Joel DeBoer column: Fishing for dinosaurs takes determination

Feb. 26, 2013

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Kirk Hemauer of Hatley shows of the lucky decoy. / Contributed photo


Although dinosaurs are thought to have died out some 65 million years ago, not everything from ancient times has gone extinct. The Coelacanth, for example, a prehistoric fish, was discovered by a South African museum curator on a fishing trawler in 1938.

Like the Coelacanth, the lake sturgeon also is a living fossil that belongs to a family of fish that has existed for more than 135 million years. In pursuit of this veritable finned dinosaur, anglers from around the Midwest flock to the hallowed frozen surface of Lake Winnebago each February to hunt. Welcome to the annual sturgeon spearing season in Wisconsin.

Kirk and Derek Hemauer of Hatley are of the dinosaur hunter order. Kirk, a senior at D.C. Everest Senior High School, credits family members for turning the brothers on to sturgeon spearing. The duo’s maiden voyage onto Winnebago ice in search of their first spearing experience came in 2010. Borrowing a shack and spear from their relatives, the pair set up roughly three miles off Stockbridge Harbor.

More on sturgeon season: More headlines and video | Tweets collected during the season | Browse photos from the 2013 season | Browse photos from the 2012 season | Share your sturgeon photos | Watch cameras on the Wolf River | Watch cameras positioned in Stockbridge

Did the Hemauer brothers experience beginners’ luck? Not quite, Kirk said. The spear-wielding twosome saw only a smattering of walleyes and one small sturgeon, but they were, pardon the pun, hooked. As Kirk said with an ear-to-ear grin, “I could stare down that hole forever.”

Thanksgiving of the same year found Kirk and Derek hard at work in their shop. The pair built their own shack, and Kirk fashioned a homemade metal spear. Using patterns given to them by their uncle, the brothers also made 10 fish-shaped decoys out of pine.

Sturgeon spearing is a game of waiting, watching and wishing. The morning of opening day 2011, a 72-inch, 101 pound “granter-of-wishes” swam under the Hemauers’ hole. “I didn’t even see it right away until (Derek) threw the spear,” Kirk said sheepishly. The spearhead detached as planned, and with Kirk acting as the gaff man, the brothers were able to wrestle the behemoth up out of the hole. Unable to contain the broad smile that has crept across his face, Kirk continues the story: “The head went from the door all the way back to the hole. I was like wow!” He pauses a moment before continuing, “as we were pulling it out, it was whipping its tail and hit our wood stove, cracking one of the legs. It was awesome!”

Cheers to the glow from a wood stove, fellowship among good friends and memories to last a lifetime – dinosaur hunting at its finest.

I’ll see you on the water ...

Joel DeBoer is owner of Wisconsin Angling Adventures Guide Service. He can be contacted through his website at

Joel DeBoer is a Professional Musky Guide, Author, Internet Personality, Outdoor Educator, and Tournament Angler. He can be reached through his website at: Joel will be sharing hunting, fishing, and other outdoor-related information through the perspective of one of North-Central Wisconsin's most successful and accomplished guides.

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