Lake Winnebaso : A Majestic Ecosystem
by Chas A
While living on the shores of Lake Winnebago these past months, I didn't give it much thought other than thinking it might resemble the Sea of Galilee, bordered by hills.
The recent Sturgeon spearing season caught my attention and I vowed to learn more about this body of fresh water, 10 X 30 miles, 137,000 acres, and 88 miles of shoreline at depths of 13-21 feet. This quite shallow ecosystem lends itself to be the habitat of the mysterious, elusive bottom feeder, the lake sturgeon. Prized in Russia for its eggs, made into caviar, it is considered a trophy fish in Wisconsin along with walleye, northern pike, and Musky. Many sportsmen consider Lake Winnebago a top fishery.
Every February the WI Dept. of Natural Resources designates a sturgeon harvest of 5% of the total population estimate, to be taken only by spearing. This unique method ensures a fair chance for both animal and fisher. Appropriate holes in the ice must be chiseled, often enclosed in a shanty hauled onto thick ice.
This endeavor also extends on Winnebago's sister lakes: Poygan, Winn-econne, and Butte des Mortes, all fed by the Wolf River. Winnebago1s outlet to Lake Michigan, the Fox River is not accessible to boats because of numerous dam/locks. Rapid Croche lock also seals the waterway from invasive species from the Great Lakes.
This year, the season ended quickly with harvest of 1513 adults and~ juveniles, with 300 taken upriver. 43 sturgeon weighed in over 100 Ibs. The largest was 172, third largest on record. The state sold 8759 licenses, 130 to out-of-staters, so this fishery seems to be a well kept local secret,
Winnebago is the largest, inland freshwater lake in Wisconsin, a remnant of glacial times but its level is regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, through the Fox River dams. Only two other such inland lakes in the U.S. are larger, Lake Okechobee in Florida and Red Lake, MN. Lk. Champlain and Lk. Tahoe might be larger but are not contained in a single state.
Winnebago is our own gem, a pristine ecosystem unmatched elsewhere.