Anticipation is building for a record number of sturgeon spearers who hope for a chance at the elusive fish.
There are 12,423 licenses sold for the 2011 season — up from 10,688 in 2010. Spearing starts in just over a month — on Feb. 12, on Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes.
Ron Bruch, Winnebago sturgeon biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources, said fishermen are excited about the massive size of lake sturgeon and the chances for success.
"Nobody else has a sturgeon population like ours," Bruch said. "This is the largest lake sturgeon population in the world. No other state or province has a lake sturgeon population as large and as vibrant that can sustain this type of fishery."
Despite strong harvests in recent years, the numbers of adult lake sturgeon have increased during the past decade.
Bruch said that in 2010, estimates were for 15,800 females and 31,700 males in 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," he said.
Harvest caps this year will be 395 juvenile females (up from 350 allowed in 2010); 790 adult females (740 allowed in 2010); and 1,200 males (1,000 allowed in 2010).
Lake sturgeon harvested must be at least 36 inches. Spearing hours are from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The season runs through Feb. 27 or until the pre-set harvest caps are reached.
Despite the large number of spearers expected on the lake, officials believe the current rules protect against over-harvest and avoid the need for a license lottery system that is used for the Upriver Lakes.
The harvest cap system, Bruch said, is well thought out and has worked well to keep the harvest in check.
As long as the harvest cap system is in place, Bruch said the DNR will not push for a lottery system for Lake Winnebago. That call, he said, would have to come from a public that felt the sturgeon spearing experience was lessened by the increasing number of fishermen.
The 2010 sturgeon spearing season ran six days on both Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes, with a total harvest of 1,820 fish.
The massive female sturgeon was 212.2 pounds and 84.2 inches in length.
Estimates are that if Grishaber's fish had been carrying fully developed eggs, it would have weighed between 240 and 250 pounds.
Matthew Judkins of Mount Calvary registered the 116.8-pound fish that was 71.3 inches long.
The vast majority of the successful spearers last year were residents of four counties: Winnebago County (26.6 percent of registered fish); Calumet County (18 percent); Fond du Lac County (15.2 percent); and Outagamie County (15.2 percent).
The deadline to purchase a sturgeon license was Oct. 31, 2010. Licenses and sturgeon tags are $20 for residents and $65 for non-Wisconsin residents. Spearers must be at least 14 years old.
Those spearers who applied for the Upriver Lakes sturgeon lottery tag by Aug. 1 were notified by Oct. 1 if they were successful. Just 500 of the tags were awarded this season for the Upriver Lakes fishery.
About 4,000 fishing shanties will be transported to Lake Winnebago for this year's spearing season.
The registration stations closest to Fond du Lac are Wendt's Bar & Harbor on Highway 45 North (eight miles north of Fond du Lac) and the DNR Calumet Harbor Station on the lake at Pipe.