Sturgeon spearing season begins on Lake Winnebago System

A look into Lake Winnebago as spearers wait for a sturgeon on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

LAKE WINNEBAGO (WLUK) -- Day one of the 2018 sturgeon spearing season is in the books and by many accounts, it was off to a slow start.

Inside the more than 4,400 shacks on Lake Winnebago, only 83 spear fishermen were successful Saturday.

Experts say it all comes down to water clarity.

A short drive on the Lake Winnebago ice early Saturday morning takes Adam Broehm to his favorite fishing spot. He and his family have speared the same area off the Stockbridge shoreline for decades.

Broehm says some seasons are better than others.

"It's not looking very good right now, It's very cloudy. Last year, we were very lucky that we were able to see bottom. And this year, wasn't looking good when we came into the shack," said Adam Broehm, Newton.

Not far away, Adam's sister Ashley Broehm can't see much either.

"Man, my hole is maybe four or five feet. I tried dropping the basketball, another level, and I couldn't see it at all. So, we brought it up a notch, and this is about as good as it gets right now," said Ashley Broehm, Appleton.

Cloudy conditions translated into a slow harvest around much of Lake Winnebago.

"I don't know, it's not looking good," said Terrie Hastie, Sherwood.

At the Stockbridge sturgeon registration station, Hastie wanted to show her granddaughter the prehistoric fish.

"She never seen one before. I wanted her to see it get measured, and weighed in. They're dinosaurs. It's cool to see," she said.

But by 11:30 in the morning on day one, there were no fish to register.

"Well, it's been awful slow. I don't know, with the water quality that we've got on the lake right now, I expected it to be slow," said Kendall Kamke, DNR Natural Resources Supervisor.

On Saturday, eight fish were registered at Stockbridge, compared to 59, a year ago.

But fish were being taken. DNR biologists say water was clearer on the shallower Upriver Lakes of Butte des Morts, Winneconne, and Poygan. Gabrielle Jacobs speared her first fish, a 50-pounder just before noon.

"It was amazing. I was shaking. It was very chaotic, but we made it through, and pulled it out, and it was very exciting," said Gabrielle Jacobs, Oshkosh.

Jacobs registered her fisht at Critters in Winneconne.

Dakota Ross speared his first fish with a little help from his father.

"My dad asked me if I was going to spear that sturgeon that was coming through the hole. And sure enough, it was at the edge of the hole, and threw the spear, and pulled him up through the hole," said Dakota Ross, Ripon.

Back on Lake Winnebago, murky conditions are expected to continue.

"We checked water clarity on more than 20 sites on Lake Winnebago on Monday. And on average, we had about six and a half feet of visibility. That's the poorest water clarity coming into opening weekend, we've had since the 2006 season. With what we're seeing so far this morning, and what we expected coming into the season, we are anticipating a full 16-day season on Lake Winnebago," said Ryan Koenigs, DNR Sturgeon Biologist.

And while that may not be encouraging news, Adam Broehm says when it comes to spearing sturgeon, some years are better than others.

"Here we are opening day, cloudy. We're going to give it a shot. Whether we can see two feet, or we can see 10-18 feet, we're going to be out here," he said.

Saurday's harvest on Lake Winnebago was less than half of last year's opener.

Experts say they won't be surprised if anglers move their shacks in the coming days, looking for any possibility of clearer water.

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