Day 1 totals
• Lake Winnebago: 74 juvenile females, 314 adult females, 248 males. Total 636.
• Upriver Lakes: 30 juvenile female, 57 adult females, 155 males. Total 242.
• System-wide totals: 104 juvenile females, 371 adult females, 403 males. Total 878.
Weigh-in stations on Lake Winnebago
• Waverly Beach Resort, junction of Highway 10 and 114: 22
• Harrison Town Hall, junctions of Highway 114 and State Park Road: 32
• Harbor Bar, Stockbridge: 61
• Quinney Quencher, Quinney: 60
• Jim & Linda’s Lakeview: Pipe: 121
• Wendt’s on the Lake, Van Dyne: 211
• Jerry’s Tavern, Oshkosh: 64
• Payne’s Point Tavern, Neenah: 65
• A Sturgeon Hotline at (920) 303-5444 will provide the latest information on fish harvested and the status of harvest caps.
Saturday sturgeon tally
FOND DU LAC — Two miles out across the frozen ice of Lake Winnebago Henry “Heinie” Theisen waits in his ice shanty for a sturgeon to glide by.
Gathered around him like roots around a tree are generations of his family, laughing as they breathe in the icy air. At age 96, Heinie, an old farmer from Eden, has been sturgeon spearing since at least the 1950s, maybe longer, said his daughter, Pat Wettstein.
“He’s always worked hard and played hard,” she said. “Everyone takes care of Grandpa so he can keep going.”
Saturday’s opening day of the 2014 sturgeon spearing season brought hundreds of families and friends to a village of more than 4,000 shanties spread across the lake to share in a winter sporting tradition that defines the hearty nature of Wisconsinites.
“There’s lot of tradition and culture that goes into the sport of spear fishing and people look forward to it every single year — it’s almost like Christmas in this area of the state,” said Ryan Koenigs, Winnebago System sturgeon biologist with the DNR.
William Zahringer of Hilbert registered the largest fish of opening day at Harbor Bar in Stockbridge, Calumet County, tipping the scales at 143.9 pounds, 75.4 inches long.
At the day’s end, spearers harvested just over 42 percent of the Lake Winnebago adult female harvest cap, meaning the season will continue through Sunday and likely into the early part of next week.
Solid ice and outstanding water clarity led to some insanity at registration stations — namely Wendt’s on the Lake along Highway 45 in Van Dyne. By 3 p.m. they were 50-deep in spearers with a two-hour wait to check-in, prompting the Department of Natural Resources to open a second registration station.
Congestion along the highway — including cars parked on snowbanks — led the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office to order spectators to park their vehicles on the lake.
DNR crews at Wendt’s didn’t finish the day’s count until 4:40 p.m.
Lucas Schneider of Green Bay speared a 140.1-pound, 77.8-inch female sturgeon off the shore of Stockbridge around 10:40 a.m.
Browse, share sturgeon season photos
“I’ve been sturgeon spearing 16 years and this is my fourth fish,” Schneider said. “It was three-feet off the bottom and the crystal-clear water helped very much.”
Koenigs said this season’s conditions were the best since 2008 to 2010. The south end of the lake was the hot spot, with 211 fish registered at Wendt’s, compared to 121 fish at Jim & Linda’s Supper Club in Pipe along the east shore.
“About 14 to 16 feet of visibility was pretty common throughout the lake,” he said.
DNR District Fish Supervisor Randy Schumacher counted five sturgeon over 100 pounds registered at Stockbridge by noon — the biggest weighing in at 129.9 pounds. On Saturday 50 sturgeon were brought in that weighed 100 pounds or more.
“We get to know a lot of these fish pretty well, like the nine that came in today that were tagged,” Schumacher said. “This helps us with population estimates and logging mortality rates.”
Randy Harder of Plymouth was all smiles as they weighed-in his 102-pound, 72-inch sturgeon he speared about 9 a.m. two miles out from the shore at Brothertown. It was the 14th sturgeon in his fishing career.
Coming off three years straight of 16-day seasons, Koenigs said this year the string will end. Opening day brought in a total of 878 sturgeon system-wide, 636 from Lake Winnebago.
In the Upriver lakes the season will end if 26 adult females are harvested Sunday.
Last year’s opening day brought in 39 fish from Lake Winnebago and 179 system-wide.
“Everything is coming together this year and we have a good population of big fish in the lake,” said Kendall Kamke, DNR Senior Fisheries Biologist. He’s been registering sturgeon since 1991 and was working at the Pipe station just outside Jim and Linda’s.
The record fish taken on Lake Winnebago was a 212.2-pound fish speared in 2010 by Ron Grishaber of Appleton, but Koenigs says the DNR tagged an even bigger fish — a 240-pounder — during spawning season a couple springs ago.
Wettstein said when they come in off the lake they will head over to Johnsburg — to the local pub – to join other spearers for a beer of two.
“That’s part of the tradition — ending the day at a bar,” she said.
More on sturgeon season: More headlines and video | Browse photos from the 2014 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
Sharon Roznik may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (920) 907-7936.