Best of the Best: Spearing Sturgeon on the Ice

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Cathy Best

Cathy Best

By Cathy Best, Columnist

It’s all over but the bragging. The 2014 sturgeon-spearing season, on Lake Winnebago, was set to run from February 8 – 24; it came to an abrupt halt on February 13. Anglers, spearers in this case, depleted the lake of its 2014 DNR pre-set harvest cap 11 days short of season’s end.

To understand the scope of these facts one must have a sense of what sturgeon spearing season is all about. It’s ice fishing and it’s a big darn deal. Imagine this: One February morning, several years ago, I’m tuned in to the local Fond du Lac, WI radio station when a female listener calls in hoping to win a prize.

The DJ asks if she’s at work and she shares that no, she’s on vacation that week. Here’s the kicker: she’s out on the frozen lake in her ice fishing shanty staring into the refrigerator size hole, she cut in 24 inch thick ice with a chainsaw, waiting for a sturgeon to glide by so she can spear it. She volunteered she had dropped the children at school and driven her car across the ice to the shanty.

The ice mom planned to be there until 1p.m. when, by law, spearing must cease until 7a.m. the following day. The friendly caller chatted with the DJ’s for a while and we learned she had all the necessities needed for a morning on the lake: a cooler with snacks and drinks, portable heater, radio, cell phone, and spear. Here’s the thing: it’s not like she’s out there all by her lonesome.

Allan Kraemer would have been out there with her. After 42-years of sitting in his shanty gazing into the ice hole and never even spotting a sturgeon, he not only spotted one this year, he finally speared one. I know your thinking why would you stand vigil for 42-years?

Let me clarify- there’s beer in the cooler, brats on the grill, and buddies to hang out with. Enough said. No, ice mom and Mr. Kraemer are not alone. A small city erupts on the frozen lake as soon as the ice reaches a safe enough depth to drive your vehicle, towing your shanty on a sled, out there.

When I say small city I’m talking 4,000 shanties and up to 10,000 cars and trucks. Each shanty will house anywhere from two to six fisherman, fisherwomen, grandpas, grandmas, and children.

It’s a family affair. The shanties range in size from about 4’x8’ to 6’x12’ or larger depending on your ability to drag it behind a vehicle. [Many cities along the east and west shores plow roads on the icy surface; expansion cracks on the ice are bridged.] Yikes.

The 2014 season recorded a 161-pound, 77-inch sturgeon, as the biggest fish of the year. All in all, there were 99 fish exceeding 100 pounds speared this season. The largest sturgeon caught, on record, was eight-feet long and weighed in at 310 pounds.

Wrestling that thing out of a hole in the ice would be like trying to pull a Packer offensive lineman out of quicksand. Seriously, your standing flat-footed on ice, in a hut, with a refrigerator size hole open to freezing water, holding a homemade spear, which you somehow happen to rear back and spear as a 100- pound fish glides under you.

And lets not forget that beer is most likely involved; it’s Wisconsin after all where, per capita, more beer is consumed annually than any other state. All this is taking place before 1p.m. in the afternoon when sturgeon spearing is halted until 7a.m. the next morning when spears are wielded and tops are popped once again. All true. It’s February in Wisconsin.

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