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Dick Ellis Blog:
10/9/2019
Fall brings with it something for everyone in the field from the angler to the hunter.  Just a few recent sessions of shooting the bull tell me that autumn is for the youngest of outdoorsman just learning the games to those of us more seasoned with our eyes focused dead ahead on for example, the whitetail rut. James Wallace captured this great buck on trail camera during summer scouting. James Wallace, my nephew-in-law (is there such a ...
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The Wisconsin Sturgeon Season; Put me in the Zoo.

What was it that Dr. Seuss  wrote? Put me in the Zoo? Did he mean the Winnebago Chain during an opening sturgeon season with good ice and high water visibility?

Last year, I wore my reporter’s hat and showed up opening day 2013 at Wendt’s Landing on the west side of Lake Winnebago north of Fond du Lac at about noon to find approximately 10 sturgeon had been speared with visibility mediocre and ice condition horrendous.  Yesterday’s opener, February 9, 2014 offered strong ice with virtually no shelves or breaks for great travel and the best viewing for spearers in decades with visibility to 18 feet. 

The results at Wendt’s Landing by the time I showed up at 11:00 am were 70 fish already registered and by this reporter’s count, 71 spearers with their sturgeon waiting in a growing line that stretched maybe 80 yards from the registration scale and table.  Those waiting were given an estimate of two hours before they would be able to register. I took advantage to interview some of the lucky spearers and take photos.  In addition to the photos posted on this Blog, you can see all those shots on this website under “Inland Fishing” and “Outdoor News”.

Wisconsin Sturgeon

The mob waits to register sturgeon.

Get the full report from the DNR with photos and charts too on this website under “Outdoor News” and “Inland Fishing” every day until the season closes, including today.  Here’s the meat of Senior Fisheries Biologist  Ryan Koenigs report from opening day;  “Crews at Wendt’s on the Lake just finished registering fish and were finally able to call in their numbers at 4:40 PM, Koenigs wrote. “The south end of Lake Winnebago was the hot spot, with 211 fish being registered at Wendt’s and 121 fish being registered at Jim and Linda’s Super Club in Pipe.  Spearers were able to harvest just over 42% of the Lake Winnebago adult female harvest cap today, meaning that the season will continue through Sunday and likely into the early part of next week.” 

“As for the Upriver Lakes, the season goes on but likely not for much longer.  There was a total of 242 fish harvested on the Upriver Lakes on opening day, which means that roughly half of the license holders for the lottery fishery registered a fish already.  As with the Winnebago fishery, the season continues on the Upriver Lakes.  As of the day’s end, spearers were able to harvest 69% of the adult female harvest cap and 65% of the male harvest cap for the Upriver Lakes.  We are 18 adult females away from the 90% trigger and 26 fish from the 100% trigger, meaning that the season will end if 26 adult females are harvested on Sunday.” 

“Similar to years past, the real story this year is the big fish.  We didn’t have any “top 10” fish harvested on opening day, but there still were 50 fish that tipped the scales at 100+ pounds (44 from Lake Winnebago and 6 from the Upriver Lakes).  The two largest fish harvested today were both registered at Stockbridge Harbor.  I have included pictures of both fish (see links above).”

This reporter talked at Wendt’s with DNR Fisheries Biologist Dave Bartz from Wautoma at the registration station working with Dave Paynter, who was pretending to be retired as a DNR Fisheries Technician. “Well you can’t just quit cold turkey,” Paynter said as he went head to head with another massive fish sprawled on the table to obtain research and registration data.

According to Bartz, two fish that tipped the scales at 127.3 pounds each had been registered at Wendt’s. One sturgeon registered was reared at the UW- Milwaukee fish hatchery, and stocked into the Montello River, a tributary of the Fox, as a fingerling in 2003.  Bartz called the opening day success outstanding and also attributed that high harvest rate to conditions.

Wisconsin Sturgeon
Fisheries Biologist Dave Bartz and retired Fisheries
Technician Dave Paynter register sturgeon.
Wisconsin Sturgeon
DNR Fish Tech Dave Paynter returns
from retirement to help register fish.

Back in the waiting line with a friendly mob that included more than 70 successful spearers, at least that many friends waiting too, and more alcoholic beverages than could be counted, I found people more than willing to pose and talk.  Joe Bednarowski of Pickett had his sturgeon by 8:00 am.  “He came in high at about eight feet in 15 feet of water,” he said.  “He came right to the decoy.”

Wisconsin Sturgeon
Ziggy (in fur hat) and Joe Bednarowski show their
sturgeon while waiting in a long registration line.

Jason Weinke of Eldorado also speared his fish shallow that came in to the decoy at six feet in 17 feet of water. His friend, Curt Riedl, looked down and said he stuttered out an announcement that a fish had entered the stage as Weinke momentarily stepped away from the ice window.  Weinke and his spear handled the rest.

Wisconsin Sturgeon
Mike Ricker and Jason Weinke were waiting in
line early to register two beautiful sturgeon
taken early opening morning.

Mike Ricker of New London had also stood up from his stand overlooking the window into Winnebago intent on leaving for a short break.  “I took one last look down and there it was,” Ricker said.  He took the fish at 9:15 in 12 feet of water.

A spearer who identified himself only as Ziggy found his willing fish off of Black Wolf at 7:20 am in 12 feet of water, and had a unique perspective on the wait until registration. It seems that spearers become a community of friends after spending so much time in line together. “We’ve been here so  long we’ve already exchanged Christmas cards,” he said.

I highly recommend you stay connected with the daily DNR reports.  I also highly recommend you visit the Winnebago chain if you have never experienced an opening day for the Wisconsin sturgeon spearing season.  It’s unbelievably fun.  And yes, it is a zoo worth visiting.

Thanks for connecting with On Wisconsin Outdoors.  Shoot straight.

Dick Ellis