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Update from Ron Bruch on Feb. 3. 2012

February 3, 2012

One week before the season opens and temperatures are still in the upper 30s and low 40s.  I have talked to many people who are planning on sitting this season out, but there are still quite a few spearers who will be heading out.  Check out Ron Bruch’s latest report below and check back tomorrow for photos and more info.  I will be traveling along the east shore of Lake Winnebago from Appleton to Pipe and will be sure to get some photos and talk to anyone I meet along the way to get the latest info.  I’m also meeting with decoy carver Dave Koball to learn more about his decoys!  (The following update has been posted with permission from Ron Bruch and the Wisconsin DNR.  This website is not affiliated with the DNR, Sturgeon for Tomorrow, or any other organization.):

“Dear Winnebago Sturgeon Spearers,

Ice and Water Conditions…………….Well, despite all of our hoping, the weather has not been good for making new ice on the Winnebago Lakes and we have actually lost some ice thickness across the lakes. As of today, there is still some vehicular traffic on the southeast corner of Lake Winnebago and off Boom Bay landing on Lake Poygan. The east shore of the big lake from Stockbridge north has poor to no access, with either bad or thin ice limiting traffic or roads there. West shore is not much better. Many spearers I’ve talked to said if they go they will be using 4-wheelers. Ice thickness varies from a few inches to 11 inches or so on the lakes. Water clarity reports indicate 8.5 feet along the west shore, up to 9-11 feet along the east shore. Upriver Lakes at this time are supposedly clear for the most part and scouts are seeing lots of fish up there.

So – the punch line here is – if you go out sturgeon spearing, make sure you know how much ice is under you regardless of whether you are on foot, 4-wheeler, or vehicle. Don’t trust my nor anyone else’s report as 100% accurate – know for yourself what you are dealing with to keep this an accident free season.

The long range forecast is calling for a little colder weather mid-week next week with at least night-time temperatures going down into the teens on some nights. Hopefully this will help stabilize and maybe heal some ice. With any luck at all a cold spell will come in during the first week of the season and give us better conditions for week 2.

Registration Stations……….We will run all of our stations opening weekend, but depending on how the effort plays out and how many fish are coming in, we may close some stations for a few days here or there during the season. I expect the season to go 16 days on Winnebago, although, given then slightly better ice conditions and water clarity on the Upriver lakes, I would not be surprised to see that season finish earlier. If we close any stations I will send out an e-mail and we will post the information at all of our registration stations so spearers know what is going on.

“Did we ever have a season like this before?”………..The last time we had a season with ice conditions like this was 1998. That year the ice conditions were actually slightly worse than what we have at this time. Also, 1998 was the last year prior to the implementation of the harvest cap system we have used since 1999 to keep the annual harvest at or below 5% of the stock. Despite the poor ice in 1998, the water was gin clear, 18′ over the whole lake and spearers still put out 2140 shanties on the lake (lowest number since 1983). By day 12 of the season, spearers had registered 2151 sturgeon, on track towards a record harvest of over 3000 fish BUT..then the ice, which was deteriorating rapidly on the lake since the beginning of the season, went out completely on Lake Winnebago on day 13 – the season was over! Spearers have indicated and our records show that we have had some other seasons with bad ice including 1954 and 1983 – so it does happen from time to time but thank goodness not very often.

Until next time……….

Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources”

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