In the fall of 2017, I was too preoccupied with waterfowl hunting, filming a tv show and my parents upcoming visit to buy my tag for spearing on Lake Winnebago. It just so happened that they’re arrival coincided with Halloween. Since I’m a chronic procrastinator, I had put off purchasing my tag until the last minute. Once my parents arrived, I completely forgot about until I woke up in a panic at 12:15 am, fifteen minutes past the deadline. I still went and had a good time, by the way.
Let that be a lesson to you, if you choose to be a part of the sturgeon season next year. Tags must be purchased well in advance, with a 10/31 deadline.
The sturgeon spearing season is one of the most unique outdoor opportunities in the country. While some people bemoan the fact that you’re spearing trophy fish that cannot be returned to the water, it’s quite possibly the exact reason there are so many trophy fish swimming in Lake Winnebago today.
Seasons allowing the spearing of sturgeon began back in the 1930’s and the lake has been aggressively managed for it. A tight leash is kept on the allotment assigned for spearers and if numbers hit a certain point, the season is closed. There is also no angling allowed for sturgeon on the lake. With approximately 12,000-13,000 spearers taking part, there is a big economic benefit to the season for management and the local businesses around the lake. And they’re not damaging the population by any means as only around 2,600 fish (give or take depending on the year) can be speared, and some years spearers don’t even get close.
Jamie Dietman and I have been making the trek to Fond du Lac (FDL) for about 5 years now. Shanties are rented through Wendt’s On The Lake, with heaters on and holes cut. It’s a pretty nice way to go if you’re traveling as far as we are and aren’t as familiar with the lake. This year, we’d have separate houses about 100 yards apart and while we didn’t have success , one individual camped out within a relatively close distance did.
As I climbed out of my house for a break to see the sun, I just happened to catch one of the guides heading into Wendt’s. Turns out, he was checking on a really big fish. Jonathan Eiden speared what could possibly be the longest sturgeon ever on the lake, 85.5″, while weighing it at the 12th most overall, 171.0 pounds.
That peaked my optimism and I quickly jumped back into position over the big spear hole waiting for that fish’s big sister to swim through. After learning more about it, I’m beginning to think that it WAS the big sister.
The DNR had held this fish at least twice, once when it was tagged somewhere around 1999 or the early 2000’s. Then, according to Ryan Koenigs from the Wisconsin DNR, it was captured again in the spring of 2012, where it was measured. The readings were 87.5″ and that gave it an estimated 240-pound weight! This was pre-spawn so the drop in weight is not surprising, but some people were curious as to the loss of two inches. Koenigs attributed that to two things:
- Their measuring equipment only went to 84″ presumably because they don’t encounter fish larger than that. (Which offers credit to the management team for growing them that big now)
- The fish was frozen when it was measured in 2019, which will cause some shrinkage and a curling of the tail. Losing 2″ is not out of the realm of possibility.
When it was captured in 2012, the photo and data were shown all over the media and used in DNR presentations, so the fish had become a celebrity of sorts. Then, it wasn’t seen again until it was brought into Wendt’s for registration. A remarkable success story on Lake Winnebago’s sturgeon management and a true trophy for Eiden.