Sturgeon Spearing on the Lake Winnebago System, Wisconsin

Sturgeon Spearing on the Lake Winnebago System, Wisconsin: 

A Unique Sport Rich in Culture and Tradition

The Lake Winnebago system in east-central Wisconsin is home to the largest self-sustaining population of lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in the world, while also being home to the unique sport of sturgeon spearing.  The annual sturgeon spearing season commences on the second Saturday in February and lasts for either 16 days or until sex-specific harvest caps are reached.  Over 12,000 people, representing 26 American states and 1 Canadian Province, purchase licenses for the chance to harvest one of the more than 45,000 adult fish inhabiting the system.  The season consists of fisheries on two different water bodies.  There are 500 spearing permits per year granted for the Upriver Lakes (Winneconne, Poygan, and Butte Des Morts), while the fishery on Lake Winnebago has unlimited license sales.  The Upriver Lakes fishery is growing in popularity, mostly due to the increased success rates over Lake Winnebago (50-60% annual success rate compared to 10-12% on Lake Winnebago).  

Management of the sturgeon spear fishery has evolved over the last 2-3 decades, but the current program is revered world-wide for sustainable sturgeon management.  Sex-specific harvest caps are established for every season, allowing harvest of up to 5% of the adult population.  Spearers are allowed to harvest of up to 1 fish per year, and all fish must be 914 mm or larger and registered at one of 11 registration stations operated by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource staff.  Each harvested fish is measured, weighed, checked for tags, and sexed. These data, in combination with data collected during spawning assessments, are the lifeblood of the management program and instrumental in the annual estimates of exploitation and abundance. 

Management of the fishery may have evolved over time, but the sport has for the most part remained the same.  The first modern sturgeon spearing season occurred in 1932, and the harvest methods were adopted from Native American traditions.  Under the current management program, the population has flourished and 9 of the 10 largest fish by weight have been harvested since 2004.  The largest fish harvested on record was a 214 cm, 96.2 kg lake sturgeon speared in 2010 (photo insert).

The spearing season also holds an economic and cultural significance to the region.  The maximum 16-day season annually contributes $3.5 million to the regional economies, and the sport is as important as deer hunting (another culturally important outdoor event in Wisconsin).  The culture of the sport has also been the center of multiple documentaries, books, and countless magazine articles. 

Contact: Ryan Koenigs,, (920)303-5450