NEENAH - Sturgeon spearers are just hours away from cutting their fishing holes in the ice and less than 3 days away from the start of the sturgeon spearing season. Some are jockeying their shanties into position with their vehicles. Shanty towns are already forming miles away from shore.
But on Lake Winnebago's western shore, the ice gets questionable.
"It's better on each side of where the open water was," said sturgeon spearer Jim Gerhke. "But there's that big crack that runs all the way from Neenah to Fond du Lac; 6-9 inches and less."
Gerhke's been sturgeon spearing for about 30 years. He says he got into it because he thinks he "was bored in the winter time."
Gerhke, who is also the vice president of Paynes Point Hook & Spear Fishing Club, says he expects this season to be a tough one – not just because of sporadic ice thickness on the western shore.
"I think the key this year is to find some kind of clear water," said Gerhke. "Right now, the water is very murky. Best visibility, somewhere in the 7-8 feet range."
Ice bridges still sit on shore in Neenah, outside the Paynes Point Hook & Spear Fishing Club–not where Gerhke would like them to be. Gerhke says he would like to have them out on the ice, spanning cracks during the 16-day season, but says he isn't getting his hopes up."
"I suspect there will be fewer people out there this year," said Gerhke.
"You have to be careful," said Don Herman, owner of Sunk? Dive & Ice Service out of Oshkosh. "Those open holes that were out in the middle of the lake, they have about three inches of ice on them – that's only."
Herman knows a lot about ice thickness and how to deal with it (he's probably best known for pulling people's trucks or shanties out of the lake).
However, right now, Herman is still waiting for the right thickness to put out his ice bridges.
"We need about three more days of below zero weather," said Herman. "But it doesn't look like we're going to get that. If you're on the west shore, I would leave your vehicles on land."
Unless, Herman says, you want to call for his services.
The DNR says officially ice is never safe, but has some safety tips if you insist:
- Before going on the ice, contact local fishing clubs for their information on conditions
- Never spear alone and let others on shore know where you will be and when you will be back
- Always carry a fully-charged cell phone
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