Menasha, Wisconsin 54952
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Boasting a sturgeon population like no other in the world, fishermen flock to Lake Winnebago every February to get their catch and partake in this storied Wisconsin sport tradition.
Lake Winnebago is home to the largest self-sustaining lake sturgeon population in the world, making it a winter fishing destination. Every second Saturday in February (through up to 16 days,) fishermen flock to Lake Winnebago — Wisconsin's largest inland lake — to stake out their chance to spear one of these giant, prehistoric fish.
Ice spearing shanties, trucks, and campers pop up on the frozen lake, creating a "shanty town" community as far as the eye can see. The success rate of spearing a sturgeon on Lake Winnebago is less than 15 percent, but empty handed or not, fishermen and families return year after year for the camaraderie, culture, tradition, and love of the sport. More than 12,000 licenses have been sold for this season for Lake Winnebago and other nearby waters.
Sturgeon spearing differs from traditional ice fishing in a number of ways, including the type of fish (sturgeon) caught, required licensing, spearing shanties, etc. Ice spearing shanties are dark inside and placed over shallow water, which allows light to shine through the hole in the ice. Since sturgeon spearing is often a family tradition, with love of the sport passed on from generation to generation, mechanisms and equipment used to attract (such as decoys) and catch (the spears) the fish can be homemade. Once speared, a sturgeon, which can easily weigh upward of 100 pounds, fights for its freedom while the fisherman works with a rope connected to the spearhead to wrangle in its catch — no easy feat in and of itself.
Want to see the sturgeon up close when they are brought in from Lake Winnebago to be weighed, measured, and registered? Waverly Beach in Menasha and Paynes Point in Neenah are two Fox Cities places to do just that.
Click here for more information from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources about sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago and the 2020 season.
Due to uncertain ice and winter conditions, people are asked to use additional caution when venturing on the ice this season. Spearers are specifically being encouraged to unload their equipment on shore and to use snowmobiles or UTVs, instead of trucks and cars, on the ice.
All photos credited to Tim Sweet.