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Sturgeon spawning

Fish make annual Wolf River trek

By Greg Seubert


High water and a little rain didn’t stop hundreds of people from checking out an annual ritual.

For as long as anyone can remember, lake sturgeon – some of them 7 feet long – have made their way up the Wolf River out of Lake Winnebago each spring to spawn along the river’s rocky shoreline.

The spawning run has turned into a tradition for a few communities along the river, including New London, Shiocton and Shawano.
One of the more popular viewing areas is the Wolf River Sturgeon Trail, located along County Trunk X a few miles west of New London.

The crowd that showed up shortly before noon on April 25 wasn’t nearly as big as other crowds in the past, but they were treated to several large fish that splashed along the shore.

Diane Lee of Oshkosh watched the action while wearing a florescent green Sturgeon Guard vest. Sturgeon Guards are volunteers assigned to popular viewing areas to make sure the fish aren’t being harmed.

“This is the only place in the world you can come and watch this,” Lee said. “This way, I get to make sure that the fish are safe. That’s my job. You really want to make sure nobody falls in the water and touches the fish or disturbs them while they’re spawning.”

Lee is back for the second time as a Sturgeon Guard. Last year, she headed to Shawano, where hundreds of fish congregate below a dam on the river.

“There were only a few fish here when I came this morning,” she said. “If the sun comes out, we’re going to have lots more fish.”

Lee enjoys seeing the reactions from people when they see the fish up close and personal.

“People can’t believe how big they are and that there are so many right next to shore,” she said. “When you’re out and about, you do not see fish this close to shore.”

Lee made the short drive from Oshkosh to New London last year to check out the action last year a day before she traveled to Shawano.

“The DNR were taking them out and measuring, so that was a neat experience,” she said. “They kept moving down the trail catching different fish, tagging them, weighing them, measuring them, seeing if there were a male or female. It was fantastic.”

Lee didn’t hesitate when asked if she’d be back next year.

“I was born and raised here in Wisconsin, but I never knew about this because I lived in Iowa,” she said. “I moved back here, my brother told me about it and I had to come here and check it out.”

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DNR employees use a net to land a large lake sturgeon April 25 from the Wolf River near Shiocton. The site, located just west of town at a location known as Bamboo Bend, is a popular place for the public to view the spawning fish as they make their way up the Wolf from Lake Winnebago. Greg Seubert Photo

Fifteen miles upstream near Shiocton, Ryan Terp of Coleman showed up with his grandmother.

“We just came to see these fish that are so big,” he said.

They watched as a state Department of Natural Resources fisheries crew netted fish after fish.

“After they pulled it out, I saw it was so wide and huge,” Terp said. “I felt like it was tasty enough to eat.”

Ryan Koenigs, a DNR fisheries biologist based in Oshkosh, oversees the agency’s sturgeon research program.

The DNR had crews in Shiocton and two other locations April 25, he wrote in his daily update found on the DNR’s website.

“We had three crews out tagging lake sturgeon on the Wolf River system today with effort spaced from New London to almost Pella on the Embarrass River and Shiocton to Highway 156 on the Wolf River,” he wrote. “One crew worked exclusively at Bamboo Bend (Shiocton) and handled 68 fish. Another crew worked at two sites on private property in the Leeman area, handling a total of 71 fish. The third crew worked at three publicly accessible sites, including Pfeifer Park on the Embarrass River in New London (37 fish), Highway 156 near Clintonville (12 fish) and the Cowyard Rips on the Embarrass River (19 fish).”

The spawning run ends at the dam in Shawano and Koenigs estimated that it would wrap up the weekend of April 27-28.

“It looks like we are still at least a couple of days away from peak spawn at this location,” he wrote April 25. “Spectators likely could see a few fish cruising at this location, but the big push has yet to come.”

 

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