OSHKOSH - With just days to go before the Lake Winnebago sturgeon spearing seasons open Feb. 12, two conditions important for spearing success were headed in different directions: water clarity had improved but last week's snowfall has made travel on the lakes more challenging.
"Two weeks ago we had 12 feet of water clarity, now it's improved to 13 feet to all the way to the bottom," says Ron Bruch, Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor in Oshkosh. "The best water appears to be in the south and along the east shore."
That increased water clarity will make it easier for spearers to see the sturgeon more quickly to throw their spears.
The biggest change in the last couple of weeks is the increase in snow on the ice, Bruch says. Additional snow and drifting will make travel more difficult, but fishing clubs have been out aggressively plowing the road and laterals off the roads for spearers to get to different places on the lake.
"I'm quite confident that by the time we get to Thursday, they will have things in good shape, but it won't be easy for people to pick up and move someplace else during the season."
Bruch says that people who want to move around from day to day will need a four-wheel drive with a high clearance and a possibly a plow attached.
More sturgeon spearing season notes
One question Bruch's been fielding from reporters is whether the record number of spearers for the Lake Winnebago season raises concerns about limiting future participation on the lake through a controlled lottery to ease harvest pressure on fish. The Upriver Lakes sturgeon spearing season, which also opens Feb. 12, has a drawing for the 500 spots available for that season.
"At this point, I donít see a lottery in the near future on Lake Winnebago. The harvest cap system we have works quite well and we'd only consider a lottery as an option if the harvest cap system fails," he says.
The Lake Winnebago season does not limit the numbers of spearers that can participate beyond requiring that all spearers purchase their spearing license by Oct. 31 of the previous year, but it does limit the number of sturgeon that can be speared.
The 2011 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.
Bruch says that controlling spearer numbers on the Upriver Lakes is necessary because spearers' success rate on those lakes -- Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan -- is much higher. Success rates are 66 percent for the Upriver Lakes compared to 13 percent for Lake Winnebago.
There is a much higher concentration of fish on the Upriver Lakes and the lakes are much smaller, so DNR, with input from the sturgeon citizen advisory committee, moved to a lottery system in 2007 to limit pressure on the fish populations.
Get free mobile alerts and e-mail updates on sturgeon spearing numbers
People can sign up to receive free wireless alerts or e-mail updates to learn the day's sturgeon harvest totals and to get other Winnebago sturgeon spearing updates. Visit the Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Season 2011 page on the DNR website to sign up. Look for "Fishing Updates" and place a check mark in the box by "Sturgeon Spearing" to get the updates. Updates will include a daily summary report from Bruch, daily (and running) system harvest totals, and miscellaneous news from the day.
More news from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.