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Jo Miller enjoyed her first sturgeon spearing experience in 2012. These aren't hers, but she saw the whole thing and said it was 'amazing'.
Jo Miller enjoyed her first sturgeon spearing experience in 2012. These aren't hers, but she saw the whole thing and said it was 'amazing'. / Contributed photo

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Ron Bruch (920) 424-3059

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OSHKOSH -- The 80th consecutive Lake Winnebago sturgeon spearing season is one for the record books and its fans, as they do in baseball, are already saying, "Wait 'til next year!"

"We had a slower than hoped for season with the poor water clarity and poor ice conditions keeping people off the ice and slowing the harvest, but the impression I got from talking to spearers is there's still a lot of happy people," says Ron Bruch, Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor for Oshkosh.

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"We had the fifth and sixth largest fish ever recorded and more than 6 percent of the fish harvest were trophies. The Winnebago season ran the full 16 days, so people had a lot of opportunities to spear. And perhaps most importantly, nobody got hurt and we all demonstrated once again how vibrant and colorful our Wisconsin sturgeon culture is."

The 2012 Lake Winnebago season closed February 26 after running the full 16-days allowed by law; the Upriver Lakes season closed at the end of day Feb. 12 when the number of female sturgeon speared exceeded the trigger to close the season.

Across both seasons, spearers harvested 566 fish, with 36 of them weighing more than 100 pounds, or about 6.3 percent. Fish of that size are considered trophies, and their proportion of the harvest, normally about 1 percent of the harvest, has increased in recent years to 6 percent or greater. Find harvest breakdowns on DNR's 2012 Winnebago System Spearing web page.

Spearers are already making plans for 2013 as expectations are high with the robust population in the Lake Winnebago system and the high percentage of trophy sized fish in the population, Bruch says.

"The big question people are asking me is, will we automatically have higher harvest caps in 2013?" he says. "There's a good chance we probably will, but I can't say for sure until we get all the data in."

The Winnebago sturgeon management program has been so successful in maintaining harvests yet at same time allowing the sturgeon population to grow that harvest caps in recent years have been more than double what they were when harvest caps were first instituted in 1999, Bruch says.

"People realize, hey, we're in really good shape here, and when we do get a super clear year, we're going to have a great season," he says.

For a look at 10 daily features that ran highlighting aspects of the season and traditions surrounding it, visit DNR's 2012 Sturgeon Spearing Feature and click on the numbered boxes to see the different features.

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