River Currents

by Free Speech on August 28, 2009

Lodi, WI~

Lodi Valley News serving Lodi, WI & the Lake Wisconsin area with local information since Earth Day 2008.

Lodi, WI
by Gary Engberg
©2009 Gary Engberg Outdoors

The best time of the year for outdoors orientated people is soon here! There are so many outdoor activities that will peak and provide some of the year’s best outdoor action culminate in September, October, and into November. There’s fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, canoeing, outdoor photography, and much more. I plan to tell you about these varied outdoor activities over the next few weeks with articles on what’s happening this fall in the Wisconsin outdoors.

A legal 63 inch sturgeon from the Wisconsin River below the Prairie Dam by Milo Stanislov of Chicago, Illinois

A legal 63 inch sturgeon from the Wisconsin River below the Prairie Dam by Milo Stanislov of Chicago, Illinois

Wisconsin is one of the few states in the country that has a hook and line lake sturgeon fishing season. The season opens on September 5 and closes September 30, 2009. During this month long season, anglers have a chance to catch one of the state’s largest and oldest-living fish. Lake sturgeons live longer and grow larger than any other fresh water fish in the state. The female lake sturgeon lives much longer than males with 95% of all sturgeon over 30 years old being females. Female sturgeons don’t reach sexual maturity till they are at least 25 years old and about 55 inches in length. Then, they spawn only once every four or five years. Males are sexually mature at 15 years when they are about 45 inches long. Initially, sturgeons grow more rapidly in length than in weight, but this pattern changes as the fish age. Growth depends on several factors with the most important factors being the available food supply and water temperature.
This year’s season marks the third year of the “new rules” where the minimum harvest length was raised to 60 inches (it was 50 inches), one fish per season, and the season’s length was shortened from six weeks to four weeks. The reason for the rule changes is that the lake sturgeon is becoming a more popular fish for anglers which bring the threat of over-harvesting at some of the more popular fishing locations like below the dams at Wisconsin Dells and Prairie du Sac. Over-harvest can cause population declines in females that would cause years to recover. The goal of the Department of Natural Resources is to limit the sturgeon harvest to 5% of the adult population (females) in particular populations. Before the rule changes, the harvest rate on some of Wisconsin rivers ranged from 25 to 35 % which is way above the DNR management goals. The new rule changes could possibly reduce lake sturgeon harvest state wide by up to 80%.
The rule changes were first tried on the Menominee River in 2006 and the harvest went from 100 sturgeons in 2005 to 1 in 2006. So, it’s easy to see that the new changes worked! Karl Scheidegger, who heads the DNR sturgeon management team said, “Increased angler pressure and harvest trends prompted the rule changes to protect the fisheries and sustain fishing opportunities into the future. The reduced harvest totals in 2007 and 2008 showed that the rules are working: interested anglers got a chance to participate in the season while many vulnerable, reproductive females were protected.”
Another example of how the rule changes are working is on the Wisconsin River at the Prairie du Sac Dam where lake sturgeons were being harvested at a 30% rate in 2005 when the 50 inch minimum length was in effect. With the now 60 inch minimum in effect, nine fish were caught in 2007 and two fish taken in 2008. These numbers were at or below the 5% exploitation rate and within the management goals according to the local DNR technician, Michael Rennicke. Statewide, the 2008 total hook and line harvest was 39 fish.
There are numerous waters (mostly rivers) in the state where one can legally sturgeon fish during the fall. These waters include; the Chippewa River, the Flambeau River, the Menominee River, the Jump River, the Yellow River, and the Wisconsin River from Wisconsin Dells downstream. This includes Lake Wisconsin which is located between the dams at Wisconsin Dells and Prairie du Sac.
The best location for lake sturgeon fishing is below the dams on many of the rivers and in the tailrace areas directly below a dam. Anglers can catch these prehistoric fish from shore or by boat and both methods work. Access to deep water is also important and this can usually be found below the dams where years of high water in the spring has dug what is called a “scour hole” with some of the rivers deepest water. The fish seem to suspend in the deeper water when not feeding. Sturgeon move shallower to feed and anchoring in 10 to 15 feet of water in an area with a sand and gravel bottom is a good place to start fishing. I would suggest that you never fish more than a mile below a dam and night-time fishing is better when these “monsters” move into shallower water to feed.
The gear and equipment needed is much like one would use when muskie fishing. An angler needs a stout and heavy rod (6 to 7 feet long) with a quality baitcasting reel (like a Garcia Ambassador) spooled with a monofilament line like Berkley Big Game in 30 to 50 pound test. Remember that these fish can easily weigh 50 pounds and more! An egg sinker anywhere from 2 to 6 ounces is put on your line above a barrel swivel. Then, a 2 to 3 foot lead is attached to the swivel with a 2/0 or 4/0 hook filled with nightcrawlers or cut bait from a roughfish. Shore anglers use more weight so they can get their bait farther away from shore and out into deeper water. Wisconsin allows three lines per person, so I’d use different bait on each rod and put the rod in a holder with the reel’s clicker on whether in a boat or from shore. If you don’t get any action in 30 to 45 minutes, move and set up again till you contact fish. Be sure to have an ample supply of bait because smaller fish will take your nightcrawlers. A large net is also a must because a “small’ fish can still be 30 to 50 inches. Try to keep the fish in the water like a muskie when caught and if the fish is not legal unhook it as quick as possible and return it to the water. If it is hooked deep, cut the line as close to the hook as possible and release the fish rather than trying to unhook it where you’ll most likely harm the fish. The sturgeons can dissolve the hooks which is better than trying to unhook it in many cases.
You must possess a valid fishing license and a sturgeon tag which is $20.00 for residents and $50.00 for non-residents. Be sure and have a Wisconsin Fishing Rules and Regulation booklet and a sturgeon regulation pamphlet if printed. You do not need a harvest tag if you are releasing your fish. Anglers who harvest a legal-size fish must immediately attach the harvest tag to the fish and register it by 6:00 pm the next day for registration. There are registration stations at Sauk Prairie Live Bait and Tackle in Prairie du Sac and River’s Edge Resort in the Wisconsin Dells. If you have questions check the DNR website or call 1-877-945-4236.
Information, baits, and gear can all be gotten the Wilderness Fish and Game store in Sauk City, Wisconsin. Plus, they are located only a few miles below the dam at Prairie du Sac which is always a good location to fish. The VFW boat landing is close to the dam and also has camping sites on the river at a very reasonable cost. You may always contact me at www.garyengbergoutdoors.com for “fresh” information and water conditions.

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