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Lake Winnebago ice conditions ahead of sturgeon spearing

Lake Winnebago, February 2018. (WLUK)

OSHKOSH (WLUK) -- A number of vehicles have gone into the water in the past few days, including this truck.

And eight days from now, even more people will be on the ice, for the yearly sturgeon spearing season.

Looking out from the Merritt Street Boat launch in Oshkosh, there's no shortage of ice shanties and vehicles on Lake Winnebago.

Even in the middle of a weekday afternoon, activity was steady.

In general, the ice has been good this winter on the area's largest inland lake.

"The lake is about, a base of about 20 to 22 inches. It's actually really good," said Don Herman of Sunk? Dive And Ice Service.

But as temperatures surged to nearly 40 degrees on Wednesday, an east-west fissure erupted in the ice, stretching nearly shore to shore.

"I've never seen something like this, breaking through this much ice. This one right here is normally about two miles north. So now it's off of Merritt Street where it's all well-traveled. I mean, there's 2,000 to 3,000 people a weekend that come out here," Herman said.

Normally, Herman says paths plowed in the snow on the icy lake keep people from driving where they shouldn't.

There's not a lot of snow on Lake Winnebago this year, which is good for making ice. But it can make things a little trickier because people can drive basically wherever they want. And if you're not expecting a crack where it shouldn't be, that can be a problem.

Two trucks went into the crack near Merritt Street in less than 24 hours after it opened up.

For those looking ahead to the impending sturgeon spearing season, the ice conditions are only part of the worry.

"Well it can change overnight, so we're just keeping an eye on it and that's the biggest thing is to be aware. Hopefully water clarity for sturgeon spearing, that's my biggest worry. That's what I'm focusing on," said Anthony Capener of Menasha.

While Herman doesn't expect the crack to close entirely by next weekend, he says the cold can only help conditions on the lake.

But as always, there is no such thing as safe ice-- and you should check with local clubs before venturing out.

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