This 185-pound, 80.2-inch female was registered last year at the Calumet Harbor Station by Josh Genske of Sheboygan. / WDNR Photo
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Ron Bruch, DNR Fisheries Supervisor 920-424-3059
OSHKOSH – A record number of spearers are expected for the Feb. 11, 2012 opening day of the Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Season and they will find more trophy-sized fish, higher harvest caps for the most prized fish, adult female sturgeon, and the potential for a longer season, state fish biologists say.
“We’ve seen a steady increase in the adult lake sturgeon stock in the last decade so we've been able to raise the harvest caps again for 2012, which should translate into more spearing opportunities and possibly a longer season," says Ron Bruch, Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor in Oshkosh. "That's good news for spearers and for the local economy, which sees an economic impact of more than $3.5 million for the average 10-day season."
In 2011, DNR estimated there were 16,560 females and 30,260 males in the adult spawning stock. The harvest caps for adult females have increased to 745 on Lake Winnebago and 83 on the Upriver Lakes for 2012, up from 711 and 79 respectively.
A record 12,680 people bought licenses by the Oct. 31, 2011 deadline to spear during the upcoming season, up from the previous record of 12,423 set last year, and up nearly 50 percent since 2007. Bruch credits the growing participation in part to excitement over the significant increase in trophy-sized lake sturgeon in the system.
Trophy-sized fish are those 100 pounds or larger, and last year, spearers harvested 94 of them. That's about 7.5 percent of the 1,426 fish harvested, up from less than 1 percent in most years.
And DNR fisheries crews regularly see fish in excess of 200 pounds during spawning surveys on the Wolf River. The record fish of 212 pounds was harvested from Lake Winnebago in 2010.
Regulation changes developed through a joint effort by DNR and the Winnebago Citizens sturgeon Advisory Committee since 1993 have led to the an increase in sturgeon numbers and trophy-sized fish.
“The sturgeon harvest management system we currently have in place on the Winnebago System is a world model,” Bruch says. “Key to our success is not only effective control of harvest, but also the process we use to pro-actively involve the public in our sturgeon management program; the public has great ownership and pride in this program.”
Ice conditions beginning to shape up
Ice conditions on Lake Winnebago are still relatively poor but much improved thanks to the recent cold weather. Spearers are optimistic there is now a solid base that additional cold weather can build on to make for good travel in most areas come Feb. 9. That is the first day spearers can “cut in” and set their shacks. The other great moderator of spearing success, water clarity, is fair at this point but expected to improve, Bruch says.
Even if the ice thickens, it is never 100 percent safe and those traveling on it need to exercise caution and know where the cracks and thin ice areas are, he says.
Fishing and spearing clubs around the lake system mark and maintain a network of roads on the lakes, as well as bridges over expansion cracks, for safe travel. Roads are marked every one-tenth of a mile with an upright Christmas tree. Christmas trees lying on their sides mark thin or dangerous ice areas.
The 2012 Lake Winnebago season runs from Feb. 11, 2012, through Feb. 26, 2012, 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.
The Upriver Lakes season runs from Feb. 11, 2012, through Feb. 26, 2012, on Lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan, or until the pre-set harvest cap for the Upriver Lakes is reached, or the pre-set harvest cap for the entire Winnebago System is reached, whichever comes first. Participation in the Upriver season was determined by a lottery for the required sturgeon tag, with 500 people selected from among those who submitted an application by Aug. 1, 2011.
Spearers can only participate in the season for which they have a spearing license. More information on regulations and a list of registration stations is available on the Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Season 2012 page of the DNR website.
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