Monster opener: Sturgeon spearing season kicks off on Lake Winnebago

Feb. 9, 2014


Jake Slattery can count the number of sturgeon he has seen swim beneath his shanty in the last 13 years.

He caught none of them. Until Saturday.

Slattery and his wife, Jennifer, of Oshkosh, both successfully speared sturgeon in 32 minutes.

“His was first. I got nervous when I saw it, so he threw and got the first one,” Jennifer Slattery said. “When I saw the second one, I thought ‘What the heck.’ I threw it and landed it, my first in four years.”

The Slatterys were among the hundreds Saturday who seized upon clear water and a solid sheet of ice to pull 878 sturgeon out of Lake Winnebago and the upland lakes on the 2014 sturgeon spearing season’s opening day.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Biologist Art Techlow said spearers registered 64 sturgeon at the Otter Street Fishing Club alone.

Of those, he said nine sturgeon weighed more than 100 pounds, and 50 were registered 100 pounds or more in total. He said water clarity and 27 to 32 inches of ice on the lake made for some of the best conditions in more than a decade.

“The pace is fast. For this station, we haven’t seen fish come in like this for 15 years,” Techlow said. “Spearers are happy. They’re seeing multiple fish out there.”

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View photos from the 2014 sturgeon spearing season | Upload your photos from the sturgeon spearing season or send them to

The same can be said for Wendt’s on the Lake, where at least 200 sturgeon were taken. At one point the line to register fish was so long it had to be moved so it didn’t run into the bar. People in line didn’t mind, however, since their season was already capped off with a sturgeon in hand.

Brandon Engel, of Menasha, speared his second sturgeon and first ever on Lake Winnebago at 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning. Engel’s fish was one of the bigger ones taken on the day, registering in at 74.3 inches and 134 pounds. That wasn’t the only sturgeon he had seen swimming below him, either.

“It was the fourth one we had seen today, luckily. I missed one a bit earlier and I was pretty bummed about it,” Engel said. “We had the lucky spot, this one came in with another one and my dad was messing around with the decoy and I dropped it on this one and got it. He thought I missed it at first, had he been ready we could have maybe had a double.”

Engel’s first sturgeon was speared on Lake Poygan three years ago and registered 59 inches and weighed 55 pounds. He guessed the first fish he missed Saturday was around the 80 pound mark.

“I got to (throw the spear) twice today, so that was pretty sweet. I’m glad I got some payback after that first miss and was able to get its grandma,” Engel joked while hovering over his prized fish.

The top fish of the day belonged to William Zahringer, who’s fish tipped the scale at 143.9 pounds and 75.4 inches.

With an opener that the residents on Lake Winnebago haven’t seen in a decade or so, there’s little doubt that this season will be over sooner rather than later. The only question at this point is which day will be the last for the spearing fisherman.

Nothing is set in stone, but one thing is for certain — spearers are going to enjoy the water conditions and the fast-paced excitement for as long as they can.

More on sturgeon season: More headlines and video | Browse photos from the 2014 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

Jake Van Camp: (920) 426-6661 or jvancamp@thenorth Northwestern reporter Jeff Bollier contributed to this story.

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