The 2012 Wisconsin hook and line sturgeon fishing season opens this coming weekend on September 1st and continues through the end of the month. The Lake Winnebago system has a very large sturgeon spearing season in February, but the Wisconsin hook and line season is only on a few selected lakes and rivers in the state. The hook and line season opens this coming Saturday on segments of the Chippewa River, the Flambeau River, Butternut Lake in Price County, segments of the Jump River in Rusk County, Yellow Lake, Little Yellow Lake, the Danbury Flowage, and the Yellow River downstream to the Danbury Dam (Burnett County), and the Wisconsin River downstream from the Wisconsin Dells Dam to the Mississippi River including Lake Wisconsin. Sturgeon numbers are very good on most state waters and since the implantation of two major regulation changes in 2007, the future of the lake sturgeon remains very good.
The first rule change was to raise the sturgeon minimum length to 60 inches from the 50 inch minimum size and the second change was to decrease the length of the sturgeon fishing season from six weeks to four weeks. According to Karl Scheidegger, Chairman of the Sturgeon Management Team, the main concern with sturgeon fishing is that there has been an increase in fishing pressure and the number of anglers fishing which leads to over-harvesting these popular fish. By increasing the size minimum to 60 inches, female sturgeon will have the opportunity to reproduce at least twice before potentially being harvested. The lake sturgeon lives longer and grows larger than any other freshwater fish in the state. Female sturgeons live much longer than the male fish and 95 % of all sturgeon over 30 years old are females. Female sturgeons don’t reach sexual maturity until they are at least 25 years old and 55 inches in length. Then, they spawn only once every four or five years. Males are sexually mature at around 15 years when they are about 45 inches long. Initially, sturgeon grow more rapidly in length than weight, but this pattern changes as the fish age and grow older. The sturgeon growth depends on numerous factors with the most important ones being food supply and water temperature.
The “new” rules were first tried in 2006 season on the Menominee River. The sturgeon harvest on some Wisconsin waters was ranging from 25 to 35 % which was drastically above the DNR management goal of only 5 %. Increasing the size limit and shortening the season worked well on the Menominee River where the harvest went from 100 fish in 2005 to 1 sturgeon in 2006.
Living on the Wisconsin River, I’ve been able to see the “new rules” implemented and how well they’ve worked below the Kilbourn Dam at Wisconsin Dells and at the Prairie du Sac Dam at Sauk Prairie, Wisconsin. Here, there had been different rules for sturgeon fishing with a 50 inch minimum one year and a 70 inch minimum the next year. The minimum size in 2007 was to be 50 inches, but the new regulations bumped the size minimum up to 60 inches which still remains in effect. The sturgeon harvest has been reduced up to 80 % in certain waters of the state where over-harvesting had been taking place and hurting the overall population.
Sturgeons are doing well in the state waters where lake sturgeon fishing is legal. The lake sturgeon population on the Lower Chippewa River is good from the Holcombe Flowage downstream to Lake Pepin. In 2011, 13 sturgeons were harvested from this stretch of the river with the largest sturgeon measuring 82 inches. This is the most sturgeon caught since the 60 inch minimum size went into affect in 2007. Plus, anglers are reporting catching and releasing many fish in the mid 50’s and recent DNR surveys have confirmed that there are numerous sturgeons of this size in this fishery. The Wisconsin River/Lake Wisconsin fishery is in good shape with a young girl catching an 83 inch sturgeon in the spring and releasing it. Early in the season, surveys have shown that most of the radio-tagged sturgeons are still in the Mississippi River and don’t start moving up the Wisconsin River till later in the fall when the water cools and the current flow increases. The oxygen content in the river also rises to a level that the sturgeon are comfortable in. The 60 inch minimum has helped the Wisconsin River fishery and it remains strong with officials expecting a harvest of 5 to 15 sturgeons with the average being 8 fish a year since the rule change to the 60 inch minimum. The Lake Wisconsin fishery has been a little slower, but overall the sturgeon fishery remains strong and fisheries biologists expect to see 5 sturgeons caught in the Lake Wisconsin and Wisconsin Dells area this fall.
There are other sturgeon fisheries where anglers can legally fish for lake sturgeon with some of the better locations being; the Menominee River, Yellow Lake, the Flambeau River, the Jump River, Butternut Lake, and the Yellow River. Be sure to check the Wisconsin Fishing Regulations booklet and look for Wisconsin fishing seasons and the lake sturgeon page if you have any questions. You may also call 1-877-945-4236.
To legally sturgeon fish an angler must have;
- If over 16 years old, you must have a valid Wisconsin inland fishing license.
- Anglers who plan to harvest a sturgeon must have a harvest tag before they plan to fish. No tag is needed if you plan to catch and release any sturgeon. Resident tags are $10.00 and non-residents have a $50.00 fee for a sturgeon tag which must be attached to the fish immediately and you must register the fish by 6:00 pm the next day. All monies taken from sturgeon tags go back into the sturgeon projects to help and maintain the sturgeon population in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin sturgeon restoration project is a model for the country and we send sturgeon and help other states with their sturgeon programs and restoration projects on a regular basis.
If planning on fishing for these large fish, you need strong gear. I suggest a stout 6 foot rod with a good bait casting reel spooled with 40 to 50 pound monofilament or a braided or “super” line. You’ll need anywhere from 2 to 4 ounces of weight to keep your bait on the bottom. Then, use a 2/0 or 1/0 hook and put anywhere from 6 to 8 night crawlers or cut bait on the hook. Look for transition areas where the bottom goes from sand to rock in 10 tom 25 feet of water. Keep moving around till you get some action. I practice catch and release just like I do with muskies, so I don’t need a tag. I find joy and excitement in releasing these giants that have been swimming Wisconsin’s waters for longer than I’ve been living!