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Sturgeon Spearing Update from Ron Bruch on February 16th, 2012

February 16, 2012

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.

“Winnebago Sturgeon Spearing Report – Thursday February 16, 2012

A little more activity today, but not much more. Ice conditions are not improving with the warm weather and sun. Spearers report the top couple of inches of ice is soft due to sunshine beating on it. Ice below is still strong but not gaining any thickness. Cracks are still working on the lake and there are still some thin ice areas spearers need to watch for. Water clarity still the biggest problem holding down harvest rates.

Today’s totals:

Sturgeon Harvest Totals for February 16, 2012

Sturgeon Vignette – Lady Spearers

While the sport of sturgeon spearing has long been dominated by men, there are many accomplished women spearers who have made their mark over the decades in the sturgeon record books. I’ve always thought that women may actually have a little more patience than some men when it comes to sitting in a shack and staring down that green hole, which in turn may have contributed to their success rate. The overall harvest success rate for spearers on Lake Winnebago is about 13%, but women spearers usually experience a higher rate.

In our book People of the Sturgeon, Wisconsin’s Love Affair with an Ancient Fish we made sure to cover the subject of women spearers (pp 84-89). Years ago when a woman came into a registration station with a sturgeon, she often drew suspicion from game wardens and other spearers. The rumors floating around the lake were that a man would spear a sturgeon and then ask his wife or girlfriend to register it on her license so he could return to his shack and try to get another fish. I must admit I have seen in my career women coming in with a fish, perhaps on a Sunday morning, in high heels and a dress (like she just got out of church) to register a sturgeon that she had very little interest in. Fortunately we don’t see this very often. When a woman or anyone for that matter brings in a fish to a registration station, it is usually very obvious whether the person speared the fish or not. I’ve always said, “a person with a sturgeon is a very happy person”; many spearers with a fish are almost giddy when they arrive at the registration station.

For the 2011 spearing season for example, women purchased 591 of the 11714 Lake Winnebago spearing licenses sold and registered 140 fish, a 23.7% success rate, while men registered 1286 fish, an 11.6% success rate. The “patience” thing with women, as well as some fish still being registered for their husbands and boyfriends likely accounts for the success rate disparity.

But talk to any dyed-in-the-wool woman sturgeon spearer and you will know in short order how passionate she is about her sport. Everything from pink spears, setting their own shacks, and making their own decoys will come out in a detailed description of what women have put into being successful. As of today, of the top 20 fish by weight on record since 1932, two were speared by women; no. 5, a 179.9 pound, 79.6” fish speared this year on opening day on Lake Butte des Morts by Chris Haedt of Berlin, and no. 12, a 168.8 pound, 80.8” fish taken February 15, 2009 on Lake Poygan by Amy Van Beek of Menasha. There are many other famous lady sturgeon spearers from over the years including Mary Lou Schneider and her daughter Mary Boettcher of Fond Du Lac, Irene Halfmann of Malone, Lynn Benedict of Butte des Morts, June Burg of Stockbridge, and Susie Hopp of Berlin, who, along with all the other woman spearers, have left their mark on the Winnebago sturgeon spearing culture.

Getting a fish is not just the end of the adventure for women spearers……Once a woman gets her fish and brings it into the sturgeon registration station (which are typically set up near taverns around the lakes), she often attracts quite a crowd of men, especially if she has a large fish. For most men, the lure of a woman with a big sturgeon is stronger than hot fried bacon. Here’s to the lady spearers…our hats are off to you.

Mary Boettcher, her fish and parents Vic & mary Lou Schneider Feb 2007

Photo of Mary Lou and Vic Schneider of Fond du Lac and their daughter Mary Boettcher with her sturgeon, February 2007; Photo copyright Bob Rashid

Colleen Kingsland, Van Dyne, WI 16 Feb 2012 Lake Winnebago

Photo of Colleen Kingsland, Van Dyne, with a 43", 19.6 lb sturgeon she speared today Feb 16, 2012 and registered at Wendt's; DNR photo

Till Tomorrow,

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

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