Good ice, but questionable water clarity to greet sturgeon spearers

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LAKE WINNEBAGO, Wis. (WBAY) - We are just days away from the opening of sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago and the upriver lakes. The DNR says more than 13,000 licenses have been purchased for the 16-day season, but thousands of others will participate.

Vehicles on frozen Lake Winnebago (WBAY file photo)

It's starting to look like sturgeon spearing season on Lake Winnebago, spearers are lining their shanties up, waiting until Thursday when they officially start cutting holes for Saturday's opening day.

But spearing success is dependent on water clarity, something the DNR hasn't really been able to check because of poor ice conditions just weeks ago, followed by the polar vortex last week and another warm up a few days ago.

Ryan Koenigs is the Senior Fisheries Biologist for the DNR. "A lot of the reports I'm hearing, anecdotally from anglers, is that water clarity is dirtier south of the river in Oshkosh typically 6 to maybe 10 feet of visibility is what I'm hearing those areas," he says, "but there is a little bit clearer water in the northern part of the lake, particularly off of Stockbridge, Payne's Point. Some areas clarity up to 12 feet but mostly around 10, 11 feet."

Those estimates are without knowing the full effect of last weekend's winter warm up, when rain and snow melt poured into tributaries.

"Even what we see for clarity today might not be what's around on Saturday. Runoff events like that really can diminish water clarity pretty quick. Also, it can make things really variable," adds Koenigs.

While the runoff from the warmup will most likely negatively impact water clarity it was actually good news for the ice conditions out on the lake.

"It took the snow off, because people were getting stuck out here. Every day we were pulling someone out getting stuck in a snow bank. So, then we had rain, we had water sitting on it yesterday, and now it got cold and all of that froze, so the lake is really good right now," says Don Herman, ice expert from Sunk? Dive and Ice Service.

Even with good ice conditions, as people venture out for sturgeon spearing season, they need to remember that ice is never a 100 percent safe.

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