Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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2009 Lake Winnebago sturgeon spear season one for the record books

Oshkosh – The 230-pound behemoth lake sturgeon netted by state
fish crews in the fall eluded the record 10,239 licensed spearers
who took to the ice for the 77th consecutive 2009 Lake Winnebago
system sturgeon spearing season.

But the separate seasons on the big lake and the Upriver Lakes
were still fit for the record books. Sturgeon history was made on
day 2 of the season when Amy Van Beek of Menasha threw an 80.8
inch, 168.8 pound female sturgeon out of her shack on Lake Poygan.
It was the largest fish ever harvested by a woman spearer, the
largest fish ever registered from the Upriver Lakes, the fourth
largest fish by weight on record and the sixth longest fish on
record.

Van Beek’s fish was one of 32 sturgeon harvested that weighed
more than 100 pounds; in all, spearers took 1,512 fish during the
2009 sturgeon spearing season on the combined lakes of the
Winnebago pool which includes Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes
— Poygan, Winneconne, and Butte des Morts.

Last year, spearers registered 42 sturgeon that weighed between
100 and 172 pounds, the highest percentage of trophy-size fish ever
recorded in the history of the fishery. A 100-pound sturgeon can be
anywhere from 65 to 80 years old; heavier sturgeon are
proportionally older.

“The number of these trophy-size fish has been increasing
significantly over the last decade,” said Ron Bruch, DNR senior
sturgeon biologist. “This is due to the distribution of age classes
currently present in the population and due to the impact of
harvest regulation implemented over the last 17 years designed to
increase survival of these large fish.”

The 2009 season opened on a partly sunny day with light wind
that didn’t chill the excitement in the record 6,853 shanties on
the lakes for the first day of the spearing season. “The season
ended with a snowstorm and strong winds that created white-out
conditions on Lake Winnebago, but that didn’t stop large numbers of
dedicated sturgeon spearers from driving out on the ice to their
shacks in an attempt to get their sturgeon on the 8th and last day
of the 2009 season,” Bruch said.

The Upriver Lakes season, which is limited to 500 licenses and
is controlled by a lottery, was open five days, closing Wednesday,
Feb. 18. The focus then shifted attention to the big lake, where
the season ran another three days. “The average season length on
Lake Winnebago since we’ve gone to the 6-hour spearing days in 2002
is 11 days,” said Bruch.

“We are always glad to see the season go longer than be very
short — at least into or through two weekends — to give the
spearers ample opportunity to get out on the ice, and to give the
local establishments an opportunity to take advantage of the extra
patrons that sturgeon spearing produces while the season is going
on,” he said.

Of the 1,512 fish speared, 301 were juveniles (86% of quota),
615 adult females (97.6% of quota), and 596 males (59.6% of quota).
Harvest caps for the 2009 season were set at 350 juvenile females,
630 adult females, or 1,000 males.

“At this point, it does not appear that we exceeded our 5
percent exploitation limit for any of the three harvest categories
(juvenile females, adult females, or males) but we won’t know for
sure until all the data are entered,” Bruch said.

Wisconsin has the world’s largest lake sturgeon population. The
DNR has been intensively managing the lake sturgeon population and
fishery for more than 60 years, conducting annual surveys and
working closely with the public to maintain safe harvest levels,
Bruch says.

The current lake sturgeon population in the Winnebago System is
estimated at about 60,000 fish ages 1 to 80, including 25,000 males
and 13,000 females in the adult spawning stock.

This season, 4,031 people applied for the Upriver lottery; 500
licenses were authorized and 490 Upriver licenses were sold. The
DNR also sold 9,749 licenses for Lake Winnebago. In all, 10,239
licenses for spearing on both Winnebago and Upriver lakes.

“We have seen a 20 percent increase in sturgeon spearing license
sales in the last two years,” said Bruch. “I believe the success of
our management program in producing and sustaining this high
quality fishery with a high success rate has caused interest to
grow around the region, state and Midwest.”

The average success rate on the Upriver Lakes is 56 percent. The
success rate on Lake Winnebago averages about 13 percent, which
means that if regular sturgeon spearers apply every year, they may
be able to experience spearing success six to eight times in their
lifetime.

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