. Congrats Nick! This large male was also the first sturgeon over 100 pounds registered at the Harrison registration station.
- Feb. 19, 2022
Day eight was the halfway mark of sturgeon spearing season. Today, spearers saw increased activity as a total of 90 fish were harvested on Lake Winnebago.
The 90 fish harvested consist of 10 juvenile females, 37 adult females and 43 males.
As of today, 469 adult females have been harvested off the allotted 875 for the entire Winnebago system. This means we are just over 50% of our quota for adult females.
The quota for both juvenile females and males continues to be below 50%. Even with 50% of the quota reached for adult females, we still expect the harvest spearing season to last the full 16 days on Lake Winnebago.
There were 24 fish harvested at the Stockbridge registration station and 23 fish harvested at the Blackwolf station.
Today, six fish were harvested over 100 pounds, including a large 120.4 pound, 71.8 inches, F4 female speared by Mathew Michaels. Currently, 67 of the 1,177 fish harvested in the entire Winnebago system have been over 100 pounds.
The Blackwolf and Oshkosh registration station have both registered over 15 fish weighing above 100 pounds.
Good luck with the rest of the weekend, spearers. As always, stay safe on the ice.
- Feb. 18, 2022
Day 7 of the sturgeon spearing season saw a slight increase in harvest. The total harvest from Lake Winnebago was 65 fish (9 juvenile females, 32 adult females and 24 males), an increase from yesterday’s 47 fish. This increase is most likely because more spearers were out before the upcoming weekend. Our current harvest total on Lake Winnebago is now 738 fish.
View the full details in today’s full harvest report.
Today a spearer harvested another fish of over 170 pounds. Issac Bond, shown above, registered a 171.1 pound, 83.2 inches F2 female at the Calumet Harbor registration station. This was Issac’s very first sturgeon. Congrats, Issac!
Issac's harvest makes four fish over 150 pounds harvested from Lake Winnebago this year, with two of those fish weighing in at over 170 pounds.
Also noteworthy is that the Battle on Bago tournament began today, which brings anglers from all over to Lake Winnebago to ice fish. With this increase in traffic, be careful if you plan to be out on the ice spearing over the next few days.
As always, be sure to check with the local clubs for the most up-to-date ice conditions. Stay safe, everyone, and good luck!
- Feb. 17, 2022
Day 6 was another slow day for the sturgeon spearing season, but it was quite a day for big fish.
The total harvest for Lake Winnebago was 47 fish, 27 of which were adult females, bringing the harvest total for Lake Winnebago to 673 fish (100 juvenile females, 312 adult females and 261 males).
The Stockbridge registration station continues to see the highest harvest rates with a daily total of 19 fish (3 juvenile females, 9 adult females and 7 males) for a total of 219 fish at this station for the season so far, which is almost 100 fish more than any of the other stations.
In other exciting news for Stockbridge, the station finally recorded a fish weighing over 100 pounds today with the largest being a big F2 female caught by David Heller, weighing 157.6 pounds and measuring 83.6 inches!
Today, we had the highest ratio of large fish harvested in one day with just under 20% of the fish harvested today being over 100 pounds (9 of the 47 fish harvested). The biggest fish for the day came from the Black Wolf station and angler Jared Guelig (pictured above). Jared caught a 174.3 pound, 82.4-inch F4 female, the largest fish of the season so far by almost 25 pounds. Nice catch, Jared!
- Feb. 16, 2022
On the fifth day of the sturgeon spearing season, spearers harvested a total of 36 fish on Lake Winnebago.
Spearers saw a decline in harvested fish on Lake Winnebago. The current totals have reached 93 juvenile females, 285 adult females, and 248 males. Each of the Lake Winnebago sex-specific harvest caps remains far from being reached, and the DNR is anticipating a 16-day Lake Winnebago season.
DNR staff observed fewer shacks on Lake Winnebago, and the overcast clouds most likely impacted visibility and harvest rates for the day. Calumet Harbor and Grundman Lane had most of the harvest for today with 22 fish combined.
Today, three fish were harvested over 100 pounds, including a large 133.7 lbs, 78 inches, F1 female caught by Maxwell Naparalla (pictured above).
The Winnebago System annual sturgeon spearing harvest has varied in the number of spearers, water clarity and ice condition over the last 80 years. These fluctuations are part of the history, tradition and overall success of the sturgeon spear fishery.
Along with changes in yearly conditions, there have also been changes through the years in how the population is being managed.
- Feb. 15, 2022
Day 4 of the 2022 sturgeon spearing season brought the final day of harvest on the Upriver Lakes, triggered by the number of adult female sturgeon harvested.
Spearers harvested 25 sturgeon on the Upriver Lakes today.
This year, spearers on the Upriver Lakes harvested 45 juvenile females, 88 adult females and 216 males for a total of 349 fish and an overall success rate of 72.7%. Spearers on the Upriver Lakes harvested 13 sturgeon weighing over 100 pounds.
This season’s largest fish harvested on the Upriver Lakes was the 148.2 pound, 79.0-inch F4 female speared by Stacy Beach on day 3.
Though the 2022 Upriver Lakes spearing season lasted just four days compared to 2021’s eight days and saw a lower harvest than in 2021, it was still exciting. Congratulations to all those spearers who were successful on the Upriver Lakes!
It may seem strange that this year’s lower harvest and success rate would result in a shorter season than 2021. Population estimates for male and female sturgeon set the Winnebago System harvest caps, which are 5% of the 5-year average population estimate. The most recent population estimates have shown higher numbers of male lake sturgeon than adult and juvenile female sturgeon, which results in a higher allotted cap for males.
The Lake Winnebago harvest continues to decrease as the week goes on, with 74 fish harvested today. We anticipate the low harvest to continue through the week until the weekend approaches and we see more spearers.
Stockbridge Harbor has led the way among registration stations this season and today had 24 registrations. Calumet Harbor saw a busy day with today 16 fish registered, making it the second-busiest station of the day.
The Lake Winnebago harvest is up to 90 juvenile females, 268 adult females and 232 males for a total of 590 fish. With all Lake Winnebago harvest caps still well below the 50% mark (28% of juvenile females, 34% of adult females and 24% of males), Lake Winnebago spearers likely have 12 more days out on the ice.
The largest fish harvested on the Winnebago System during day 4 of the season was the gigantic 150.1 pounds, 75.0 inch F4 female speared by Mayson Muche. Not only was this fish the largest of the day, it narrowly surpassed Stacy Beach’s impressive 148.2-pound F4 female speared yesterday. Mayson’s fish is now the largest fish harvested during the 2022 spearing season so far.
- Feb. 14, 2022
On the third day of the 2022 sturgeon spearing season, spearers harvested 124 total fish, with 92 harvested on Lake Winnebago and 32 harvested on the Upriver Lakes.
The Upriver Lakes season has reached the 90% cap trigger for the adult female harvest caps, meaning that the Upriver Lakes sturgeon spearing season will close tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 1 p.m.
The Upriver Lakes 3-day totals have reached 43 juvenile females, 85 adult females and 196 males for a total of 324 fish. So far, the season success rate on the Upriver Lakes is 67.5%, with one day of spearing remaining.
Spearers harvested very few fish on Lake Winnebago today. The 3-day total stands at 81 juvenile females, 232 adult females and 203 males harvested. Each of the Lake Winnebago sex-specific harvest caps remains far from being reached and the DNR is anticipating a 16-day Lake Winnebago season.
There were 4 fish weighing 100 pounds or more that came into the registration stations around the system today, including the massive 148.2 pounds 79.0 inch F4 female harvested by Stacy Beach (pictured above). Stacy’s fish was not only the biggest today; it is also the biggest registered so far this year.
Congratulations to all the successful spearers so far this season, and good luck to all those still in pursuit!
- Feb. 13, 2022
On the second day of the 2022 spearing season, there were 285 fish speared. Although conditions were better today, the decrease in harvest is likely due to fewer spearers taking to the ice.
This season, the Wisconsin DNR sold 12,693 sturgeon spearing licenses – 480 for the Upriver Lakes and the other 12,213 for Lake Winnebago. This was an increase from the number sold in 2021 but on par with the average of 12,500 across recent years. Based on trends, expect fewer spearers on the ice during the week and an increase again for next weekend.
In addition to the number of spearers participating, several factors play a role in spearer success on the Winnebago System. Water clarity is the most significant factor. Ice conditions should also be considered.
Today's harvest included 190 fish from Lake Winnebago and 95 from the Upriver Lakes.
Registration stations on northern Lake Winnebago saw more fish today. The Stockbridge station registered 57, the most on the lake. As with yesterday, this trend is likely due to the region's slightly more favorable water clarity, attracting more spearers. Unless there is a drastic change in harvest rate, we expect the Lake Winnebago season to last the full 16 days.
The Upriver Lakes season remains open. It will likely close Monday, Feb. 14 or Tuesday, Feb. 15. Be sure to monitor tomorrow's report for the status of the Upriver Lakes season.
Today's Upriver Lakes harvest consisted of 15 juvenile females, 22 adult females and 58 males. The harvest is 40 juvenile females, 76 adult females, and 176 males for the season. The allotted adult female harvest is at 86% of the cap leaving only 3 adult females remaining to the 90% trigger.
More large fish, those over 100 pounds, were harvested today, with 13 from Lake Winnebago and 1 from Upriver Lakes. This season, 4.7% of the total harvest, or 34 fish, weighed over 100 pounds.
Today, the largest fish on the Winnebago system was an F4 female speared by Adam Zehner that was 141.6 pounds and 74.4 inches when it was registered at the Grundman Lane registration station.
- Feb. 12, 2022
Day one of the 2022 sturgeon season is complete. There were 431 lake sturgeon harvested on the Winnebago System on Feb. 12, 2022.
The harvest on the Upriver Lakes totaled 197 fish, reaching 61% of the allotted adult female cap. Based on the current total adult female harvest on the Upriver Lakes, we anticipate the season will be shorter than last year. It could potentially wrap up on Sunday, Feb. 13, or Monday, Feb. 14. After opening day, the juvenile female and male caps on the Upriver Lakes remain far out of reach. Today, the Indian Point registration station led the Upriver Lakes with 76 fish registered.
The opening day harvest on Lake Winnebago was low as anticipated due to less than ideal water clarity conditions. The harvest on Lake Winnebago today was 234 fish. The Stockbridge Harbor station processed 79 registrations, leading the Winnebago stations. The rest of the registration stations experienced similar activity with an even distribution of harvest across the lake.
The harvest cap on Lake Winnebago is at 14% of the cap for the adult female harvest and approximately 9% of the male and juvenile female cap. With this in mind, we are expecting a long season on Lake Winnebago unless the harvest increases dramatically.
Counts of the number of shacks on both Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes were conducted today. On Lake Winnebago, there were 5,986 shacks, with another 502 on the Upriver Lakes.
Area 1 and 2 led Lake Winnebago with 2,160 and 1,295, respectively. The slightly clearer water in the lake's northern half likely led more spearers to those areas. On the Upriver Lakes, most shacks were on Lakes Poygan and Winneconne, 474 on the two combined, while Lake Butte des Morts only had 28 shacks.
Out of the 431 fish harvested on opening day, 19 were over 100 pounds, approximately 4.4%. The largest harvested from Lake Winnebago was the 141.0 pounds 75.5 inch F4 female speared by Brian Olson. Today, Brian's fish was one of five over 100 pounds registered at the Blackwolf station.
On opening day, the largest fish harvested from the Upriver Lakes was the 138.2 pounds 76.1 inch F4 speared by Keyshia Wilz.
Congratulations to all spearers who were successful today!
Know The Regulations
Please review the current Guide to Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Regulations 2022 before you hit the ice.
Water clarity is the strongest predictor of lake sturgeon harvest success in the Winnebago System (See Figure 1). Several factors play a role in the water clarity leading up to the sturgeon spearing season; however, the main factors are weather and ice conditions. Shifting ice, snow-covered ice, how early the lake freezes over and thawing and refreezing events will likely determine whether spearers hang their decoy 2 feet or 12 feet below the surface. Generally, water clarity conditions tend to be favorable in years of early ice, weak winds and enough snow cover to limit light penetration and phytoplankton growth.
History has shown that in years when water clarity is 12 feet or greater, harvest caps tend to be met before the entire 16-day season. Last year was anything but predictable, and even though the lake-wide average water clarity was 12 feet, the season continued for the full 16 days. The last time water clarity was that good was in 2015, which is also the last time harvest caps were met before the end of the season.
During the week of Jan. 24, 2022, the DNR conducted pre-season water clarity readings. Fourteen depth readings over six geographic regions of Lake Winnebago were taken. Reading locations were chosen by access and safety of travel conditions. The average water clarity was 10.71 feet (Figure 2). Strong winds before freeze-up and patches of open water that held strong into January likely played a role in the decreased average clarity this season. Water appears to be a bit clearer in the northern portion of the lake, with fairly uniform visibility across Lake Winnebago. If stable weather patterns continue leading up to the sturgeon spearing season, spearers could see improved water clarity, but a longer spearing season is still anticipated.
Water clarity readings were not conducted on the Upriver Lakes as water clarity has less impact on Upriver Lakes harvest numbers. Preliminary reports from anglers and spearers out scouting on the Upriver Lakes indicate favorable water clarity in several areas again this season.
Lake Winnebago - Season closed Feb. 27, 2022
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Upriver Lakes Harvest
Upriver Lakes - Season Closed Feb. 15, 2022
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The sturgeon spearing tradition
The Winnebago system is home to one of the largest lake sturgeon populations in North America 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 being the other). The first modern sturgeon fishery took place in 1932 and, 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 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 on 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.
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 shanty 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.