- The deadline to purchase sturgeon spearing licenses for the 2017 Lake Winnebago and Upriver Lakes sturgeon spearing seasons is Oct. 31, with assessments from earlier this year indicating spearers will have a shot at many fish longer than 75 inches.
Wisconsin's sturgeon spearing season tradition dates to the 1930s with the annual sustainable harvests made possible by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' careful management.
"If our spring spawning assessment is any indication, we're likely to see another year of fish in great condition," said Ryan Koenigs, DNR Lake Winnebago sturgeon biologist. "This year, our crews handled two fish greater than 80 inches and many others greater than 75 inches. These fish represent opportunities of a lifetime."
The prospects for big fish in 2017 follow strong results for 2016. Of the 703 fish taken, 19 were 100 pounds or larger including eight from Lake Winnebago and 11 from the Upriver Lakes.
There are separate seasons for Lake Winnebago and for the Upriver Lakes that occur simultaneously, with participation in the Upriver Lakes season determined by lottery. The 2017 seasons open on Saturday, Feb. 11 and run for a maximum of 16 days or until preset harvest caps are reached.
Again this year, 12-year-olds are eligible to purchase a license and can participate in the lake sturgeon spearing season. Also, adults whose names were drawn in the Upriver Lakes sturgeon spearing lottery can transfer their tags to youth ages 12-17, allowing youngsters a chance to spear on the lakes, where success rates have historically been higher.
Koenig said that interest in sturgeon spearing continues to be strong with a record 13,674 licenses sold last year for the 2016 season, including 13,190 for Lake Winnebago and 484 for the Upriver Lakes, representing a 4.1 percent increase over 2015. For 2017, the system-wide harvest caps are similar to 2016 with 430 juvenile females; 950 adult females and 1,175 males.
How and where to get spearing licenses
The minimum spearing age is 12 years, and youth who turn 12 between Nov. 1, 2016, and the last day of the 2017 spearing season can still buy a spearing license after Oct. 31. Military personnel home on leave can also purchase a license after Oct. 31.
There are unlimited license sales on Lake Winnebago, while the Upriver Lakes fishery is managed by a lottery and limited to 500 permitted spearers. Once a person is authorized to buy an Upriver Lakes license for a season, they are not able to buy a license for Lake Winnebago.
Spearers are now able to transfer Upriver Lakes spear licenses to youth spearers (age 12-17) and can do so by filling a transfer of license form at least 15 days before the 2017 sturgeon spear fishery. Spearers who applied for an Upriver Lakes license in the lottery but were not authorized received a preference point and can still buy a Lake Winnebago license before Oct. 31.
The 2017 season will bring a change in the way harvest tags are handled. Upon harvesting a sturgeon, spearers need to note the date and time of the harvest on the tag. The registration process is not complete until spearers visit one of the area registration stations, but if at any point they leave the fish, the tag must be attached.
"If you leave it, tag it," Koenigs said. "Given the conditions we often see in winter, we suggest bringing along a plastic bag in case the tag needs to be affixed to the fish."