John Anderson (left) and his brother, David, prepare to head out on opening day of the sturgeon spearing season off Waverly Beach in Menasha on Saturday. Chances are anyone returning to that station Saturday afternoon came back disappointed as no fish were registered there on the day. / Ron Page/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
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.
Waverly Beach Resort, Menasha: 0
Harrison Town Hall: 0
Harbor Bar, Stockbridge: 7
Quinney Quencher, Quinney: 8
Jim and Linda’s Lakeview Supper Club, Pipe: 6
Wendt’s on the Lake, Van Dyne: 8
Jerry’s Tavern, Oshkosh: 10
Payne’s Point Tavern, Neenah: 0
Critters Wolf River Sports, Winneconne: 75
Indian Point Tavern, east of Tustin: 46
Boom Bay Boat Landing, Lake Poygan: 19
MENASHA — The sturgeon spearing season opened with a thud Saturday at Waverly Beach.
As Department of Natural Resources employees and curious onlookers waited for the big fish to arrive at the registration station, activity remained lifeless.
The station came up empty as none were ever registered.
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
The opening day was in line with last year’s, showing a slow start on Lake Winnebago and a steady haul from the Upriver Lakes.
Spearers harvested 39 fish from Lake Winnebago — the exact count on opening day last year. That number is more than 240 fewer than opening day of 2011.
The upriver lakes of Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan yielded 140 fish. Spearers on opening day last year had brought in a total of 171 from those lakes.
“The reason behind the success rate on the upriver lakes was, even though there were fewer spearers, they had better conditions,” Ryan Koenigs, Winnebago sturgeon biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources, said Saturday afternoon.
“The water clarity wasn’t as much of an issue because the water is much shallower than Lake Winnebago. Given what we saw from the harvest today, we’re looking at probably a full 16-day season on Lake Winnebago unless conditions improve.”
The DNR allows spearing from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. daily during the season.
The DNR’s aerial shanty count indicated there are 2,724 shanties on Lake Winnebago and 397 on the upriver lakes. Participation on the upriver lakes is limited through a lottery to 500 permits per year.
Koenigs said because of harvest caps and the success of Saturday’s yield, the upriver lakes fishery has the potential to close today for the season.
The stars of the show Saturday at the Waverly Beach registration station were two sturgeon speared on Lake Poygan.
George Schroeder of Menasha had stabbed one of them, and a friend of his son’s had struck the other.
“I’ve got five or six buddies here fishing on Lake Winnebago and so I just came here to see them,” said Schroeder, 57.
When Schroeder heard that no sturgeon had been registered Saturday at Waverly Beach, he brought out the fish and displayed them in the snow for the waiting crowd.
Onlookers snapped pictures with cameraphones. Parents posed their bundled-up little ones by the fish. Adults and children alike took turns stroking the sturgeons’ skin and examining the fishes’ wounds and other features.
The sport of sturgeon spearing floods Schroeder with adrenaline.
“It’s a rush like no other,” he said. “It’s about, to me, like Jaws coming. Your heart almost jumps out of your throat, you get so surprised.”
Every year at this time, Schroeder and his family and friends share a feast, regardless of whether anyone has speared a sturgeon. This year, there will be sturgeon on the table.
“My buddy cuts it up in chunks and he fries it up in a frying pan and the way he fries it, it tastes like pork chops,” Schroeder said.
Stephanie Wisnet of Appleton visited her father in his shanty near High Cliff State Park.
Wisnet, 25, carries camera equipment for a photography project that began during college. She hopes to turn her project into a book and exhibit of photos that depict sturgeon spearing traditions, culture and practice.
“Usually I drive around the lake, putting on hundreds of miles trying to get all the photos,” she said. “This season so far has been a little disappointing because there’s not much to see in the water and there are not many sturgeon to see. Hopefully the water will clear up and we’ll see more sturgeon.”
— Kara Patterson: 920-993-1000, ext. 215, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @ArtsMinded