2013 Winnebago Lakes Sturgeon Spearing Season - Season Synopsis, 12.03.2013

Spearers awaited the 2013 sturgeon spear fishery with great anticipation of the chance to harvest a potential record breaking fish. The number of sturgeon in the population has been increasing over the last 25+ years and recent harvests contained high percentages of "trophy" sized fish. In fact, 7 of the top 10 fish on record had been harvested in the past three seasons (2010-2012). The increase in adult population abundance and over-all size of the fish within the population has been accompanied by an increased interest in the sturgeon spearing season. A record number (4,894) of spearers applied for the 2013 Upriver Lakes (URL) lottery fishery. This is a 75% increase in the number of applicants since the lottery fishery began in 2007. In total, 12,092 spear licenses were sold for the 2013 sturgeon spear fishery, which ranks as the 3rd most ever after the 2012 (1st) and 2011 (2nd) spear fisheries.

When the 2013 sturgeon spearing season got underway on Saturday February 9, spearers encountered variable water clarity conditions which led to two very different seasons. Spearers on the Upriver Lakes experienced favorable water clarity conditions and had a short, yet successful season with a total harvest of 261 fish over the 4 day season. Overall, water clarity on Lake Winnebago was poor, which led to a full 16 day season with a below average harvest of 306 fish.

The harvest of 306 fish from Lake Winnebago ranks the 2013 season 58th (by total harvest) of the 71 seasons since 1941 (minus 2 during WWII that we do not have records for). Of the 25 seasons held on the Upriver Lakes since 1952, the 2013 season ranks 16th in terms of total harvest (see summary tables at the end of the full report).
As predicted, the large fish phenomenon continued in 2013, and actually increased on Lake Winnebago. Sturgeon biologists and researchers in the 1950s-1980s believed that sturgeon size structure was favorable if more than 1% of the total harvest was comprised of fish larger than 100 pounds. Starting in 2007, we started to see much higher percentages of these larger fish appearing in the harvest. For example, the percentages of fish greater than 100 pounds in the Lake Winnebago harvest were 1.93% in 2007, 5.04% in 2010 and 6.48% in 2012. This trend continued in 2013, where a record 9.5% of the Lake Winnebago harvest was comprised of fish larger than 100 pounds. The 2013 spear fishery also contributed a fish to the top 10 on record, as Peter Vander Wielen's 80.0", 179.0 pound sturgeon harvested on opening day currently ranks 6th largest since modern sturgeon spear fisheries began in 1932. These larger fish are now showing up in our population and fishery due to timely regulations, the elimination of excessive harvest from illegal fisheries in the 1930s-1960s, recruitment into the fishery of a series of strong year classes from the 1940s-1950s, and periodic very large hatches of gizzard shad.

Ryan Koenigs

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