For years, I've heard my father-in-law speak in hushed tones of his annual February pilgrimage in pursuit of sturgeon on Lake Winnebago. From what I was able to deduce, he, along with a dedicated group of friends and compatriots, embarked each year on a mission to pursue an ancient species in literal hand-to-fin combat.
As an aficionado for an adrenaline rush, my curiosity was piqued. Last February, I found myself invited on a voyage to the frozen waters of the Winnebago system. It was there that I came face-to-face with the pure insanity of the Wisconsin sturgeon spearing season. Truth be told, there are some things in life one must experience to appreciate, and sturgeon spearing is one of them.
The lake sturgeon is a true living fossil, a species of fish that first appeared on earth an estimated 100 million years ago in the Upper Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era. To gaze upon one of these behemoths is to catch a glimpse of an actual prehistoric life form. Lake sturgeon are the longest-living fish species in the state of Wisconsin, the record being an 82-year-old leviathan caught from Lake Winnebago in 1953. Older specimens are possible, as evidenced by the capture of a 215-pound monster from Lake of the Woods that was aged at 152 years old.
With this knowledge as the back drop, I found myself huddled in an ice shack opening morning intently looking down the largest ice-hole I had ever found myself fishing from.
My brother-in-law, Chris Hubbard, sat to my left and, as the minutes turned to hours, we peered relentlessly into the clouded waters of Lake Winnebago. Aside from seeing overly inquisitive jumbo perch, the sturgeon did not appear.
As a professional fishing guide and tournament angler, I know all to well that things do not always go as planned. While Chris and I were disappointed, we had set realistic expectations before venturing out and knew how slim the window of success would be. Ironically, instead of becoming discouraged, our experience has only fueled the fire of determination. I do not know how many sturgeon spearing seasons lie between us and success, but I do know that I fully embrace the arrival of each.
It's February in Wisconsin. It's spearing season. Game on, sturgeon, game on. I'll see you on the water.
Joel DeBoer is owner of Wisconsin Angling Adventures Guide Service. He can be contacted through his Web site at www.wisconsinangling