River Currents

by Free Speech on February 19, 2010

Lodi, WI~

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

Lodi, WI
by Gary Engberg
©2010 Gary Engberg Outdoors

The Sturgeon Spearing Opens and the State Recorded is Smashed

The Wisconsin sturgeon spearing season opened this past Saturday morning, February 14th, to below zero temperatures and a sunny sky. As soon as the sun rose, the temperature rebounded and one could not have asked for a nicer February day. By mid-morning, the sky was bright blue, the warming sun was shining, and thousands of sturgeon spearers were in their shanties waiting for a big fish to come by their hole.

Sturgeon Record the new state record 212.2 pounds and 84.2 inches speared by Ron Grishaber of Appleton

The glorious day turned out to also be a record-smashing day for the opening of the 2010 Wisconsin sturgeon spearing season. DNR fishery technicians have been seeing and handling sturgeon over 200 pounds for a few years, but none have been speared until Saturday. Finally, one of these “super-trophies” was speared by Ron Grishaber of Appleton, Wisconsin on Saturday morning. Grishaber registered the huge sturgeon (212.2 pounds and 84.2 inches) at the Harrison Registration Station, west of the village of Sherwood.

This was not the only record broken on Saturday. There were a record number of lake sturgeons greater than or equal to 100 pounds registered this day with 31 taken from Lake Winnebago and 3 from the Upriver Lakes. And the other record broken was the largest male sturgeon ever registered weighing 116.8 pounds and being 71 inches long. This fish was registered at Critter’s in the town of Winneconne. This sturgeon came from the Upriver Lakes of Butte des Morts, Winneconne, and Lake Poygan.

Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes were gin-clear last week which would have helped the spearer’s by giving them greater visibility. But, the water on the west shore dirtied up from the flow of the Fox River. The best spearing and visibility was on the east side of the lake and up north near Stockbridge. This is the area where the record fish was speared and where the most fish were harvested. Water clarity can change daily and many people were moving their shanties to the east side and north end of Lake Winnebago for the last few days of the season.

I talked to and interviewed Ron Bruch, who is the Fisheries Supervisor for the entire Winnebago System, and Ron said that “the number of these very large fish in the Winnebago population has been increasing over the last 15 years due to the regulations developed by the DNR fisheries staff and the Winnebago Citizens Sturgeon Advisory Committee, and implemented in the late 1990’s and designed to decrease the annual exploitation of adult female sturgeon (which are the largest fish in the fish stock and also the most vulnerable).” There also were large hatches of sturgeon over a 20-30 year period in the early 1990’s that are now entering the “super-trophy” size in their life. Lake sturgeon and especially females are believed to be able to live to be 150 years old or more. The 212 pound record-breaking sturgeon hasn’t been aged yet, but is thought to be well over 100 years old. The previous state spearing record was a 188 pound and 79.5 inch sturgeon that was speared by David Piechowski of Redgranite in 2004. This year’s record fish was not only a record speared fish for Lake Winnebago, but also a Wisconsin state spear record topping a 195 pound fish speared on Lake Pokegama in Vilas county in 1979.

Here are a few interesting facts about this record sturgeon that was speared on Saturday.

  • This fish hatched from an egg its mother laid in approximately 1910. This is when most sturgeon stocks were decimated by commercial over-harvest which had driven the sturgeon population to such low numbers that even after 100 years of protection are just now showing small signs of coming back.
  • The fish would have been of legal size in 1918, the year that World War 1 started. The sturgeon harvest was closed from 1915 to 1932. The first “modern” spearing season was in the winter of 1931-32 with a 30” minimum size limit and a 5 fish per spearer season bag limit. This record sturgeon was legal size for all spearing seasons held since 1932.
  • The fish first spawned in 1936, the year Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the Hoover Dam.
  • Lastly, this fish most likely made spawning runs up the Wolf River 19 times in its life (females spawn once every four years after they reach maturity at age 25-27 years); would have laid a total of 11.4 million eggs in its life, and produced an estimated 228 one year old lake sturgeon in its lifetime.

In last weeks column, I told you that the Lake Winnebago system has the largest self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon in the world and is used as an egg source for reintroduction programs throughout the lake sturgeons original range. Lake Winnebago is the third largest freshwater lake in the United States with 137,000 acres and 88 miles of shoreline. The sturgeon, as I said is slow growing, long living, and late maturing with growth rates of the male and female similar till they reach 40 inches and after that the females live longer and grow much bigger than the males. Most fish over 60 inches are females which can live to well over 100 years as the record sturgeon will show.

Shad from stomach of sturgeon speared on Lake Winnebago, WI

Shad from inside the stomach. The sturgeon gorge themselves with dead shad from the winter die-off

Now, the lake sturgeons are protected and according to sturgeon expert, Ron Bruch, reaching a near capacity in the Winnebago system. The shanty count on Lake Winnebago was 4033 on Saturday and 490 shanties on the Upriver Lakes. The Sunday count had 4009 shanties on Winnebago and 469 on the Upriver Lakes count. The system-wide harvest count on Saturday was 656 sturgeons with 515 from Lake Winnebago and 141 sturgeons on the Upriver lakes. These figures can be broken down into 68 juvenile females, 256 adult females, and 191 males for the total of 515 sturgeons. The Upriver count had the following; 28 juvenile females, 38 adult females, and 75 males (141 total) speared. Lake Winnebago was at 38.4% of the adult female harvest cap and the Upriver lakes are at 51.4% of the adult female harvest cap after opening day.

The sturgeon numbers on Sunday declined after the record-smashing Saturday. There were 56 juvenile females, 163 adult females, and 124 males speared (343 total) on Lake Winnebago on Sunday. On the Upriver Lakes; 9 juvenile females, 9 adult females, and 37 males (55 total) were registered on Sunday. Thus far, 1054 sturgeon have been harvested and registered as of Sunday, February 15th.

Given these numbers the sturgeon season should continue for a few more days. Lake Winnebago is at 62.9% of the female harvest cap (180 for 90% closure and 247 to hit the 100% trigger closure) and the Upriver Lakes are at 63.5% of their female harvest cap (20 to hit the 90% trigger and 27 to trigger the 100% closure cap). The number of spearer’s declines during the week which should allow keeping the season open a few more days.

This fun and tail-gate atmosphere at Lake Winnebago is well worth the drive just to see the fish and the people. This is truly a Wisconsin tradition that will continue and grow as more and more people are introduced to this unique outdoor activity. The comeback that the Winnebago system has made is amazing and a tribute to the DNR and the many local conservation groups that have made all this possible for the Wisconsin sportsman.


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