By the time the Lake Winnebago system upriver lakes spearing season closed at 12:30 p.m. today, Feb. 12., at least nine more people had joined the “hundred-pounder club” by spearing 100-plus pound fish, nearly half of the eligible spearers had harvested fish, and all emerged with new stories from participating in a unique winter fishery.

The spearing season remains open on Lake Winnebago because poor water clarity has slowed the harvest rate over the first three days of the season and set the table for spearers to have the full 16 days to get their fish, says Ryan Koenigs, Department of Natural Resources sturgeon biologist for the Winnebago system.

“There’s a strong probability that we’ll see our third consecutive Lake Winnebago season stretch the full 16 days,” Koenigs says. “Hopefully, the water clarity will improve in coming days and provide spearers more opportunities to get out on the ice and enjoy another shot at a unique winter fishery.

“As expected, the 2013 spear fishery on the upriver lakes of Butte des Morts, Winneconne and Poygan has been very successful, with 235 fish being harvested in the first three days of the season, nine of which have been in excess of 100 pounds.”

“The harvest of these large fish has almost completely re-written our record books over the last eight years,” he says.

Nine of the top 10 fish in the record books were taken between 2004 and 2013, including the 80-inch, 179-pound fish harvested by Peter Vander Wielen on opening day, now ranking as the sixth largest fish reported. Photos of other top 10 fish and more on sturgeon growth patterns are found on DNR’s Record Sturgeon feature Web page.

The upriver lakes spearing season, controlled by a lottery that limits the number of participants to500, lasted two days longer than in 2012. The season closes one day after the harvest reaches 90 percent or on the same day that the harvest reaches 100 percent of any of the harvest caps set for juvenile females, adult females or males. DNR tightly controls harvest to 5 percent of the adult population to protect the slow-maturing fish.

The success rates on the upriver lakes are higher than on Lake Winnebago because the three lakes collectively are much shallower than Lake Winnebago, Koenigs says. The majority of lakes Butte des Morts, Winneconne, and Poygan are 4- to 7-feet deep with a few areas up to 9 feet deep. So water clarity doesn’t have as much of an impact on the upriver lakes as it does on Winnebago where the majority of the lake is at least 12 feet deep. The upriver lakes are also a nursery area for juvenile sturgeon and a staging area for migrant fish that will spawn during the upcoming season, “but water clarity is number one for the higher success rate,” Koenigs says.

Registration stations closed

Due to very low registration numbers at stations along the north shore of Lake Winnebago, DNR has closed its Harrison Town Hall and Payne’s Point registration stations until further notice. Harvested fish in these areas can be registered at Stockbridge Harbor, Waverly Beach, or Jerry’s Bar (Oshkosh).

Sturgeon spearing web page updated daily and more online offerings

The Winnebago System sturgeon spearing 2013 web page is updated daily with harvest totals and insights from Koenigs. Photos and stories from DNR public affairs manager Joanne Haas, whorode along with Conservation Warden Mike Disher on opening weekend, are available on Warden Wire; and multimedia features on everything from sturgeon biology, to the history of sturgeon management in Wisconsin to the colorful decoys used to attract the fish, are available on DNR’s Sturgeon Week multi-media features.

Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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