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A crowd gathers round one of 442 sturgeon speared on the first day of the season on Saturday. / Adam Jungwirth/of The Northwestern
Jeffrey Nozar of Oshkosh stands outside Jerry’s Bar in Oshkosh with the 172.7-pound, 76.9-inch sturgeon speared Saturday. It was the largest registered fish on the first day of the season. / Adam Jungwirth/of The Northwestern

Sturgeon totals for opening day

Lake Winnebago
Juvenile females: 39 of 316 limit
Adult females: 126 of 711 limit
Males: 118 of 960 limit
Total: 283
Upriver lakes
Juvenile females: 18 of 79 limit
Adult females: 37 of 79 limit
Males: 104 of 240 limit
Total: 159

Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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A fisherman’s tale is hard to believe, even if it’s true.

Just ask Oshkosh resident Jeffery Nozar.

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Nozar landed the biggest sturgeon on the opening day of the spearing season Saturday, a 172.7-pound behemoth that measured 76.9 inches long.

See more photos from the first day of the sturgeon spearing season | and still more photos from opening day | preparations | cut in | your photos

“Every person I called did not believe me,” Nozar said. “Every one.”

Nozar’s tale can act like salt in the wounds of veteran sturgeon spearers, because as he put it, he had a “horseshoe” on his side Saturday.

In just his second year with a license, his spotter, Jason Zick, notified Nozar that a sturgeon was right underneath him with just 15 minutes left before spearing closed for the day.

Nozar, like many sturgeon spearers on opening day, achieved an almost celebrity status as more than 50 people stopped to take a picture of the beast while it was hung up outside Jerry’s Bar in Oshkosh.

Large crowds flocked to registration stations to get a glimpse of the prehistoric fish.
Jay Berk, in town for business, came from Vermilion, Ohio, went to Wendt’s on the Lake to watch the fish get weighed and registered.

“I came to check it out,” Berk said. “I’ve never seen a sturgeon before in my life.
“I think it’s really awesome.”

Jim Carbone came to Wendt’s from Grafton just to see the fish getting registered.

“I just can’t believe how many shanties are out here,” Carbone said. “It’s amazing.”

The fish draw such a large crowd that rumors often get started. This season, there was rumor that a 232-pound sturgeon was hanging up North of Payne’s Point.

“It’s almost like a Moby Dick tale,” Otter Street Fishing Club President Scott Engel said. “People want to see the monster fish that Lake Winnebago has.”

Even when out on the ice, news of a sturgeon landed causes quite a stir.

“When you call, everyone runs out of their shack and take pictures,” Dave Dutscheck of Necedah said. “It’s quite an affair when you get one.”

The Dutschecks can consider themselves lucky as three brothers, Dave, James and Joe each landed a sturgeon on opening day; the first time in the 17 years of spearing that has occurred.

“You sit a lot of years and you don’t see nothing,” Dutscheck said. “But the rush you get when the one time you see them is really special.”

Unlike the Dutschecks, many spearers came home empty handed as 442 sturgeon were harvested on opening day, 214 less than opening day last year.

Kevin Gutjahr of Boulder Junction was in the more familiar position of the 12,423 people that purchased a license; he came up empty handed, as he has for the entire 12 years he has ventured out on the ice.

Although he didn’t land a sturgeon, one of the people in his party landed a fish.

Despite never spearing his own and what he called the “boredom” of sitting out on the ice, when someone he knows lands a sturgeon the thrill is shared by everyone in the party.

“When a fish swims in it’s the most excitement you’ve ever had,” Gutjahr said.

The lower total of fish taken on opening day bodes well for the slew of spearers that took off two weeks of work for the once-a-year activity, according to Ron Bruch of the DNR.

“That will likely mean a longer season,” Bruch said. “It’s probably going to last longer than last year.”

Last season, sturgeon spearing was open for just six days of the possible 14 and Bruch said this season could go through next weekend.

The reason for the lower number of sturgeon speared on opening day this season has nothing to do with the population, according to Bruch.

He said the amount of snow on the ice made it harder for spearers to travel to hot spots, and the sturgeon are spread out across the lake more so than last year because of abundant sources of food all over the lake due to a large gizzard shad hatch in 2010.

“The fish are out there, the conditions are such that success rate is lower today than last year,” Bruch said.

For spearers who haven’t filled their tags, Bruch said the best successes were found on the East shore of Lake Winnebago North of Stockbridge and in the southwest corner of the lake.

Andrew Munger: (920) 426-6661 or amunger@thenorthwestern.com

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