Sturgeon Spearing Season Set To Start

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show
fisher on lake with ice shanty
Neil Staeck CC-BY-NC

We take a look at the excitement around Sturgeon Spearing season. As opening day approaches, we discuss the history and management of the world’s largest sturgeon population and the upcoming Sturgeon Spectacular in Fond du Lac.

Featured in this Show

  • Ancient Fish At Heart Of Beloved Wisconsin Tradition

    It’s not everyday you can spear a dinosaur with your family.

    But that’s basically what’s happening as families flock to Lake Winnebago and the Upriver Lakes at the start of sturgeon spearing season Saturday, Feb. 10. That’s because sturgeon are an ancient, not to mention giant, species.

    In fact, sturgeon date back to 150 million years ago — further back than even the formation of the Great Lakes, said Kathleen Schmitt Kline, an outreach coordinator with the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute.

    The species isn’t just ancient — the fish themselves also have unique lifecycles. Some sturgeon can live for more than 100 years. Female sturgeon don’t spawn until they’re 20 years old. Plus, the fish keep growing as they age. Last spearing season, several sturgeon clocked in at more than 140 lbs, Schmitt Kline said.

    “Having this population in Lake Winnebago is just phenomenal,” Schmitt Kline said.

    But having that population wasn’t always a given. In fact, sturgeon in Wisconsin were once almost fished to extinction. Their eggs can be used for caviar, making them a popular target for poaching, Schmitt Kline said.

    Their unique lifecycle also makes sturgeon a difficult fish for fisheries to manage, since fishery managers need to keep female sturgeon alive and healthy for 20 years to get a new generation of sturgeon going, Schmitt Kline said. Schmitt Kline said the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other groups dedicated to protecting sturgeon have now nurtured the population of prehistoric fish back to full health. Those Wisconsin conservationists have even been able to teach other states how to restore their diminished sturgeon populations as well, Schmitt Kline said.

    Now, sturgeon lovers gather to celebrate the species every year at Fond du Lac’s Sturgeon Spectacular. This year, the event starts Friday, Feb. 9 and runs through Sunday, Feb. 11. President of the Fond du Lac convention center and visitors’ bureau Craig Molitor helps run the event.

    “I don’t think we’d be able to celebrate this activity if the sturgeon were an endangered species, but they are flourishing,” Molitor said.

    Next weekend’s event includes snow and ice sculpting, activities for kids, a hockey tournament and live comedy and music, Molitor said.

    A post shared by Fond du Lac (@fonddulaccvb) on

    Despite the Fond du Lac festivities, Molitor warns people not to be too cavalier about sturgeon spearing. It’s important to be sure the ice will hold. But even though there’s been some warmer temperatures this year so far, the cold snap should do the trick, Molitor said.

    Even so, Molitor said it’s crucial to be with someone who knows what they’re doing. Schmitt Kline said that’s not just for safety reasons, but to protect the sturgeon population.

    She reminded families planning to catch some sturgeon this season that the only legal way to do it is to cut a hole in the ice, put a shanty over it and use a spear to stab passing sturgeon.

    But as long as people are safe on the ice and respectful of the sturgeon, Molitor said Sturgeon Spectacular and the upcoming season will certainly be memorable and family friendly.

    “There’s quirkiness and tradition and history and a little bit of polka music,” Molitor said.

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Jill Nadeau Producer
  • Kathleen Schmitt Kline Guest
  • Craig Molitor Guest