With less than a week before the 2013 Sturgeon Spearing season, conditions remain less than ideal for the estimated 12,000+ hunters of the ancient beast.
The 2012 season was marred by poor ice conditions and poor water clarity on Lake Winnebago. Spearers were forced to travel almost exclusively via ATV/snowmobiles to partake in the hunt. 2013 looks to have many of the same attributes of the 2012 season.
The past week has seen substantial rain, followed by sub zero temperatures and heavy snow. Areas near rivers or feeder creeks should be viewed as extremely dangerous due to rain water runoff.
Ice depths are very inconsistent on Lake Winnebago, and safety measures will need to be taken by all participants in all areas of the lake. As of Sunday, Feb 3, open water pockets remain scattered throughout the main lake, with additional open areas near cracks and heaves. Ice depths range from open water to 18” of ice.
The Up-River Lakes appear to be in excellent spearing condition, with solid and fairly consistent ice over the majority of the lakes. Water clarity is very good. Ice reports indicated about 14” of ice on Lake Poygan.
The rain water runoff has also caused some water clarity problems, especially in the Fond du Lac area and near the Fox River in Oshkosh on Lake Winnebago. However, plenty of time remains for the muddy waters to settle, creating better conditions. In Fond du Lac, water clarity was at less than 1 foot. North of Fisherman’s Road (Pipe,WI) the clarity had already improved to approximately 6-10 feet. The north shore has clarity in the ranges of 2-5 feet as of Sunday Feb 3rd.
Car/Truck travel is occurring along the east shore with established “roads” (or tree lines) at Fisherman’s Road, Stockbridge and Calumet County Park. On the south end, there is an established unmarked trail coming off the BP gas station on Winnebago Drive (Fond du Lac). At Wendt’s in Van Dyne, truck travel is possible, especially to the north, with all vehicles staying inside of the crack. Overall, the snow pack on the ice’s surface is very manageable at just a few inches.
Like last year when all 16 days of the season were needed to close the season short of the established cap numbers on Lake Winnebago, 2013 looks to be similar. In 2012, some licensed participants opted to sit the season out based on conditions, and we expect the same story may be told at the end of the 2013 season.
On the upper river lakes, we think the season could be short, as anticipated cap numbers (83 adult females) could be reached very quickly. Conditions and sturgeon concentrations are in favor of the spearers.
According to the DNR, sturgeon populations are very strong system-wide including many 100 pounds and over. A record sized sturgeon (240 pounds) was tagged by the DNR during the 2012 spawn, and it is possible that a 225 pound plus fish could be harvested in the next several years. In 2012, 6.5% of the sturgeon harvested exceeded 100 pounds including a 175.3 pound fish–the largest fish for the season.
The 2012 season ranked 57th all time based on 70 recorded years of sturgeon spearing (volume). Myfishingpartner.com is forecasting a slight increase from 2012 harvest numbers, but only by a small margin. Estimates of 45,000 adult sturgeons exist in these waterways, so population favirs the spearers.
Conditions are less than ideal concerning travel, water clarity and ice depth. The ten day forecast indicates a warming trend. With fewer participants expected due to poor ice/water conditions, this could translate into a tick under average harvest rate. The predicted warm temperatures could encourage participants to stay on the ice longer, increasing harvest numbers. Ultimately, weather/water/ice conditions during the potential 16 day season will play a critical role to the season’s success.
Be sure to follow the highlights of the season at www.myfishingpartner.com. With any luck, we should have a day one video online on Saturday evening.