Sturgeon spearing sled saws may not cut it this year

Ice saw

OSHKOSH – Cold weather and thick ice are normally what sturgeon spearers are looking for.

But this year the ice is so thick, spearers might have a hard time cutting their holes.

They’re the sounds heard across Lake Winnebago on the day before sturgeon spearing begins and spearers like Jim Erdman of Oshkosh say, “It’s a huge tradition.”

Spearers cutting their holes in the ice and getting their shanties ready for up to 16 days of searching for the lake’s biggest bottom feeders. But first they have to get through some of the thickest ice on the lake in years.

“Oh yeah, it’s going to be a tough year to cut the holes,” said John Nourse of Oshkosh.

And the go-to tool of choice to do the job: the homemade sled saw. Most sled saws measure 42 inches in length. But they typically sit at least six inches off the ice, cut at an angle – and with the possibility of ice more than 30 inches thick, well you get the idea.

“You can’t put an extension on these saws, I mean I’ve seen guys try to cut them out with ice augers with extensions, or usually there is somebody around with a long enough saw,” said Erdman.

What the sled saw might start, the handy, handsaw may have to finish, but spearers say they’ll do whatever it takes to get the hole cut.

“They’ll get through the hole one way or another, I’ve seen guys drive trucks on it to try to break the last few inches, it gets interesting,” said Erdman.

While some take a special pride in how their sled saw is created, this year it will only be about one thing.

“You see so many different designs and everybody thinks theirs is the best you know, but my thinking is, as long as it cuts the hole in the ice, who cares what it looks like,” said Nourse.

Because once the hole is cut and the one ton block of ice is moved is when the real fun begins.

Sturgeon spearing season opens on Feb. 8.

Spearers traditionally cut their holes and place their shanties the day before the season starts.