The dust is starting to settle on the 2020 sturgeon spear fishery on the Winnebago System and many folks are starting to ask how this season’s harvest compares to years past. We are fortunate to have harvest numbers dating back to the 1941 season (80 years) for Lake Winnebago and the 1952 season on the Upriver Lakes that we can compare results from this season to.
The 2020 harvest numbers (491 on Lake Winnebago and 320 on the Upriver Lakes) were very similar to the 2019 season (478 on Lake Winnebago and 307 on the Upriver Lakes). The difference between the two seasons is when the fish were registered. During the 2019 season, 31.9% of the fish harvested from Lake Winnebago were registered on opening weekend and only 11.9% were registered on the final weekend. The 2020 season, on the other hand, had 15.1% of the harvest from Lake Winnebago coming from opening weekend and 22.0% from the final weekend. The difference between seasons was largely due to improving conditions (both ice thickness and water clarity) during the 2020 season.
Results from the 2020 sturgeon spearing season are also quite similar to the average over the past 5 years. Unfortunately, poor water clarity has impacted each of these seasons and each has gone the full 16-days. The average harvest over this time period has been 514 lake sturgeon from Lake Winnebago and 305 from the Upriver Lakes.
When looking back through more spearing seasons, the Lake Winnebago harvest of 491 fish in 2020 ranks tied for 51st of all time. The lottery fishery on the Upriver Lakes was implemented in 2007 (14 seasons) and the 320 fish harvested this season is the 3rd highest during that timespan.
I’ve been asked a few times today how I would characterize the 2020 spearing season. In my opinion, this season was a success for a variety of reasons. For starters, spearers were able to navigate variable ice conditions to safely participate in the season. Second, there were over 800 spearers that were able to fill their tags. Finally, the 2020 spearing season was another chance for spearers to renew the unique traditions of another sturgeon spearing season. After all, it’s the social culture of sturgeon spearing that makes the sport truly unique and special.
I’m hoping that we will have all of the harvest data from the 2020 spearing season entered and proofed by the end of the week. I will send out the successful spearer list along with some general summaries once the data are available.