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Sturgeon hole cutting underway
Sturgeon hole cutting underway: Feb. 10, 2011. The annual tradition of cutting sturgeon spearing holes two days before the season officially opens began Thursday on Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes of Butte des Morts, Poygan and Winnecone.
Matt Prey (left) and Tom Nelson cut a hole in the ice Thursday on Lake Winnebago near Payne's Point in the Town of Neenah as fellow sturgeon spearers Mitch Genheim and Roger Carlin look on. / Post-Crescent photo by Wm. Glasheen

Harvest limits / season dates

The season begins on Saturday and continues through Feb. 27 on the Winnebago System unless pre-set harvest limits in one or more categories of fish are reached on Lake Winnebago, the upriver lakes of Butte des Morts, Poygan and Winneconne or the entire
Winnebago System. Daily spearing runs from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Season spearing limits on the entire Winnebago System are 395
juvenile females, 790 adult females and 1,200 males. Specific
limits on Lake Winnebago are 316 juvenile females, 711 adult
females and 960 males. On the upriver lakes season limits are 79 juvenile females, 79 adult females and 240 males.

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HARRISON It looks like a stripped-down washing machine and vibrates like the steering wheel of a kid's homemade go-cart careening down a hill. But the ice saw in Tim Keck's hands has made plenty of money for the Boys' and Girls" Brigade in Neenah during the past 25 years.

Water sprayed from the noisy contraption Thursday afternoon as Keck slowly lowered a 36-inch chain saw bar with its sharpened blade into 18 inches of ice on Lake Winnebago, about a mile off Fire Lane 8.

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"It only takes a minute or two to cut a sturgeon spearing hole," Keck said, as the saw finished its job. Two helpers joined Keck in pushing the 3-foot by 6-foot cake of ice under the frozen surface. Gallery: sturgeon spearing preparations.

A handshake and the passing of $15 from sturgeon hunter Gary DeBruin to help the Neenah youth organization maintain its summer camp at Onaway Island in the Waupaca Chain O' Lakes, seals the hole-cutting deal as the four men push DeBruin's green, wooden shanty over the hole.

The unofficial start of the 2011 sturgeon spearing season got underway Thursday, the first day sturgeon hunters could legally cut the big hole necessary to spear the ancient fish.

State fisheries personnel expect about 5,000 shanties like DeBruin's to be scattered across Lake Winnebago when the 16-day spearing season begins at 6:30 a.m. Saturday.

Keck said business was unusually slow Thursday, but the weather, with winds chills near 20 below zero, could have discouraged some spear hunters from venturing onto the ice.

"The weather really isn't bad if you dress for it," Keck said. "We hope to cut 10 holes today."

DeBruin said he hires the Brigade hole cutters every year.

"I've been spearing for 10 years and got two sturgeon," DeBruin said, as the trio of volunteers hoisted the ice saw, known in the sport as a sled saw, into the bed of Keck's pickup truck. "They do a good job and the money goes to a good charity."

The ice saw has special meaning for Keck, whose late father, Mickey Keck, had the saw custom built a quarter-century ago.

"My dad initially used the saw to cut the ice surrounding Onaway Island, the Brigade camp near Waupaca, to keep the ice from pulling the docks way from shore in the winter. Otherwise we would have to go up every year and repair the docks," Tim Keck said.

Mickey Keck, a charter member of the Brigade's Rough Craftsmen group, which maintains and buys sports equipment for the island camp, decided to put the saw to use during sturgeon season to raise money to keep Onaway Island in good shape, Tim Keck said.

"He found a way to make money for the Brigade organization and Onaway," Keck said.

Keck makes cutting a sturgeon-spearing hole look simple.

First, a chisel is used to mark the hole's dimensions from inside the shanty. Then the shanty is pushed aside.

In less than two minutes, Keck lowers the cutting blades four times and carves the sides of the hole.

The floating cake of ice, also called a keg, is then pushed under water with long poles and slid completely under the ice.

Some hole cutters prefer to cut the cake of ice in smaller pieces and lift them onto shore believing keeping the cake underwater scares the sturgeon away.

Once the cake of ice is out of the way, the shanty is pushed back over the hole.

"Then it's up to the spearers," Keck said.

Keck measured 18 inches of ice in DeBruin's spearing hole.

"That's thick enough. We've found between 18 and 22 inches of ice today," Keck said of the eight holes cut on Thursday on the north end of the lake.

Worse than the cold was the deep snow that left numerous four-wheel-drive trucks stuck, he said.

"It's rough going out there. There's a lot of snow. Unless you've got a good four-wheel-drive, you're not going nowhere," Keck said.

Steve Wideman: 920-993-1000, ext. 302, or swideman@postcrescent.com

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