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Winnebago-Fox-Wolf Walleye and Sturgeon Report
Courtesy of the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources
4-12-12
Updates on Wolf River walleye and sturgeon activity and information on the dead gizzard shad washing on to shores on the Winnebago lakes:
Walleye
We've been capturing and tagging walleyes full tilt the last three days as the 2012 spring run is definitely approaching its peak for spawning activity.  Today we captured, tagged and released over 2200 walleye in the Shiocton and New London areas.  Although a majority of the females we captured today up and down the river system were not quite running eggs yet, they were very close to being ripe and ready to lay their eggs.  We saw a lot of spawning activity taking place in the woods today adjacent to the spawning marshes and river.  The nice relatively high flows we are experiencing are providing excellent spawning conditions throughout most of the wooded areas adjacent to the river and the traditional spawning areas from New London upstream to Lemann - thousands and thousands of acres of walleye spawning habitat working quite well at the moment.  Hopefully we can get some rain in the next week to help maintain good flow and water level conditions for egg incubation and hatching.  The warmer water should provide for a very rapid incubation period and early hatching this spring.  We expect to be able to tag walleye for a few more days before the majority of spawning is done and the fish start to move back downstream.  Our telemetry work has shown that females typically move back downstream to the lakes faster than the males when they are done spawning; with the males providing most of the lingering good fishing in the river after all of spawning is completed.  We expect the good post-spawn fishing in the river to begin ramping up by the end of this week.
Sturgeon
Water temperatures in the river in the New London and Shiocton areas are actually at or above optimal for sturgeon spawning, but because of the rapid rise in water temperature this spring, the fish are not ready yet to spawn despite swimming around in optimal temperatures.  We are seeing porpoising fish at Bamboo Bend by Shiocton, and along the Wolf River Sturgeon Trail west of New London, but have not yet seen any fish move into shore to indicate spawning is imminent.  The pre-spawn onshore movement of males (cruisers) may not be far off though as warmer and warmer water is definitely pushing these fish hard to get ready to spawn.  We could see some spawning activity begin by this coming weekend (if not sooner).  We'll keep an eye on things and let you know as soon as we see any sturgeon spawning activity beginning.  To get a little taste of what to expect to see, take a look at the video saved from the underwater sturgeon cam set up by the Wolf River Cam folks below Shawano dam last spring http://www.wolfrivercam.com/Shawano%20Dam.html.  Once the fish start showing there, these folks intend to start that camera live so people can literally watch real time lake sturgeon spawning on their computer.
Reports of Dead Fish on the Winnebago Lakes and Little Lake Butte des Morts
I have received numerous calls about the "fish kill" on the Winnebago lakes and Little Lake Butte des Morts.   These are not white bass as some have reported - these fish are dead adult gizzard shad (similar to the situation we experienced in the winter 2007-08 (see attached DNR photo). Gizzard shad are occasionally abundant in the Winnebago lakes typically as yearlings (see attached DNR photo). 


The species has a natural winter die-off every year. The main differences from year to year are the amount of shad in the system and the size.  We had a large natural hatch of shad in 2010, which are now adult size, and they died this past winter as they always do every year under the ice. The ice went out early and the fact that these were adult shad (vs what we normally see - yearlings or much smaller shad) prevented them from mostly decaying under the ice or drying up on shore before they made a stinky mess on the shorelines. We get calls every spring from people about dead shad after ice out, more in some years and less in others, again depending on the abundance of shad in the system.   We are going to attempt to collect some fresh dead or dying shad (although we are not likely to be able to do this as they die under the ice each winter).  If we do find any we will have them tested for fish diseases including VHS virus.  Hopes this helps if you were wondering about the dead fish.
Till the next report.
Ron
Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
625 E County Rd Y, Suite 700
Oshkosh, WI  54901
USA
Sturgeon Hot-Line:  (920) 303-5444

Dear Winnebago Sturgeon Enthusiasts,
I have two very exciting news items for you this evening………………
First…..The 2012 sturgeon spawning season appears to have begun - the earliest by far on record.  At 6:30 PM this evening we saw two groups of sturgeon along the Sturgeon Trail on County Highway X spawning site west of New London that looked like they would begin spawning sometime tonight.  I expect to see spawning fish on this site Wednesday.  We also saw some sturgeon along the shore at Bamboo Bend spawning site along Hwy 54 west of Shiocton.  These fish though were not exhibiting behavior that indicated they would begin spawning tonight, but it is possible spawning could begin at this site within the next day or two.  I'll send more information tomorrow once we see what overall fish activity is like from Shawano to New London.  We are hoping to get Sturgeon Guards scheduled for day and night shift beginning on Friday.  Please contact our Sturgeon Guard coordinator Rebecca Pawlak at rebecca.pawlak@wisconsin.gov or by calling 920-303-5444 to get signed up for an early guard shift or to switch your already scheduled shift to an earlier date.
Second…….I am extremely pleased to introduce the person that will carry on after me as the next Winnebago Sturgeon Biologist - Ryan Koenigs.  Ryan has worked on our Winnebago Fisheries Crew for the last 4+ years as an LTE (limited term) Fisheries Biologist and Technician and has done an absolutely outstanding job.  He recently competed statewide for permanent Fisheries Biologist positions that were being filled, and has accepted an appointment in Oshkosh to be the next Winnebago Sturgeon Biologist.  Ryan's new appointment begins March 25 and I will continue to work with him over time to transfer my day to day sturgeon biologist responsibilities to him.  I plan to continue working for a while yet in my Fisheries Administrative and Supervisory role, but am very glad that I will be able to continue to work closely with Ryan on the job on the sturgeon program, so the program can continue without a hitch when the day comes that I am no longer working in Oshkosh.  I am not going anywhere yet, but the day will come at some point, and I am confident the Winnebago Sturgeon Program will be in good hands with Ryan. 
Short Bio on Ryan (photo below)……...Ryan is originally from Chilton, WI, an avid fisherman and sturgeon spearer.  He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Fisheries and Limnology from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point as well as a Master's Degree in Biology from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.  His first fisheries position was with the United States Forest Service as a seasonal fisheries technician in the Hiawatha National Forest.  Shortly after graduating from Stevens Point with his Bachelor's degree he worked as a fisheries technician LTE for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries research stationed in Oshkosh.  For the last 4+ years he worked as fisheries technician and biologist LTE with fisheries management in Oshkosh, and earned his Master's degree.  The focus of his work over the last 4 years has been with sturgeon and walleye, and his Master's degree thesis research entailed determining the accuracy of dorsal spine and otolith (ear bone) derived age estimates for walleye in the Lake Winnebago system and the impacts of aging error on our walleye management program.  The results of Ryan's master's research are incredibly important and have significantly changed our understanding of walleye population dynamics.  In his free time, he and his wife Tara enjoy fishing for walleye and salmon, golfing, hiking, and spending time with family and friends.  

So…that's it for this day and evening.  Another long day - we finished our walleye tagging today on the Wolf River (the fish are more than 50% spawned out, and the good post-spawn fishing should now begin in earnest); and we are getting ready to start sturgeon tagging tomorrow.   In 35 years of doing this work, I never experienced a spring quite like this. 
Till tomorrow.
Ron
Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
625 E County Rd Y, Suite 700
Oshkosh, WI  54901
USA

Wolf River Sturgeon Spawning Report - Wednesday March 21, 2012
The 2012 sturgeon spawning season on the Wolf River has officially begun.  Sturgeon are now spawning along the Sturgeon trail west of New London on County Highway X.  We captured and tagged 75 fish there this afternoon in about 3 hours.  To our knowledge this is the only site with active spawning at this time, but there were fish on shore this evening at Bamboo Bend west of Shiocton and, although they were not actively spawning, will likely be spawning there by tomorrow afternoon if not sooner.  There are also fish below the Shawano dam, again they don't appear to be spawning there yet either, but their numbers are beginning to build in the river below the dam.  I expect spawning could commence in Shawano and numerous other sites on the river system sometime in the next 4 to 5 days.

Gary Bunnell and his Wolf River Cam crew have the Sturgeon Cam at Shawano dam up and running - check it out at:www.wolfrivercam.com

Many people have asked if we have ever seen the fish spawn this early before.  We have only been keeping records since 1950 and since that time we have not seen the sturgeon spawn this early before (the earliest since 1950 would have been the first week in April).  But - old weather records indicate that 1938 was also very warm in mid to late March and it is very possible that sturgeon may have spawned in March that year as well.  In fact we have some adult sturgeon in our population spawning this year that would have also spawned in the early warm spring of 1938!  These would be the 90 to 100 year old and older females or the 180+ pound fish we have in our population.  We also actually have one person still on our sturgeon tagging crew who was around in 1938 as well - big Dan Folz, my very good friend and predecessor as the Winnebago Sturgeon Biologist - but he would have been a youngster in 1938 and probably not quite yet tagging sturgeon at that time (although at age 4 he may have been big and strong enough to wrestle a sturgeon).

Till tomorrow.

Ron

Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
625 E County Rd Y, Suite 700
Oshkosh, WI  54901
USA
Wolf River Sturgeon Spawning Report - Friday March 23, 2012

Our crews captured and tagged nearly 300 sturgeon today at several sites in the New London and Shiocton areas (including a "white" lake sturgeon - about 1 in 10,000 have very little pigment and are white colored).  Those who want to see fish are best to head to Bamboo Bend early this weekend, and possibly up to Sturgeon Park below Shawano dam before the weekend is over.  The warm weather and water temperatures are really pushing the fish and the intense spawning will not likely last more than a couple days at each site.  By the end of today fish were beginning to move in to a few other sites on private property in the Shiocton-Leeman areas.  Spawning is already winding down in the New London area.

So - a pretty intense and condensed spawning period may end up being the 2012 sturgeon spawning story-line.  We expect to be tagging fish in Shawano by the end of the weekend and likely collecting eggs on Monday there for the various restoration projects we are assisting. Egg taking day is quite demanding as the fish don't always cooperate when you want them to and we will have folks here from Georgia, Tennessee, and two groups from Wisconsin all needing our assistance on Monday - probably the busiest and most intense sturgeon-day of the year for us.

All very rewarding work though that we enjoy very much.

Till tomorrow.

Ron

Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
625 E County Rd Y, Suite 700
Oshkosh, WI  54901
USA
Winnebago-Wolf-Fox System Sturgeon Spawning Report - Sunday March 25, 2012
Water temps dropped almost 6 degrees F from a peak of 62 F last Thursday in the New London area (the day the fish came in strong on the Sturgeon Trail spawning site) down to 56 F yesterday (Saturday).  The sunshine and moderately warm day today brought the temps back up a couple of degrees, but I expect all of this increase to be lost over the next 36 hours as a short cold front works its way through the area.  After Monday with the forecasted high in the upper 40s, the highs the rest of the week are supposed to be in the upper 50s and low 60s. This should/could be enough to bring the sturgeon on to the rest of the spawning sites that have not seen activity yet, including Shawano.
The timing of when the rest of the spawning sites see activity is more difficult to predict as we are in un-charted territory this year.  The smart money says that since the fish have already "stewed" in quite warm water in the mid to upper 50s all up and down the river system, that the fish that have not spawned yet should come on when the water temps begin to consistently rise again sometime this week and approach 59-60 F, but - it is also entirely possible that they may come on even when water temps are dropping since they have already spent so much time in warm water.  We'll keep a close watch on things to see what happens; and keep you informed.
Sturgeon Spawning Activity Today - There were fish at a number of sites on the Wolf River in the New London, Shiocton, and Leman areas, as well as on the Little Wolf River at Manawa, on the Embarrass River at a few sites including Fajfer Park in New London, and possibly at Eureka on the upper Fox River.  No major concentrations though; mostly small numbers of males cruising sites, and at a few sites perhaps a female or two that were close to ovulating or in the early stages of ovulation and attracting attention from males at the site.  People might still be able to see a fish or two at the Sturgeon Trail, New London or Bamboo Bend, Shiocton Shiocton, but the spawning activity (at least the first round) is pretty much done at these two major sites for this year.  The best remaining viewing of the 2012 season will be in Shawano at the spawning site below the Paper Mill dam.  As I mentioned above, spawning could start there by mid week or so - but tough to say for sure when at this point.
****************************
You've heard me mention the Wolf River Sturgeon Trail west of New London on County X several times in my reports.  This is an excellent man-made spawning site that the fish have been using for decades.  The site was developed for better public access and sturgeon viewing over the last ten years and is, together with Bamboo Bend in Shiocton and Sturgeon Park in Shawano, one of the premier go-to public places in the world to see sturgeon spawn.  There is a great large carving of a sturgeon at the head of the Sturgeon Trail done by Dave Bartels of Shawano that also helps make this site unique.  If you haven't seen it I've attached a couple of photos - better yet stop in at the site sometime and take an up-close-and-personal look at this unique piece of Wisconsin sturgeon art.

Till tomorrow……..

(Also don't forget to keep an eye on the Shawano sturgeon cam for the fish to show up this week http://www.wolfrivercam.com/Shawano%20Dam.html)

Ron

Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
625 E County Rd Y, Suite 700
Oshkosh, WI  54901
USA

Wolf River Sturgeon Spawning Report - March 28, 2012
Slow, but nonetheless a very successful day today…………..we did not tag a lot of fish, but we were able to capture and tag some fish at a very nice spawning site on private property called Furman's north of Leeman where we have only ever tagged fish perhaps once or twice before.  We also tagged a few fish at the Pines where we have worked the past two days as the spawning activity (at least for now) is winding down at this site.  Spawning activity did significantly increase at a site upstream of Highway 156, also on private property, called Keller's or Pearl Flats.  We did not tag fish at this site though as we left the fish alone so Chris Bocast from the University of Wisconsin Madison could work with these fish to record the sounds the males make during their spawning bouts.  Keller's is a perfect site for this type of work as the bank is quite low and Chris was able to get right on top of the numerous spawning groups working the site today to record sound data.
Chris and I are working together on a special project to record and analyze the sounds males make while they are releasing sperm during spawning bouts with females.  I published information previously about these sounds in a scientific paper on lake sturgeon spawning behavior.  The sounds are very similar to a grouse drumming.  From preliminary sound recordings Chris made last spring we found that the sound is very low frequency almost too low for humans to hear.  We may feel the sound more than hear it when we are near a lake sturgeon spawning group doing their thing.  The management application from this work will be to help biologists possibly be able to document lake sturgeon spawning is occurring without even seeing the fish.  One of the outcomes from our work beyond describing the sound is to describe the equipment needed to hear or record the sound.  The males only make this sound when they are spawning with ovulating females - so if a biologist can document the sound, they know they have spawning lake sturgeon.  This is especially important for programs attempting to restore naturally reproducing sturgeon populations that take decades to build up enough adults from stocking before they can be seen during the spawning season.


Till tomorrow.
Ron
Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
625 E County Rd Y, Suite 700
Oshkosh, WI  54901
USA

Wolf River Sturgeon Spawning Report Thursday March 29, 2012
Sturgeon were actively spawning in small numbers at only a couple of sites today as the cold weather finally finished putting the brakes on spawning activity for the time being.  We took advantage of the break in the action to collect the 15 male sturgeon with our electrofishing boats that are taken each year to the Menominee Tribe for their annual Sturgeon Ceremony to be held this year Saturday April 21.  We have been providing sturgeon to the Menominee Tribe each spring for their annual sturgeon celebration since 1993.  We captured the male sturgeon just below the Shawano Paper Mill dam.  All of these males were actually ripe and ready to spawn and we also saw many very large egg-laden females, some in the 180 pound class, below the dam as well.  Although water temps have dropped significantly, and the fish are not yet on the rocks below the dam, the fact that these fish were so concentrated in the pool and downstream shallows below the dam, and were very close to being in spawning condition strongly indicates that spawning could start following the next steady increase in water temps - possibly by Sunday April 1.
Other Winnebago Sturgeon News………
Our nationally award winning book People of the Sturgeon, Wisconsin's Love Affair with an Ancient Fish is now out as an audio book.  You won't want to miss this.  The audio book vividly brings the pages of the hard cover version to life with the sounds of the Winnebago sturgeon culture including the voices of many of the original people from the book telling their own stories.  This is a must for all Winnebago sturgeon enthusiasts.
You can read more about the audio book at:
www.wisconsinhistory.org
You can also purchase the audio book at:
www.amazon.com

Till tomorrow,
Ron
Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
625 E County Rd Y, Suite 700
Oshkosh, WI  54901
USA
Wolf River Sturgeon and Walleye Report - Easter Sunday April 8, 2012

We're up in Shawano, arriving here this evening about 6:30 PM and going right to the river and the spawning site below the dam to find hundreds of lake sturgeon in the early stages of spawning.  Not the big numbers of fish yet, but the start of something big that will likely take place over the next three days.  We wanted to get a look at some fish to see how far along they were in spawning condition so we could make our plans for tagging and egg taking over the next couple of days.  There were only four of us, but we started dip netting fish below the flume of the power house and in an hour had captured 19 fish up to 150 lbs or so, including 10 females, none of which had started to ovulate yet, but that showed all the physical and behavioral signs they would start ovulating within the next few hours. There were sturgeon across the entire river on the spawning site all exhibiting imminent pre-spawn behavior - again the numbers were not at peak (1000's) but definitely in the 100's.  So tomorrow (Monday) should be a big day - lots of good tagging, and hopefully getting the eggs we need for lake sturgeon restoration programs in Wisconsin (Menominee Indian Reservation, the upper Fox River, and the Milwaukee and Kewaunee Rivers), and the Tennessee River System in Georgia and Tennessee.


The next couple of days should be great sturgeon viewing days at Shawano.

Till tomorrow,

Ron

Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
625 E County Rd Y, Suite 700
Oshkosh, WI  54901
USA
Wolf River Sturgeon Report - Late Evening Edition - 9 April 2012
We accomplished a tremendous amount of good sturgeon work today at the Shawano spawning site and beyond………
dip netted, captured, and PIT tagged almost 300 lake sturgeon;
collected sperm from about 75 males and eggs from 15 females for various restoration projects;
conducted river-side seminars on sturgeon biology and life history with over 100 interested publics and several school classes;
completed interviews with 2 Television crews, 1 radio crew, and a couple of newspapers on the 2012 sturgeon run; and
finished all of the tagging, egg taking, seminaring, and interviewing in time to get back to the hotel to wash off the sturgeon slime and drive up to 2 hours to represent Fisheries at the annual Spring Conservation Congress meetings in 10 counties in our work unit (10 of our crew including myself).
The sturgeon came into the Shawano site consistently all day and it appears they may spawn out in a couple more days or by mid to late week.  Fish also moved into a couple of other sites downstream from Shawano so this thing isn't over yet.  I expect fish could show up at other sites as well and extend the season even beyond the big push at Shawano.  The Shawano "Sturgeon Cam" on the web is spectacular so if you haven't taken a look at it yet here's the link again http://www.wolfrivercam.com/Shawano%20Dam.html.
Finally - a couple of weeks ago I announced that Ryan Koenigs, our new Fisheries Biologist in Oshkosh, is taking over for me as Sturgeon Biologist.  He is doing an excellent job and I've attached a photo of him and me tagging sturgeon at Shawano.  I've also attached a photo of Ryan and me with Dan Folz, the Sturgeon Biologist I inherited the Winnebago Sturgeon Program (and supervisory position) from in 1990.  Dan still works on our crew every spring and is an integral part of our operation.  I owe a great debt of gratitude to Dan for what he has done to help and inspire me in my career.  I've often said it takes numerous generations of Sturgeon Biologists to build a successful sturgeon management program.  I am truly blessed that I have been able to be the guy in the middle between Dan and Ryan; and that I have also been able to work over the years, and continue to work with, my entire outstanding crew of biologists and technicians.
Till tomorrow……

Ron
Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
625 E County Rd Y, Suite 700
Oshkosh, WI  54901
USA
Wolf River Sturgeon Report - Extra Special Morning Edition - Wednesday 11 April 2012
Sorry I didn't get a report out last evening - but yesterday (Tuesday 10 April 2012) was a very long, but very historic day in the Winnebago Lake Sturgeon Management Program.  We not only captured and tagged the most sturgeon in one day (565 fish) since spawning assessment operations began in the early 1950s, but Ryan Koenig's and Kendall Kamke's crew (the crew of young guys) captured the largest sturgeon we have ever handled in any spawning assessment operation.  After our two crews (the "Young Guys Crew", and my and Dan Folz's crew - the "Old Guys Crew") worked all day at the spawning site, Ryan Zernzach, one of our Fisheries Technicians, made one last dip with his net to capture the last fish of the day.  He came up with a fish that will likely be the subject of folklore and song for decades - an 87.5 inch fish weighing approximately 240 pounds (the fish was partially spawned out and would have been about 30 pounds heavier had she still had all of her eggs).  DNR photo with the "Young Guys Crew" with this record shattering fish is attached………..

Some fascinating statistics about this fish are in the attached historical timeline 1887-2012:
We'll be working again at Shawano today - possibly wrapping up our spawning assessment for the year.
Ron
Ronald M. Bruch, PhD
Upper Fox-Wolf Fisheries Work Unit Supervisor
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
625 E County Rd Y, Suite 700
Oshkosh, WI  54901
USA
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