Chain saws buzzed and pickup trucks pulling shanties dotted the Lake Winnebago horizon Friday morning as sturgeon spearers prepared for the annual tradition.
More than 12,000 people will hope to haul up one of the bottom-feeding, slow-moving fish when the season opens Saturday.
Josh Hungerford, of Oakfield, had a crew of six help cut-in his 8-foot-wide spearing hole about a mile out from Stockbridge Friday.
More on sturgeon season: More headlines and video | Tweets collected during the season | Browse photos from the 2013 season | Browse photos from the 2012 season | Share your sturgeon photos | Watch cameras on the Wolf River | Watch cameras positioned in Stockbridge
“They’re saying the water’s pretty dirty. We’re hoping it goes the full two weeks,” Hungerford said. “That’s more fun than when they really nail them the first day.”
The season will be open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for 16 days, or until harvest quotas are met.
Hungerford worked the extended 42-inch bar on his chain saw to slice through 17 inches of ice. He placed crossed PVC pipe across the mucky lake bottom, which he used as a backdrop to spot sturgeon.
“It’s a pretty good rush,” Hungerford said of the moments before tossing the four- to six-pronged spear.
Trucks streamed across a bridge at Calumet County Park onto the ice Friday. The ice is strong enough from the eastern shore to hold most vehicles.
On the north shore at Waverly Beach in Menasha, it was a different story. A crack about 50 feet off shore prevented vehicles from venturing onto the ice.
Blistering winds in late January tore a 10-foot-wide hole in the ice that runs from Neenah to Fond du Lac near the western shore. That hole still has not entirely refrozen.
Meanwhile, rain runoff after the warm spell this winter led to hazy and mucky water conditions, not ideal for spotting a black-grey fish against a dark-green backdrop.
Marcel Cardinal, of Fremont, used an ATV to tow his shanty onto the ice Friday.
“I expect we’ll see really low numbers again because of the water clarity,” Cardinal said. “It should be like last year.”
Throughout the season, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will post daily harvest numbers on its website at dnr.wi.gov.
— Nick Penzenstadler: 920-996-7226, or email@example.com; on Twitter @npenzenstadler