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Winnebago sturgeon opener Feb. 8

OSHKOSH, Wis. — Anticipation is building for another season of lake sturgeon fishing on the Winnebago System. The 2020 spearing season opens on Feb. 8 and will last for a maximum of 16 days or until pre-set harvest caps are reached.

The Winnebago System is home to one of the world’s largest self-sustaining populations of lake sturgeon, with an estimated 18,500 adult females, 24,000 adult males and a unique spearing season dating back more than 85 years.

Interest in sturgeon spearing continues to be strong. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources sold 12,721 licenses (12,248 for Lake Winnebago and 473 for the Upriver Lakes) for the 2020 season. Licenses were purchased by residents from all 72 Wisconsin counties as well as 34 states. The deadline to apply for sturgeon spearing permits was Aug. 1.

As always, water clarity and ice conditions are the most influential factors contributing to harvest success during the sturgeon spearing season. The 2020 season will likely open with less than ideal conditions as a mild winter has created variable ice conditions throughout Lake Winnebago. Preliminary water clarity checks indicate relatively poor water clarity throughout Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes.

Despite unfavorable conditions, spearers are still excited to take to the ice for the upcoming spearing season, said Ryan Koenigs, DNR Winnebago system sturgeon biologist.

“Sturgeon spearers are well versed in reading ice conditions and have shown the capability to pursue their passion despite variable ice conditions,”Koenigs said.

“These are the good old days within the Winnebago System sturgeon population,” he continued. “There are more fish in the system now than there have been for decades and more big fish than we have had since the early 1900s. More than 10 percent of the female sturgeon harvested during the 2019 spear fishery were larger than 70 inches.”

Spearing hours run from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and all sturgeon must be presented at a DNR operated registration station by 2 p.m. of the same day the fish is harvested.

The system-wide harvest caps for the 2020 season are set at 430 juvenile females, 950 adult females and 1,200 males.

To spear sturgeon, people must have a paper copy of their sturgeon spearing license and tag on their person. A Go Wild card, driver’s license, purchase receipt or a PDF copy of the tag are not valid proof of a spearing license or tag.

More details about sturgeon spearing throughout the Lake Winnebago system can be found on the DNR website.

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