Excitement builds ahead of sturgeon spearing opener

Jonathan Eiden with his 85.5-inch, 171-pound sturgeon speared in 2019. (Wisconsin DNR)

OSHKOSH, Wis. — Anticipation is building for another season of lake sturgeon fishing on the Winnebago System. The 2020 spearing season opens on Feb. 8 and will last for a maximum of 16 days or until pre-set harvest caps are reached.

The Winnebago System is home to one of the world’s largest self-sustaining populations of lake sturgeon, with an estimated 18,500 adult females, 24,000 adult males and a unique spearing season dating back more than 85 years.

Interest in sturgeon spearing continues to be strong. The Wisconsin DNR sold 12,721 licenses (12,248 for Lake Winnebago and 473 for the Upriver Lakes) for the 2020 season. Licenses were purchased by residents from all 72 Wisconsin counties as well as 34 states. The deadline to apply for sturgeon spearing permits was Aug. 1.

As always, water clarity and ice conditions are the most influential factors contributing to harvest success during the sturgeon spearing season. The 2020 season will likely open with less than ideal conditions as a mild winter has created variable ice conditions throughout Lake Winnebago. Preliminary water clarity checks indicate relatively poor water clarity throughout Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes.

Despite unfavorable conditions, spearers are still excited to take to the ice for the upcoming spearing season, said Ryan Koenigs, DNR Winnebago system sturgeon biologist.

“Sturgeon spearers are well versed in reading ice conditions and have shown the capability to pursue their passion despite variable ice conditions,” Koenigs said. “We routinely hear from spearers that it’s the chance to get together with family and friends, to relive old memories and create new ones that keep them coming back year after year. The 2020 spearing season offers another opportunity to renew those traditions.”

The success of the fishery and the fish population is a testament to the strong co-management of the sturgeon resource between DNR staff, stakeholder groups and passionate members of the public, Koenigs said.

“These are the good old days within the Winnebago System sturgeon population,” he said. “There are more fish in the system now than there have been for decades and more big fish than we have had since the early 1900s. More than 10 percent of the female sturgeon harvested during the 2019 spear fishery were larger than 70 inches.”

Season and License Details

Spearing hours run from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and all sturgeon must be presented at a DNR operated registration station by 2 p.m. of the same day the fish is harvested.

The system-wide harvest caps for the 2020 season are set at 430 juvenile females, 950 adult females and 1,200 males.

To spear sturgeon, people must have a paper copy of their sturgeon spearing license and tag on their person. A Go Wild card, driver’s license, purchase receipt or a PDF copy of the tag are not valid proof of a spearing license or tag.

Successful spearers must immediately validate their carcass tag by removing the validation stub. Spearers do not need to attach validated carcass tags to harvested fish before registration as long as the spearer stays with the fish until registration. However, the harvest tag must be attached to the sturgeon if the spearer leaves the fish prior to registration. DNR recommends that spearers bring a clear plastic zip-top bag and tie to protect and secure the paper tag to the fish.

More details about sturgeon spearing throughout the Lake Winnebago system, including the complete 2020 rules, regulations and list of registration station locations [PDF], can be found on the DNR website.

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