Hook and Line Sturgeon Fishing Opening September 1st
September 1st is the opening of the Wisconsin hook and line sturgeon season on the state’s inland waters. Wisconsin is one of a hand full of states that have a hook and line season. Wisconsin is lucky to have a fishable population of sturgeon in some lakes and rivers of the state and the Lake Winnebago System has the largest natural reproducing lake sturgeon population in the world and eggs from this system are being used in lake sturgeon rehabilitation projects throughout North America. The Wisconsin sturgeon stock is the best of any fish in its original range.
Anglers must realize that the lake sturgeon is slow growing, long living, and late maturing fish that was nearly destroyed during the early 1900’s by commercial fishing, over-harvest, and illegal harvest. The plight might have been worse if it wasn’t for the creation of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress in 1915 which banned the harvest of all lake sturgeon in Wisconsin including the Winnebago System until 1932. The ban on spearing on the Winnebago system for 17 years saved the lake sturgeon and gave them some protection after years of over-harvest.
The lake sturgeon lives longer than any freshwater fish in Wisconsin. Female sturgeon live much longer than males with 95% of all sturgeon over 30 years old being females. Female sturgeons don’t reach sexual maturity until they are at least 25 years old and 55 inches in length. Then, they spawn once every four or five years. Males are sexually mature at about 15 years old when they are about 45 inches long. Initially, lake sturgeons grow more in length than weight, but these changes as the fish age. Fish growth depends on several factors with the most important ones being food supply and water temperature.
During the 1960’s, the sturgeon harvest or exploitation rate was changed to 4.7% which has become the “base” for managing the sturgeon population. There have been dozens of rules, regulations, and laws adopted since the 1960’s to protect and manage the sturgeon population and harvest. The system also experienced environmental changes during the 1960’s due to non-point pollution which was responsible for the sudden water turbidity. These changes also coincided with the loss of aquatic plants in the system which provided cover for fish, substrate for invertebrates, produced oxygen, and served as food for fish. The plant loss was mainly due to poor water quality. This turbidity helped the effectiveness of the many new harvest regulations during the 1960’s -1980’s by making spearing more difficult. Population estimates during the 1990’s showed that the sturgeon population had increased tremendously since the 1950’s.
Starting in 1991, the DNR began to collect the age and sex of harvested lake sturgeon and increased the spring efforts at tagging adult sturgeon. This info helped develop the rules and regulations that were enacted from 1993 to 2006 to address the overharvest of adult female’s sturgeon. Much of this information has helped the lake sturgeon populations in some of Wisconsin’s rivers and lakes where sturgeons are present.
In 2007, due to the overharvest of lake sturgeon on rivers and lakes in the state where harvest figures ranged from 25 to 35 % which is way above the DNR fisheries management goal of 5%. Karl Scheidegger, chairman of the Sturgeon Management Team, said that the major concern was the increased pressure on the sturgeon fishery with more people sturgeon fishing. But, too many sturgeons were also being harvested and the DNR implemented new rules on the Menominee River in 2006 to see how they worked. The size minimum for sturgeon was increased to 60 inches and the season was shortened to 30 days. The harvest on the Menominee River went from 100 sturgeons in 2005 to 1 sturgeon in 2006. The new lake sturgeon hook and line regulations were put into effect in 2007 with the 60 inch minimum and a 30 day season which has reduced the overharvest of the fish and will give the females another spawning spring. Harvest in some areas went down up to 80% from previous years.
Wisconsin is blessed to have these prehistoric fish in the state and the work done in the Winnebago system by DNR Sturgeon Manager, Ron Bruch, and his crews have made this fish a great example of the DNR management. We have a naturally producing lake sturgeon population in the Chippewa River, the Menominee River, the Flambeau River, the Jump River, the Yellow River, and the Wisconsin River from Wisconsin Dells downriver. There also is a fishable population of sturgeon in Butternut Lake in Price County.
Anglers wishing to fish this week’s sturgeon opener must a valid Wisconsin fishing license and a sturgeon tag that costs $20.00 for residents and $50.00 for non-residents. If you plan to catch and release a sturgeon, you don’t need a tag. But, the fish MUST be immediately released. I also suggest a copy of the 2011-2012 Fishing Rules and regulations booklet. You must register a harvested sturgeon in the county it was caught by 6:00 pm the following day.
Lake sturgeon season opens Thursday, September 1st on selected waters (mostly rivers) in Wisconsin. Anglers fish for sturgeon from the shore and from boats. An angler needs a stout and sturdy rod to be able to handle a fish that can weigh from 50 to 100 pounds. I like a strong monofilament line like Berkley Trilene in 30 to 50 pound test or a super line like Fireline for these huge freshwater fish. Bait casting reels work best, but I’ve seen many anglers with big, surf casting rods and open-faced spinning reels that seem to work well. Shore anglers have to use more weight to get their bait out into the current and a way from shore in deeper water. Egg sinkers from 2 to 6 ounces are put above the barrel sinker. From the swivel run about 2 to 3 feet of line to a 2/0 or 4/0 hook baited with many nightcrawlers or cut bait. If fishing from a boat, 1 to 2 ounces of weight should be enough to keep your bait on the river’s bottom which is where lake sturgeon feed.
Locally, the best areas to fish are below the dams (Wisconsin Dells and Prairie du Sac) and tailrace areas on the Wisconsin River. Deep water close by is important because the sturgeon seem to hold in this deeper water when not active and feeding. When feeding, the sturgeons seem to like water 10-15 feet deep with a sand and gravel bottom. I would try to stay within a mile of the dam when sturgeon fishing. These big fish seem to like the deeper water is that is located in the “scour holes” below dams which are made from the high water in the spring. Night-time fishing is also a good time to fish for these fish because they seem to get active and feed after dark. So, get yourself some crawlers and a muskie rod and give this fishing a try. Smoked sturgeon and caviar are worth the effort!