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Sara Ahrens’ OffBeat: Queen for a day — Women on Winnebago sturgeon event

Feb. 8, 2013, marked the opening day of sturgeon spearing season on Lake Winnebago in Fond du Lac, Wis. It also marked the first Women on Winnebago (WOW) weekend media event. The Fond du Lac Visitor’s Bureau organized the event to bring together a variety of women to represent various media outlets with the purpose of highlighting potential story lines associated with this annual activity. The bureau filled the weekend with a variety of activities: ice fishing, Sturgeon Stampede Festival, presentations from subject matter experts and, of course, sturgeon spearing.

The opening weekend on Lake Winnebago has a festival-like aura. It is based on the hope and excitement that those with a sturgeon tag may be one of the minority who actually spear a sturgeon. Statistically, the odds are not in the favor of the spearer, as roughly 13 percent of those who possess a tag will fill it. It’s the low odds that make this event so appealing to those who participate.

A view of the murky water through the sturgeon spearing hole.

A view of the murky water through the sturgeon spearing hole.

It was slow going during day one of sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago. Murky water conditions offered low visibility, which made the odds of seeing a sturgeon even less. Checking only a few sturgeon the first day, the DNR station at Wendt’s Marina was also slow, but thrill, awe and excitement could be felt in the atmosphere when anglers did arrive with a catch. The sentiments were sincere, but it was also coupled with a rise in tension that I could only deduce was directly related to the idea that the limit was one fish closer to being met. It was the emotional equivalent of being happy for someone else, yet sad — or rather uncertain for oneself.


The first female catch of day one. Photo courtesy of Sara Ahrens

During the opening day, a lone woman brought in her very first sturgeon. The excitement on her face was one to which any hunter could relate. Her smile spread ear to ear and there was little doubt that she was queen for a day. I am certain that her exhilaration was probably in part due to the rush she must have felt to spear that fish in a shanty of men. We were told that it is quite a sight to see a woman fill her tag. True story!

Frederick Binkowski and Ronald Bruch, authors of “People of the Sturgeon,” were presenters for the Women on Winnebago event. During their presentation, they discussed the celebratory atmosphere and traditions that surrounds one’s success in spearing a sturgeon. They accurately described that when a woman spears a sturgeon, the appeal and excitement is even more intense. It certainly appeared that their analysis was accurate. I suspect that the low odds of anyone spearing a fish may make anyone who brings one in a “king” or “queen.” Not to mention that the sturgeon itself is such an interesting creature. Also, there are more men at the event than woman, which makes it rare to see a woman fill her tag.

Any woman who enjoys hunting would enjoy sturgeon spearing. Women are patient hunters. Sturgeon spearing requires patience because the spearer spends countless hours staring into a dark, murky hole of water. Sound boring? Imagine the adrenaline rush should a sturgeon actually pass underwater! And then, imagine if you actually get to use the spear! This is an activity that women would be extremely successful just based on their nature. My guess is you would only want serious spearers in your shanty, otherwise the temptation to fill the silence exists.

women on winnebago

I think the only reason women are considered a “queen” for spearing a sturgeon is because so few are participating in it. If more women participated in sturgeon spearing, it is more likely that the men would be viewed as the “kings,” since seeing women with sturgeon would become so commonplace.

If you are interested in spearing sturgeon on Lake Winnebago, be sure to apply for your tag before Oct. 31 at the Wisconsin DNR website. You can also click here if you would like information on equipment rental and set up.

A sturgeon waiting at the DNR check station. Photo courtesy of Carrie Zylka -- The Wild World of CarrieZ

A sturgeon waiting at the DNR check station. Photo courtesy of Carrie Zylka — The Wild World of CarrieZ


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The Conversation

One Comment
  • Carrie says: March 7, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Great article Sara! I know you will be back in the Fond du Lac area spearing in 2014 on Lake Winnebago. Can’t wait to team up again and read about your happy ending to this sturgeon spearing story next year!