The Winnebago water system is home to one of the largest sturgeon populations in North America and hosts a unique winter spearfishing season. The ancient fish draws thousands of anglers to the frozen waters of Lake Winnebago every February. In 2012 the largest sturgeon on record in the lake was speared, weighing 240 lbs. and estimated to be 125 years old! The success rate is low; approximately one out of eight spearers go home with a sturgeon in the back of their pickup truck.
Anglers start by cutting a hole in the ice. Then looking down into the hole, in 10-20 feet of water, they use “decoys” that come in all shapes, sizes, and colors to attract the sturgeon. Some fishermen use coffee cups, basketballs, or miscellaneous shiny objects. The sturgeon thinks it’s a food source and comes swimming closer to inspect. If you have the good fortune to see a sturgeon in your hole, you grab a spear, lower it into the water without splashing, and guide it toward the fish.
For many Wisconsin families, sturgeon spearing is a tradition that spans multiple generations. I remember being very young sitting in a fishing shanty on a frozen lake with my dad, who used to tie a rope around me to prevent me from falling into the big hole. Every year represents another chance to tell stories and create memories; spearing a sturgeon is a bonus!
My catch this year was 76.5 lbs. and 65.9” long. It was a great feeling to spear the fish and to carry on our family tradition!