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Sturgeon Spawning Update from Ron Bruch

March 27, 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.

Excerpt on sturgeon spawning from Ron Bruch’s update on March 26, 2012:

“We started the day today with fairly low expectations of finding any decent concentrations of actively spawning fish due to the cold weather and drop in water temperatures. After checking Shawano and not seeing any fish at all we systematically worked our way downstream on the Wolf and the Embarrass Rivers. Water temperatures had dropped about 4-6 degrees F at every site we checked from highs in the rivers last Thursday. Surprisingly though we saw a few sturgeon at more than half of the sites below Shawano, although these fish (males) were mostly “egg suckers” and “lollygaggers” – or males that were still hanging around after active spawning at a site was completed, just eating sturgeon eggs or simply milling around waiting for the next batch of females to come in to the site and begin ovulating sometime in the near future.

We were quite surprised when we finally arrived at the “Pines”, a site on private property south of Leeman which can be a very heavily used site in some years, to find almost the entire 500 feet of bank with sturgeon actively spawning. The “Pines” is a very quiet and scenic site, as well as a totally man-made rip-rapped spawning site along a very high and very steep bank adjacent to a 35 foot deep hole on a long sweeping bend of the river. To work fish here we need to stay literally on the river’s edge at the bottom of the steep bank and do all of our capturing, measuring, and tagging in the water. We made our first descent down the bank at about mid day, stopping only for a quick sandwich about mid-afternoon, and by 5:30 PM had captured and tagged 123 fish. A very productive day! Great crew!

I’ve attached a photo montage of our day at the Pines today – hope you enjoy……

The egg collecting crew from Tennessee and Georgia are driving up tomorrow and will start working with us on Wednesday. Don’t know if Shawano will be in by then – but we’ll keep an eye on it and be ready when it does become active.

We are running Sturgeon Guards and if you are scheduled, please report. If your shift is cancelled due to low fish activity, our LE staff will contact you well ahead of time.”

Excerpt on sturgeon spawning from Ron Bruch’s update on March 25, 2012:

“Water temps dropped almost 6 degrees F from a peak of 62 F last Thursday in the New London area (the day the fish came in strong on the Sturgeon Trail spawning site) down to 56 F yesterday (Saturday). The sunshine and moderately warm day today brought the temps back up a couple of degrees, but I expect all of this increase to be lost over the next 36 hours as a short cold front works its way through the area. After Monday with the forecasted high in the upper 40s, the highs the rest of the week are supposed to be in the upper 50s and low 60s. This should/could be enough to bring the sturgeon on to the rest of the spawning sites that have not seen activity yet, including Shawano.

The timing of when the rest of the spawning sites see activity is more difficult to predict as we are in un-charted territory this year. The smart money says that since the fish have already “stewed” in quite warm water in the mid to upper 50s all up and down the river system, that the fish that have not spawned yet should come on when the water temps begin to consistently rise again sometime this week and approach 59-60 F, but – it is also entirely possible that they may come on even when water temps are dropping since they have already spent so much time in warm water. We’ll keep a close watch on things to see what happens; and keep you informed.

Sturgeon Spawning Activity Today – There were fish at a number of sites on the Wolf River in the New London, Shiocton, and Leman areas, as well as on the Little Wolf River at Manawa, on the Embarrass River at a few sites including Fajfer Park in New London, and possibly at Eureka on the upper Fox River. No major concentrations though; mostly small numbers of males cruising sites, and at a few sites perhaps a female or two that were close to ovulating or in the early stages of ovulation and attracting attention from males at the site. People might still be able to see a fish or two at the Sturgeon Trail, New London or Bamboo Bend, Shiocton Shiocton, but the spawning activity (at least the first round) is pretty much done at these two major sites for this year. The best remaining viewing of the 2012 season will be in Shawano at the spawning site below the Paper Mill dam. As I mentioned above, spawning could start there by mid week or so – but tough to say for sure when at this point.

You’ve heard me mention the Wolf River Sturgeon Trail west of New London on County X several times in my reports. This is an excellent man-made spawning site that the fish have been using for decades. The site was developed for better public access and sturgeon viewing over the last ten years and is, together with Bamboo Bend in Shiocton and Sturgeon Park in Shawano, one of the premier go-to public places in the world to see sturgeon spawn. There is a great large carving of a sturgeon at the head of the Sturgeon Trail done by Dave Bartels of Shawano that also helps make this site unique. If you haven’t seen it, I’ve attached a couple of photos – better yet stop in at the site sometime and take an up-close-and-personal look at this unique piece of Wisconsin sturgeon art.”

Excerpt on sturgeon spawning from Ron Bruch’s update on March 24, 2012:

“I am sending out my sturgeon spawning report early today (and cancelling any thought of heading to Vegas). As good as we think we are in predicting what these fish are going to do and when they are going to spawn, the fish always win. The cold and abundant rain yesterday caused the water temperatures to drop a couple of degrees and the fish that were spawning finished over night and we found no new fish in to carry on the heavy 2012 spawning activity today. The crew mopped up about a dozen fish at Bamboo Bend this morning and are working fish at a couple of other private sites in the Shiocton area. The heaviest concentration of fish today seems to be below the Manawa dam on the Little Wolf River – this is a site where the public can also get a good look at the fish. Looking at the weather forecast and the behavior of the fish this spring, my next best guess as to when things will pick up again at the spawning sites that still need to come in from Shiocton to Shawano, is that fish won’t come into these sites for a few days – perhaps Tuesday or Wednesday or later. It is entirely possible that Shawano could come in earlier or later than Wednesday – we’ll keep an eye out and let you know.

The start, stop, and start again spawning behavior is typical of our lake sturgeon and probably other sturgeon species as well. Each female is on her own biological clock and will ovulate when she is finally ready, not before; and once she starts spawning she will keep spawning for the next 8-12 hours until she is finished. Water temperature is important, but the rate of warming is critical with the fish not only spawning at a wide range of temperatures (so they do not all lay their eggs at the same time), but not until they are ready to spawn (the females that is). Males are pretty much ready all the time once the females start showing up, and they will remain ready for weeks to take advantage of an ovulating female that arrives at a spawning site. Males also will not only spawn with many females over 4-5 weeks, but also will spawn at numerous sites – wherever they can find females that are ovulating or waiting to ovulate.

Once females finish spawning they will “rest” for a few hours perhaps at the spawning site before they move out – they are quite exhausted and ready to individually drift back downstream to the Winnebago lakes. The males don’t head back until the full spawning season is in the books. As such the sex ratio, typically 6:1 males to females, is much more heavily tipped to males if there are “second” and “third” runs. I’ve attached a photo of a typical spawning group (Bob Rashid photo).

So it goes in the lives of us Sturgeon Chasers – as I said the fish always win, but we still have a great time during the chase.”

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

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