Excitement is growing for the 2013 sturgeon spearing seasons on the Lake Winnebago system as prospects are good for spearing record-setting fish, state fish biologists say. The season opens on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 6:30 a.m.

“The sturgeon population is strong. We estimate there are nearly 29,000 adult males and 19,000 adult females in the Lake Winnebago system,” said Ryan Koenigs Department of Natural Resources senior fisheries biologist, who took over this season as DNR’s sturgeon biologist.

“Seven of the top 10 fish have been harvested in the past three years, including the current state record fish, a 212.2 pounder harvested in 2010,” Koenigs said. “The 2013 fishery will present spearers with the opportunity to harvest the next record sturgeon, as we know there are fish large enough in the population.”

In spring 2012, DNR crews captured, tagged and released an 87.5 inch, 240-pound sturgeon below the Shawano Dam and surveys show a large number of trophy fish, those over 100 pounds.

Another exciting aspect of the 2013 spearing season is that 12- and 13-year-olds are allowed to spear for the first time, Koenigs said. Previously, spearers had to be 14 years or older. “The change in the spearing age is geared toward attracting a new generation to this winter tradition,” he said. “We hope some of our experienced spearers take a kid spearing with them this year so they can learn the history and tradition of this sport.”

Wisconsin residents who turned 12 after Oct. 31, 2012, can still buy a spearing license through the end of the 2013 spearing seasons and join their family in the spearing tradition. Wisconsin residents serving in the U.S. Armed Forces who are home on leave during the 2013 spearing season may also still buy spearing licenses through the end of the year.”

Through Oct. 31, 2012, the deadline for purchasing sturgeon spearing licenses, a total of 12,092 licenses were sold for the upcoming 2013 spearing season on Lake Winnebago (11,601 licenses) and the Upriver Lakes (491 licenses), where there is a lottery for the 500 available licenses.

This total ranks third highest of all time and the popularity of the upriver lakes lottery fishery continues to grow, as a record 4,894 people applied for the 2013 lottery fishery.

Ice conditions

Spearers are advised to use caution when taking to the ice in the coming weeks. Strong winds a week ago created massive ice shoves on the east shore of Lake Winnebago and opened up water on the west side. Another round of cold air later this week should help in the rebuilding of ice on the west shore, Koenigs said. While the ice is seemingly better overall than it was last year, spearers are reminded that no ice is ever safe and they should be aware of current ice conditions before heading out on any lake.

Fishing and spearing clubs around the lake system mark and maintain a network of roads on the lakes, as well as bridges over expansion cracks, for safe travel. Roads are marked every one-tenth of a mile with an upright Christmas tree, Koenigs said. Christmas trees lying on their side mark thin or dangerous ice areas.

2013 season details

The 2013 Lake Winnebago season runs from Feb. 9 through Feb. 24, 2013, or until the pre-set harvest cap for Lake Winnebago is reached, or the pre-set harvest cap for the entire Winnebago System is reached, whichever comes first. The Lake Winnebago harvest cap is 320 for juvenile females, 745 for adult females and 960 for males.

The Upriver Lakes season runs from Feb. 9 through Feb. 24, 2013, on Lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan, or until the pre-set harvest cap for the upriver lakes is reached, or the pre-set harvest cap for the entire Winnebago System is reached, whichever comes first. The upriver season harvest cap is 80 juvenile females, 83 adult females and 240 males.

Participation in the upriver season was determined by a lottery for the required tag with 500 people selected from among those who submitted an application by Aug. 1, 2012. Spearers can only participate in the season for which they have a spearing license. More information on regulations and a list of registration stations is available on the Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Season 2013 page of the DNR website. Go to dnr.wi.gov and search for sturgeon spearing.

New hotline alerts spearers to harvest totals

New this year, DNR is offering a sturgeon hotline number, 920-303-5444, where callers can get updated information on the sturgeon harvests including daily reports and updates. Interested sturgeon guard volunteers can also receive updates on the sturgeon guard program by hitting option 2.

People can get the same updates delivered to their email or cell phone. The information will include a daily summary report from Ryan Koenigs, daily (and running) system harvest totals, and miscellaneous news from the day. To get this free enhanced service, subscribe by using the drop down menu to choose either an email or wireless (SMS/text) alert and enter the information requested at the prompt.

Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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