Elizabeth Groshek, 11, of Neenah tries to touch a sturgeon Wednesday as it swims along the edge of the Wolf River at the Wolf River Sturgeon Trail near New London. / Dan Powers/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
See for yourself
Best-bet sites to spot spawning sturgeon (directions oriented with Fox Cities as starting point):
» Pfeifer Park, New London: Take U.S. 45 north and turn right onto Waupaca Street. Follow Waupaca Street to Embarrass Drive and turn left. Walk the south shoreline of the Embarrass River.
» Mukwa Wildlife Area, New London: Take Waupaca County X west from New London for 2 miles. Look for "Wolf River Sturgeon Trail" signs for parking opportunities and walking trails along the south side of the river.
» Shawano Dam, Shawano: Take State 29 west through Shawano to the bridge crossing the Wolf River.
» Shiocton, "Bamboo Bend": Take State 54 near Bamboo Bend where Old Highway 54 crosses the Wolf River. Overpasses and riverbanks allow public viewing.
NEW LONDON — Warm water brought on by unseasonably high temperatures has led to an early start to sturgeon spawning this year — the earliest ever recorded by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Fisheries biologist Ron Bruch from the DNR sent out a statement Tuesday saying he anticipated spawning would begin in the Wolf River at a location about two miles west of New London. On Wednesday, groups of sturgeon were spotted splashing water along the river's rocky banks — a sure sign spawning had begun.
The prehistoric bottom dwellers usually begin spawning at the end of April, but with air temperatures already peaking over 80 degrees, river temps have been pulled up as well.
"The warm weather that brings the water temperatures up — that's what's moving this along so rapidly," Bruch said.
Ideal water temperature for spawning is around 53 degrees, he said. River water near New London is about 50 degrees.
On average, spawning can last 10 days with fish hitting different spots along the Wolf and Fox rivers. Bruch said the fish will move farther north as water temperatures increase.
Gawkers have already flocked to the New London area to see the annual phenomenon. The Wolf and Fox river system is thought to be the only place in North America where a person can witness the spawning ritual, according to the DNR, which has tracked the start of the spawn since the 1950s.
Lee Chase, 70, from Tustin, was among dozens of people who walked the paved Sturgeon Trail on Wednesday afternoon. The popular spawning location is about two miles west of New London — the same spot Bruch, the fisheries biologist, had anticipated spawning to begin.
"I love to come out and watch them," he said.
Chase crouched down on the pathway's edge and watched the large fish thrash their tails and spew water near the rocks that line the river's bank.
"This is one of the best spots," Chase said.
In 2011, spawning got off to a later than usual start with sturgeon laying their eggs in mid-May. The sturgeon left before Chase had a chance to see them.
But that wasn't the case this time around.
Dressed in jean shorts, a sleeveless T-shirt and sunglasses, the 70-year-old intently watched the fish swim up near the shoreline.
"It's good to see that there's a good lot of them," he said.
Melissa Ashley, 63, of Kaukauna, also walked the Sturgeon Trail near New London on Wednesday.
Ashley first saw the sturgeon spawn eight years ago when she was invited to witness it by her son and daughter-in-law.
"This is my TV," Ashley said.
A nature enthusiast who hopes to make photography her full-time profession, Ashley said the sturgeons aren't the only creatures making an early appearance this year. She's spotted magnolias in bloom and moths flying at night.
"Everything is coming out earlier," she said.
The DNR is seeking volunteers interested in guarding spawning sites from poachers along the Wolf River. Potential Sturgeon Guard participants can contact Rebecca Pawlak at 920-303-5444 or email Rebecca. email@example.com.