Sturgeon spearers return to Lake Winnebago system

What’s 8 feet long, 100 years old and could put one of nearly 13,000 spearers in the record book?

It’s a lake sturgeon that tops the 212-pound mark and is right now most certainly swimming near the bottom of Lake Winnebago or its upriver lakes.

Biologists every year seem to find at least one adult female lake sturgeon that tops the state record fish during their spring tagging operations. Every one of the 12,979 spearers that will be on the ice come Feb. 10 (a week from today) knows there’s a big one down there.

Water clarity, which lake you are spearing and, of course, luck factor into the equation of whether the angler goes home with a keeper fish of at least 36 inches, a record-book fish in the top 10 of all time (or at least in the 100-pound category) or only stories.

Memories seem to be plentiful on the ice of the world’s largest lake sturgeon fishery, where biologists come from all over the world to study these prehistoric fish, and spearers from ages 12-92 sit staring into a 4-by-8-foot hole for six hours a day, waiting for their chance to come.

It’s far beyond a game of patience, as I found out a few years back, staring into my own chainsawed hole in the ice, and realizing after many hours of monotony that this was not my sport. I’m still holding out hope, as thousands of others do each season, of drawing a precious upriver lakes tag.

The upriver lakes of Butte des Morts, Poygan and Winneconne are shallow (typically 6 feet deep or so) and clearer than the much deeper Lake Winnebago. While there are unlimited sturgeon tags for Winnebago, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources limits the upriver tags to just a few hundred a season (this year, it’s 474). Spearers wait six to eight years or longer to finally draw an upriver lakes tag (I’m crossing my fingers that I get one next year).

Families and friends come together on the ice, their “stabbin’ cabins” or fishing shanties outfitted with good-luck charms, battery-powered stereos, lights, propane heaters and even a few couches and loveseats (Believe me; I’ve seen it).

Luring a sturgeon to the hole is an art in itself, with many old-timers carving their own sturgeon decoys (a folk art that is a part of spearing history), or spearers resorting to new-fangled attractants such as two blank CDs glued in an X-shape to form a shiny lure that glitters in every direction.

The season could continue until Feb. 16, or until various trigger harvests are reached. The system-wide harvest caps are 950 adult females, 1,200 males or 430 juvenile females. Any one reached can stop the season, but there are separate harvest limits on the upriver lakes that often end the season there before it ends on Winnebago.

Daily spearing hours are 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. The excitement builds at area registration stations, where paid biologists and volunteers help weigh and measure the huge fish while onlookers gawk.

Last year, 54 of the 552 fish speared exceeded 100 pounds, with two monsters just over 154 pounds each taken. The mark everyone wants to beat is Appleton spearer Ron Grishaber’s behemoth 212.2-pound, 84.2-inch sturgeon speared with a single-tine spear on opening day 2010!

I’ll never forget talking to Grishaber that day near High Cliff State Park on Lake Winnebago’s north side and seeing that fish’s tail and head extend on both sides of the man’s full-size pickup truck tailgate.

DNR confirms multiple cougar sightings. Coyotes and wolves don’t scare me, and bears are generally timid, but cougars are another story.

After multiple cougar sightings confirmed by DNR staff last year come new trail cam photos in Antigo, Merrill and Rosendale. These, too, have been confirmed (after all, a cougar’s long tail looks nothing like a bobcat’s bobbed tail).

On Jan. 5, a trail camera near Rosendale snapped a photo of a cougar, the DNR confirmed. It was 18 days after confirmed cougar sightings in Lincoln and Langlade counties. Those two separate photos were taken by two separate cameras on the same property Dec. 10 northeast of Merrill. On Dec. 18, two more photos were snapped by a trail camera south of Antigo and 23 miles from the Merrill sighting, the DNR reported.

Previous confirmed sightings in 2017 include Clark, Marathon, Wood and Juneau counties. DNR biologists believe the cats are just passing through the area from a western state and not breeding in Wisconsin, although nobody knows for sure.

To see all the cougar trail cam photos and video, go here: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/cougar.html.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.