"For instance, if we had a 10-day season, there would be five two-day periods. Spearers could ask for preference, then we would randomly assign 20 percent of the tags to each period. That would slow the season down and make season last longer, but we wou
"That way, spearers could still go with their buddies, do the grilling, run to shore, etc. It also would be better for the businesses," Bruch said.
"I'm not saying that's what we're going to have. That's just one of many ideas that have been offered. We have to look at that idea and many others. But, I'm confident we will be able to address the problem, if we have one," he said.
This was the second straight year the cap was triggered after just one day of spearing, forcing biologists to post 24-hour notice that the season would close at 6 p.m. the following day.
Of the 1,585 sturgeon that were speared this year, 353 were juvenile females, 586 were adult females, and 646 were males.
A record 4,997 shacks were counted by DNR employees flying over the lake opening day. Bruch estimates there may have been as many as 10,000 to 15,000 spearers inside them.
The hot registration spot was on the west side, between Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. Wendt's tavern and restaurant in Van Dyne registered 529 of the 1,074 fish speared Saturday, then booked another 177 Sunday for a total of 706.
Bruch said Wendt's area is not a staging area for spawning sturgeon, as some believe.
"Ninety-five percent of the fish that are going to spawn this spring have been in the upriver lakes and river since last October," Bruch said. "Our tagging studies prove this."
Wendt's is the only registration station for the whole southwest corner of the lake, so the totals are often higher there. But Bruch said fish were "stacked" in that area of the lake this year, likely due to high numbers of gizzard shad on which they were feeding.
Terry Schrage, of Fond du Lac, speared what was thought to be the heaviest fish since the 1980s on day two, a massive 81,-inch, 146-pound female. Several others weighing 110 to 120 pounds were brought in.
Besides Wendt's, the totals included: Lakeview Tavern, Pipe, 168; Fishtale Inn, 144; Stockbridge Harbor Bar, 127; Payne's Point Tavern and Quinney Quencher, each 110; Waverly Beach, 100; Fisherman's Inn, Brothertown, 69; and Jerry's, Oshkosh, 51.
Last year's season also included the upriver lakes. The shanty counts of 2,736 on Lake Winnebago and 2,079 on the upriver lakes combined for a then-record of 4,815. Lake Poygan alone had 1,684 shanties. A decade ago, shack counts on the system were in the 2,000 to 2,500 range.
The popularity of sturgeon spearing might be at an all-time high, thanks to superb water clarity much of the past decade and a harvest cap system first put in place by emergency order in 1999. That season lasted three days and 1,484 fish were taken. Bruch believes enough anglers violated the 6 p.m. same-day registration rule to keep the season open another day.
Without the harvest cap in place in 2000, spearers would have shattered the 1995 record of 3,173 fish from the Lake Winnebago system. As it was, a record 1,896 sturgeon were taken opening day and another 621 Sunday for a two-day total of 2,517.
The first upriver season was held in 1952, and since 1971, spearing has been allowed on the upriver lakes for two days every fifth year. That would have put a season in 2001, but the two-day hunt was moved to 2000 to allow biologists to collect harvest and population data critical to safe management of the fishery.
Two proposals the advisory committee made last year will be on this spring's fish and wildlife rules hearings questionnaire on April 9: one would make it illegal to use lights to spear at night and another would make it illegal to have more than 48 square-feet of holes inside an enclosure.
"Last year, one group had a 90-foot by 6-foot hole covered with a tent on Lake Poygan," Bruch said. "That's what prompted this."
Some spearers said the DNR should consider closing off parts of the lake if they know large numbers of fish are congregating there. Others said it might be time for a lottery draw or time period system, with a limited amount of tags. Still others believe a closed season might be necessary some years.
Bruch said it would be "absolutely impossible" to make one part of the lake a refuge, since hot spots vary year to year.
As for those who said they'd like to see a ban on fishing in 6 feet of water or less a depth popular off Wendt's this season Bruch said that's not likely either, as the big lake's ice can shift, changing your depth quickly in some cases.
The DNR is pushing for a statute change to require spearing tags be bought by Oct. 1 of the year prior. The proposal, worked on over a three-year period, died in the last legislative session when Sen. Chuck Chvala (D-Madison) refused to allow it to come to the floor in the Senate for a voice vote, Bruch said.
Previously, a string of record harvests in the 1990s resulted in new restrictions, including shortening the season from 16 to nine days in 1996 and decreasing the minimum size limit from 45 to 36 inches to take the pressure off large females.
Recent seasons were allowed up to 16 days again, but the harvest caps have meant a total of just eight days of spearing opportunity in the past three years combined.
"I will do everything that I can in my position to make sure we can carry on the tradition of spearing," Bruch said. "As for a one-day season, it's too early to say. We'll take a real hard look at the data and see what direction it points us."