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NEENAH The big fish swimming through Bill Buksyk's sturgeon spearing hole set off the veteran hunter's adrenaline pump.

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After 62 years of staring into spearing holes on Lake Winnebago, the 80-year-old Neenah resident knew he had himself a true trophy passing under the sharpened points of his sturgeon spear.

Buksyk dropped his spear, impaling the sturgeon and initiating a half-hour battle that ended when the 158.4-pound, 81-inch sturgeon was pulled from the hole onto the ice.

"This is the first sturgeon I've speared over 100 pounds and I've speared 28 sturgeon in my 62 years of looking down that hole. It was exciting," Buksyk said.

Buksyk was one of 94 sturgeon hunters to harvest a fish over 100 pounds and among the 73 percent of successful spearers who live close to the spearing grounds in counties adjacent to Lake Winnebago or the upriver lakes of Butte des Morts, Poygan and Winneconne.

Those facts come from a preliminary analysis of the recently completed season put together by state Department of Natural Resources sturgeon biologist Ron Bruch, who also thinks there may be some demographic changes occurring in the sport.

"I'll know more about these trends after we examine the license and harvest data and complete our analysis," Bruch said.

Among items of interest:

  • The 2011 season was the fourth spearing season to run the full 16 days since a harvest cap season went into effect in 1999.

  • The total harvest of 1,426 fish was close to the average annual harvest of 1,405 since 1999, Bruch said.

  • Ninety-four fish weighed over 100 pounds, an indication the average sturgeon might be bigger than in the past.

    Despite concerns by some spearers that too many big fish, usually females, are being taken, Bruch said the percentage of big fish harvested "appears to be truly reflective of what is actually in the population."

    Bruch said successful sturgeon management programs, helped by ample supplies of the sturgeon's favorite foods lake fly larvae and gizzard shad helped the fish grow.

    The preliminary analysis also shows 1,038 of the 1,426 successful spear hunters live in Calumet, Fond du Lac, Outagamie or Winnebago counties, with 25 percent of all successful spearers coming from Winnebago County, the most of any county.

    Spearers who live one county away numbering 222 accounted for 15.6 percent of successful spearers. Spearers who live in outlying counties accounted for 10.73 percent of harvested sturgeon, or 153 fish.

    Spearers from seven other states Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota harvested 13 fish, or just under 1 percent of the harvest.

    Bruch said he heard from spearers who were unhappy that some holes were not properly marked, and want to cut holes earlier than the Thursday before opening day and hunt longer than the current hours of 6:30 a.m. to noon.

    Bruch said he expects those concerns to be addressed during summer meetings of the state's Sturgeon Advisory Committee.

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

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