Fishing Record Fish

Wisconsin Ice Fisherman Spears One of the 10 Biggest Sturgeon Ever Taken From Lake Winnebago

The 177-pound fish is the seventh-largest sturgeon taken from the lake system in over 80 years
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James Gishkowsky holds up one of the largest Lake sturgeon ever speared out of Lake Winnebago. via Facebook

Valentine’s Day 2023 will always hold a special place in Wisconsin fisherman James Gishkowsky’s memory. He was on Lake Winnebago during a special open spear-fishing season. The morning was off to a slow start. But at one point that afternoon, as he peered through a large hole in the lake ice, a giant sturgeon showed itself in the water.

When the fish was close enough, Gishkowsky launched a long-handled spear with a broad head shaped like a pitchfork. The spear points slammed into the massive fish. The multi-pronged head then detached from the wooden spear handle as the sturgeon made its first run. Gishkowsky clung to the rope as the fish surged away with the spearhead buried in its back.

“It was a big adrenaline rush,” he told the Fond du Lac Reporter. “It’s once in a lifetime.”

But that rush soon wore off. Gishkowsky realized he wouldn’t be able to muscle the gigantic sturgeon through the ice on his own. He yelled out, and friends soon came to help him battle the fish. Eventually they hauled it through the spearing hole and out onto the ice. Then they loaded the sturgeon onto a sled and towed it back across the lake with an ATV.     

They took the sturgeon straight to “Wendt’s On The Lake.” This lakeshore restaurant near the town of Van Dyne serves as one of the official weigh stations during the brief Winnebago sturgeon spearing season. The 79.9-inch fish tipped the scales at 177.3 pounds, and photos show that the sturgeon was longer than Gishkowsky is tall.

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The Wisconsin DNR keeps close tabs on the sturgeon harvested during the state's special spearing season on Lake Winnebago. courtesy of Wisconsin DNR

Wisconsin DNR officials who were monitoring the weigh station said Gishkowsky’s sturgeon was an F4 fish. That means it was a mature female full of eggs. They explained that the fish likely would have spawned this year, releasing around 20 to 30 pounds of roe.

The DNR also announced that Gishkowsky’s fish is the seventh-heaviest sturgeon speared in the Lake Winnebago system in the last 82 years. The largest in that time span is a 212-pounder that was taken in 2010. With the 177.3-pound fish to his credit, Gishkowsky is now a member of the “Heavy Hitters Club,” a select group of fishermen who have speared sturgeon over 170 pounds on the Winnebago lakes system.

Wisconsin’s Special Sturgeon Spearing Season

Sturgeon spearing on Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago has a long and rich tradition, according to the DNR’s website. The water body has one of North America’s largest lake sturgeon populations. It is also one of only two places on the continent where anglers can harvest the massive, prehistoric fish with spears. (The other location is Michigan’s Black Lake.) The state’s brief spearing season typically lasts around 16 days, or until anglers reach any of the harvest caps.

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“The first modern sturgeon fishery took place in 1932,” according to the Wisconsin DNR. “Although regulations have changed through time, the premise of using a spear to harvest a sturgeon through the ice has remained constant.”

Anglers also catch sturgeon pretty regularly on Lake Winnebago using hook and line. And if Gishkowsky would have caught his fish with a rod and reel, he would have an IGFA all tackle world record for the species. The current IGFA world-record lake sturgeon is a 168-pounder. Angler Edward Paszkow hauled it from Georgian Bay, Ontario, in 1982.