Season open to local fishers
Written by Appleton Post-Crescent   
Monday, 23 January 2006 09:32

A week before Wisconsin's sturgeon spearing season starts, two local men will pack spears and head to Michigan's Lower Peninsula for a season often measured in minutes, not days.

Fishing buddies Tom Wagner and James "Beak" Schneider are longtime spearers on Lake Winnebago. On Feb. 4 they will join a select group of anglers near the tip of Lower Michigan's mitten hoping to spear one of the season bag limit of five sturgeon through the ice on the 10,000-acre lake south of Cheboygan.

Both were picked in a lottery for one-day chances to harvest sturgeon during a nine-day season that has lasted as briefly as 30 minutes.

Wagner, 24, of St. Peter east of Fond du Lac, is one of 25 lucky spearers chosen for the first day, meaning at least his shot at getting a fish is guaranteed.

"I feel like I won something," said Wagner, who began pursuing sturgeon as a spearer on Lake Winnebago when he was 12. "Usually I don't have luck like this. I feel very honored to be in the top 25."

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources annually allows a season harvest of five sturgeon on Black Lake. Wisconsin's limits this year range from 500 to 2,000, depending on the age and sex of the fish.

Each day during Michigan's season, the names of applicants are drawn from a pool of about 500. The number drawn is reduced by five for each fish taken.

Spearers are given flags they must fasten outside their shanties once they spear a fish. Shanties are closely monitored, and when flags go up on the fifth shanty, the season closes immediately.

In 2001, it took spearers less than a half-hour to reach the five-fish total. In 2002, the season lasted 12 days.

"You just never know how fast the fish will be speared, but it's fun no matter what. We wouldn't go all that way if we didn't enjoy it," said Schneider, 54, who speared sturgeon on Black Lake before today's stringent rules took effect in 2000.

Schneider's name was drawn to spear on the second day, if there is one. Last year, he drew a chance to spear on the third day, but didn't put much stock in the season lasting that long.

"The season went three days and I had a chance to spear," Schneider said. "They called me from Black Lake to tell me my name was drawn for the next day, but I was still home in Fond du Lac so I didn't go. This year, I'm going."

Wagner said he doesn't feel any more pressure even though his season will be limited to a matter of hours, fish or not.

"Here on Lake Winnebago you feel pressure because of the half-day spearing hours. I won't get stressed out going to Black Lake. I've never been to Lower Michigan. I just want to take in the sights and have a good time."

Schneider, like Wagner, hails from St. Peter, part of an area known as the Holyland.

"It must be the Holyland that has something to do with us getting picked to spear," Schneider said. "Maybe we are blessed."

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