Wayne Koplitz of Oshkosh has a beer Thursday and checks out sturgeon decoys hanging from the ceiling at Wendt's on the Lake in Van Dyne. / Patrick Flood/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
Customers sip drinks and eat lunch Thursday under colorful sturgeon decoys at Wendt's on the Lake. Wendt's and other area establishments are gearing up for the start of sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago. / Patrick Flood / The Reporter Media
WOMEN ON WINNEBAGO:
A group of women outdoor writers from at least five states will get a first-hand look at sturgeon spearing activities and the Sturgeon Stampede festival on Lake Winnebago.
Called Women on Winnebago (WOW), the event is being hosted by the Fond du Lac Area Visitors Bureau today through Monday.
It is expected that about a dozen female outdoor media professionals will converge on the area. Participants will write, blog, broadcast and film about their exploits and about the Fond du Lac area. The WOW event has attracted the attention of other media members, who have requested to come and cover the story.
Craig Molitor, president of the Fond du Lac Area Visitors Bureau, said Dan Small, well-known host of TV’s “Outdoor Wisconsin,” is going to be in town with a camera crew from Wisconsin Public Television.
The WOW group will view an ice cut-in demonstration this afternoon off Wendt’s on the Lake on Winnebago’s west shore.
Molitor said his office has become increasingly aware of the great destination Fond du Lac offers for those interested in hunting, fishing and the outdoors.
Fond du Lac won a bid to host the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers annual convention in September.
“Sturgeon spearing is so unique to this area, we thought ‘why don‘t we take advantage of this?’” Molitor said, noting that spearing and the festival atmosphere provide an ideal time for a media event.
“What we’re doing is embracing winter,” he said. “And that’s what we need to do from a tourist standpoint.”
Sturgeon spearing season begins Saturday and it’s big business for many local establishments.
Randy Schmitz, manaager of Jim and Linda’s Lakeview Supper Club near Pipe, said everyone there is happy to see the sturgeon registration station return. The restaurant had long been a registration site before it was moved up the road for several years.
“We had people from all over looking at the fish and to see how (spearers were) doing,” Schmitz recalled. “It’s great and we’re very excited to have it back.”
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Schmitz plans to set up a wireless camera to film the registration area so that the action outside can be shown inside the restaurant’s bar.
“Sturgeon spearing I would have to say definitely is the best weekend in the winter,” Schmitz said of the boost to business.
Schmitz plans to be open at 4:30 a.m. Saturday to serve an open menu that includes eggs and meats and special omelets. He said business between breakfast and lunch is unrivaled.
“It’s my understanding that we have some of the best ice on the lake,,” he said. “Everybody tells us Pipe is the place to be.”
Ann Ziemer of Wendt’s on the Lake near Van Dyne agrees sturgeon spearing is a special time of year.
“Our February makes our whole year — it really does,” she said. “It’s not only the financial part of it, but the memories people make are amazing.”
Ziemer said the tradition of sturgeon spearing is being passed to new generations of kids and the sturgeon are getting bigger each year. The age for those licensed to spear dropped this year from 14 to 12. Her son, Wyatt, is 11 and officially will take part in his first year as a spearer next year.
Ziemer said Wendt’s is a popular gathering spot on the west shore of Lake Winnebago for people who spear and for others who just come to watch. The restaurant will open at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. She said area television stations intend to make stops at Wendt’s this weekend.
The ice has improved, according to Ziemer, but people still need to be aware of conditions before they venture out.
Abby Baumann, assistant manager at Schmitty’s Oar House Bar & Grill, N7044 Winnebago Drive, is looking forward to the start of the sturgeon season.
“There’s usually a huge crowd,” she said, adding that spearing is the biggest business draw of the winter.
To continue the sturgeon spearing festivities, Schmitty’s will have the band, Rubber Soul, from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday, with no cover charge.