A gentle giant of a prehistoric fish, the sturgeon can exist quietly along a lake bottom for over a decade. Harvested each February from the depths of Lake Winnebago in Northeast Wisconsin, sturgeons are pulled up from rectangular holes cut in the thick ice using giant pitchfork-like spears—a Native American technique passed on through the decades.
Sturgeon spearing is an activity that requires patience, perseverance, and happenstance. From selecting the best place for your ice shanty to finding a lucky decoy, some people have waited decades to even see a sturgeon. Others hook their fish within the first few minutes of opening day.
Those that hunt for the sturgeon caviar consider it a delicacy; most people agree the meat tastes best smoked, boiled, or deep fried. Regulated by the Wisconsin DNR and protected by the non-profit organization Sturgeon for Tomorrow, only one fish is allowed per person per season.
Participating in the opening weekend of the 2014 sturgeon-spearing season, correspondent Julie Henning takes us to a frozen Fond du Lac, Wisconsin (www.fdl.com) —a community that embraces and celebrates the many traditions tied to sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago.
Shanda Hubertus is part of the “cutting in” crew with Wendt’s On the Lake, getting the shanties primed and ready for opening day. On opening morning, Chad Theis and Nicole Skauge missed a sturgeon the size of a Buick. Mary Lou Schneider and Mary Lou Schneider have been sturgeon fishing for the better part of the last decade, and dispel the mystery behind why a woman typically hooks a sturgeon before her husband.
Listen to Julie’s Podcast on NPR.ORG Podcast, “Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer: Check out this episode!