Daniel J. Folz
August 4, 1934 – November 7, 2020
The sturgeon community is deeply saddened by the passing of Dan Folz on Saturday November 7, 2020. “Father Sturgeon” as he was more commonly called was a global pioneer in effective management of sturgeon. Dan was a Fisheries Biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for 34 years but is most well-known for his time working as the Lake Sturgeon Biologist and Fish Management Supervisor on the Lake Winnebago System from 1975-1989. Dan took the sturgeon management helm on the Winnebago System in 1975, a time at which the lake sturgeon population was at its lowest point in history as a result of decades of excessive legal and illegal harvest. Dan quickly built a sturgeon population assessment and management program that promptly reversed the downward trend and became the foundation for the current Winnebago System Lake Sturgeon management and research program that is emulated by sturgeon programs around the world today.
As a young new biologist back in the late 1950s, Dan began tagging sturgeon during the spring spawning runs on the Wolf River and he continued to work on the tagging crews even after his retirement in 1989. For over 60 years, the public, fascinated by watching the annual lake sturgeon spawning ritual at sites along the Wolf River, got to watch Father Sturgeon and his crew net, wrestle, measure and tag these giant fish. Throughout the entire process, Dan could be observed gleefully engaging people lined up to watch the spectacle. One of his favorite things during this time was to have the children come close and touch a fish. Afterwards, Dan would tell the child, while they were horrifically looking at the slime on their hands, “now you can go wipe that on your mother”.
During Dan’s watch and leadership of the Winnebago Lake Sturgeon Program, a local sturgeon citizens involvement group known as Sturgeon for Tomorrow formed. Dan worked closely with this new group at their start, and throughout his career, to accomplish many critically important factors that have significantly contributed to the long-term success of the Lake Winnebago sturgeon program. Some examples include development of the heretofore unknown methodology for artificial propagation of lake sturgeon, implementation of the Sturgeon Guard program using volunteers to guard vulnerable spawning fish on the Wolf River from poaching, and the continual fostering of a positive partnerships with Sturgeon for Tomorrow and the sturgeon public. This genuine positive relationship, facilitated and nurtured by Dan’s work with the public, is still being carried out to this day by Dan’s successors.
While Dan will always be remembered for his pioneering work with lake sturgeon, he will equally be remembered for his larger than life personality. Dan was a big man and an imposing figure, especially in his size 15 XXXL waders, but as big as his physical stature was, his heart was bigger yet. Dan had a very quick wit, but his genuine kindness and love of people and life is what people took away with them following a meeting or conversation with him. His laughter was contagious, and he made life fun for all of those that came in contact with him.
Dan will truly be missed by those blessed to have been able to know him, and especially by all those who had the great privilege of being his friend and working alongside him. Rest in peace our dear friend.