By Mark Schram, myfishingpartner.com
The 2018 Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing season begins Feb. 10th and will run until Feb. 25, 2018 or when harvest caps are met.
Last year was an average season: warm temperatures, insufficient ice and below average water clarity extended the season to maximum lengths on Lake Winnebago and the Upper Lakes (Lake Poygan, Winneconne and Buttes des Mortes). By the end of the second weekend of 2017, most spearers had removed their shanties and started preparations for spring walleye fishing. On the final day of the season, heavy winds caused significant ice movements and created issues getting the remaining shanties off the ice without bridges.
2017 had sub-par numbers with a harvest of 552 sturgeon on Lake Winnebago; however, shanty count reached the second most of all time with 5,074 structures on opening day, which shows the popularity and growth of this unique sport in east-central Wisconsin.
Of interest in every season is the number of 100-pound fish harvested. In 2017, the largest fish came in a tick under 155 pounds at a whopping 83.4”. Fifty-four total fish were registered at more than 100 pounds.
What to expect in 2018?
It’s been several years since a monster sturgeon has been harvested. There are 200-pound fish swimming in these waters, as verified by the DNR during spring spawns several years ago. It’s only a matter of time before another legendary fish is brought to the scales. The current record is 212 pounds.
Sturgeon harvest caps are slightly reduced from 2017. In 2018, juvenile female triggers are set at 344 fish, adult female at 855 and 960 for males on Lake Winnebago. This is an approximately 18% reduction for the 2018 harvest cap on Lake Winnebago (males). The season-ending triggers for the Upper Lakes are essentially flat compared to the prior year.
Ice quality is a non-factor heading into the opener in 2018. Ice depths are in the 16-26” range, with minimal snowpack and minor drifting, making travel easier. Sunlight penetration into the water column through the ice will be maximized creating extra visibility with the light snow cover unless a snow event occurs during the season.
There are several working pressure cracks, and it is best to stay on the “roads” and use the “bridges” to navigate the lake if you are unfamiliar with the current ice conditions. No ice is every 100% safe.
Water clarity in 2018 is suspect. In 2017, water clarity was about 9-10 feet, which lead to a 16-day season. Unfortunately, water conditions are significantly worse this year with average depths in the 6-foot range. There are veins of cleaner (and dirtier) water on Lake Winnebago, with minimal visibilities at 3 feet and maximum of around 9 feet as of Wednesday. The Upper Lakes have better water quality, and this should not be an issue on Lake Poygan.
2018 Bold Predictions:
We’ve nailed the last few years…and we hope to do that again in 2018. Lake Winnebago will see a full 16-day season in 2018. Water clarity is poor and will be the sole variable resulting in a full-length season. Sturgeon populations are strong, the lake is accessible, and we may see near-record numbers of spearers in 2018, but at the end of the day, you can’t spear what you can’t see.
On the Upper Lakes, myfishingpartner.com will predict a shortened season, but one which will extend past the initial weekend. Water clarity is good, and there is a small possibility the Upper Lakes may cap out on the first weekend. The Upper Lakes require special permits to partake in spearing.
Record fish? As much as I would love to see the 200-pound monster, this is unlikely in 2018. A reduction in 100-pound fish is very possible in 2018 as harvest numbers founded on the weak forage base, which included a significant die-off of shad in December due to cold weather. While large schools of shad still exist, they are less common in the system this year, leading to thinner sturgeons.
Sturgeon spearing in Wisconsin is an incredible event, one not found anywhere else on planet earth. Fond du Lac will be celebrating the opening weekend in style with a festival on the south end of the lake called the “Sturgeon Spectacular” including live bands, hockey tournaments, off-ice Scavenger hunt, bike racing, and ice sculpture competitions. At Thelma Center of the Arts, performances include Comedy Sportz and a musical comedy, “Guys on Ice,” dedicated to ice fishing. (Steve Koehler is a graduate of Fond du Lac Goodrich High School and plays “Lloyd”). And most importantly, be careful where you walk in the local pubs–you just might step on a sturgeon.
I’d like to thank and recognize the Wisconsin DNR for putting together much of the information and statistics used in the article.