Tony Gishkowsky of Oshkosh stands next to the 116-pound, 101-inch female sturgeon he landed on Saturday during the opening day of the spearing season. / Aileen Andrews / For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
This 78-pound sturgeon was speared by 17-year-old Nicholaus Oelerich of Oshkosh on the opening day of the 2013 sturgeon spearing season. He speared the fish just north of Wendt's on the Lake in Van Dyne. / Aileen Andrews / The Reporter Media
Saturday sturgeon tally
Day 1 totals:
• Lake Winnebago: 6 juvenile females, 16 adults females, 17 males.
• Upriver Lakes: 12 juvenile females, 46 adult females, 82 males.
• System-wide totals: 18 juvenile females, 62 adults females, 99 males.
Weigh-in stations on Lake Winnebago
• Waverly Beach Resort, junction of Highway 10 and 114 : 0
• Harrison Town Hall, junctions of Highway 114 and State Park Road: 0
• Harbor Bar, Stockbridge: 7
• Quinney Quencher, Quinney: 8
• Jim and Linda’s Lakeview, Pipe: 6
• Wendt’s of the Lake, Van Dyne: 8
• Jerry’s Tavern, Oshkosh: 10
• Payne’s Point Tavern, Neenah: 0
Word traveled fast around Lake Winnebago on Saturday that water conditions were less than optimal. “Dirty,” they called it.
It was opening day of the 2013 sturgeon spearing season and people mulled around the weigh-in station at Wendt’s on the Lake in Van Dyne, waiting for spearers to arrive off the ice. By closing, only eight of the big fish had been registered, the same number as last year.
The total harvest from Lake Winnebago was low, with 39 sturgeon being harvested on Saturday. Spearers on the Upriver Lakes were much more successful, harvesting 140 fish.
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
So far, the big fish trend continues this year, said Ryan Koenigs, fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources. Out of 179 fish harvested, nine weighed more than 100 pounds.
Landing his first sturgeon, 17-year-old Nicholaus Oelerich of Oshkosh was the first to haul in a catch at Wendt’s — a 78.6-pound, 65-inch male. The teen was about two miles out on the lake when opportunity struck.
“It was about 10:30 a.m. when he showed up. The water clarity was all right, just not the best,” he said.
A rumor was circulating that most of the sturgeon were being caught up along the east shore, near Pipe. Pete Vanderwielen of Sherwood speared a 179-pound sturgeon Saturday morning outside the Quinney station. It is the sixth largest fish harvested on the Lake Winnebago System, Koenigs said.
The current record is a 212.2-pound fish speared in 2010 by Ron Grishaber of Appleton.
Around 3 p.m., tweets from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said the success rate of spearers around Lake Winnebago was 10 to 15 percent, and chances of a sturgeon swimming by a four by six-foot hole were low.
“On average the visibility is around six to eight feet, so most of the spearers just can’t see,” said Chip Long from the DNR. “They are also closer to shore when they’d rather be out farther.”
Saturday’s shanty count on Lake Winnebago was 2,724 and 397 on the Upriver lakes, Long said.
Her fifth year sporting a spear, Debi Bartel of Weyauwega landed a 39 pound, 20-inch long male in an area out from TJ’s Restaurant along the southwest shore. Water clarity at that point was around 9 feet to the bottom, she said.
“My son-in-law and I speared it at the same time. We are taking it from here to be smoked. Sometimes I fry it up too, it’s delicious,” she said.
Dave Paynter from the DNR estimated Bartel’s fish to be between 25 and 30 years old. He uses a cross section of the fin right behind the head and counts the rings to measure the age.
Paynter predicted the season will go the full 16 days. He has covered sturgeon spearing since 1975.
“Water clarity is poor, the ice is iffy, people can’t fish where they want. Still, it’s always a fun season and there will be plenty of beer drank,” he said.
Dave Wohlt of Oshkosh came in after the 12:30 p.m. closing, trailing a 48.7-pound, 62-inch male he speared in four feet of water.
“It was a beautiful day out there. Besides the dirty water everything else was perfect,” he said.
Finally the crowd got what it was waiting for.
“It all happened so fast. He came up under the surface up to the decoy,” Oshkosh’s Tony Gishkowsky said of his 116.2-pound sturgeon. This is his fourth sturgeon in a decade pursuing the sport.
No calls for help
The Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office had its ice boat out on the lake, ready to respond to any calls for service, said Sgt. Jeff Bonack.
“We had it ready and manned with four guys (two divers) and hopscotched along the lake from station to station. There were no problems,” Bonack said.
Spearing hours run from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day. The season runs through Feb. 24 or until system-wide harvest caps are met. Caps on Lake Winnebago are 320 juvenile females, 745 adult females and 960 males.
Koenigs said the season has a chance to close tomorrow or the days to follow on the Upriver Lakes.
The 2012 season was one of mixed results. The season on the Upriver Lakes lasted only two days, while Lake Winnebago had a full 16-day season. The two-day season on the Upriver Lakes is the shortest season since the current lottery system was enacted in 2007, while the 16-day season on Lake Winnebago was the fifth 16-day season since the harvest cap system began in 1999.
In total, 566 sturgeon were harvested in 2012, with 36 of them being more than 100 pounds.
Sharon Roznik can be reached at (920) 907-7936 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.