State Department of Natural Resources sturgeon biologist Margaret Stadig helps measure a male lake sturgeon caught in the Wolf River in Shiocton. Both male and female sturgeon began their annual run in the river on April 26. Greg Seubert Photo
Spawning sturgeons return to Wolf River
By Greg Seubert
They are called lake sturgeons, but that day they were the kings and queens of the river.
The fish – some of which are over 6ft long and weigh over 100lbs – arrived along the banks of the Wolf River near New London and Shiocton on April 25 for their annual spawning.
Large crowds also showed up to see the fish in both communities, but no one was more excited than Margaret Stadig, the new sturgeon biologist for the state Department of Natural Resources.
She joined two teams of DNR employees and students who began catching fish April 26 at Bamboo Bend on the west side of Shiocton just off State Highway 54.
“It’s completely new to me and certainly very unique to Wisconsin,” Stadig said. “Where I’ve worked with sturgeon before, they spawn deep in the water column, so you can’t see them. There are no crowds because there is nothing to see. The fact that they’re here, they’re on the rocks and you can see them is so unique anywhere I’ve worked with this type of fish.
Meanwhile, Three Lakes’ Don Paremski showed up at the Wolf River Sturgeon Trail near New London on April 27.
“I just came here to watch the fish,” he said. “It’s my first time. It’s quite a sight, something to see.
Sturgeon Run Local Impact
April Kopitzke, executive director of the New London Area Chamber of Commerce, said the run is having a positive effect on the New London area.
“Anyone who wants to be notified by email or phone can contact us in advance and on Monday (April 25) we contacted just over 2,300 out-of-towners,” she said. “We go from Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, north and south. They get an automated call or email saying, “Hey, the sturgeons are here, be sure to come our way and check out our restaurants and shops.” It totally affects our tourism.
While spawning sturgeon can be seen around town in places like Riverview and Pfeifer Parks, most people head to the Wolf River Sturgeon Trail, about 2 miles west of town along of County Trunk X.
“The city has posted on its Facebook page the different areas where you can actually see sturgeon,” Kopitzke said. “It’s not just on the Sturgeon Trail. Pfeifer Park has several more intimate areas to observe sturgeon spawning.
The community looks forward to the return of the fish every year, according to Kopitzke.
“Growing up here you don’t realize how awesome it is because you’ve seen it since you were a kid,” she said. “People travel miles to see it. It’s a really cool experience.
Stadig helped measure and weigh the fish.
“It’s better than I could have imagined,” she said. “I could never have imagined this number of fish so close to the surface and the audience here so excited.”
Sturgeon in the Wolf River
Sturgeons enter the Wolf River from Lake Winnebago each spring. The fish are able to swim nearly 100 miles upstream from a dam at Shawano. Others travel up Wolf tributaries, such as the Little Wolf River.
“They are so different from all other species of fish,” Stadig said. “You take them out of the water and they instantly look like a shark, but they’re so different from sharks because they don’t have teeth and they’re gentle giants. They’ve been around since the days of the dinosaurs. You you are so lucky to have such a well-managed population. You have such a robust population that allows for the harvest that you have during harpoon season.
Stadig said she and her team were surprised to see big bucks at the start of the race, which can last anywhere from a few days to a week.
“What surprises us is that a lot of the big, very long fish we see are males,” she said. “Usually the really big fish are females and this year we’re seeing a lot of big males.”
Males spawn every two years, while females make the trip up Wisconsin’s largest inland lake every four years.
“Because of that, there are more men in the system,” Stadig said. “The females lay eggs every four years, so we don’t see them as often. For every female we see, we will see three to five males.
Many of the fish caught by the crews in Shiocton had tags on them, meaning they had been caught in previous years.
“It’s just under 50%, especially yesterday, the first day we were here,” Stadig said. “We also see a lot of really big fish that we haven’t seen before. We measure them, we take the sex and check if there is a label. If they don’t have a tag, we give them one. If they have a label, we write it down. We use all the information to get a population estimate.
Stadig worked with sturgeons in Michigan and Texas before taking on her new job earlier this year and admitted she was unprepared for her first Wolf River experience.
“It blew my mind,” she said. “I was just flabbergasted. I don’t think you can wipe the smile off my face right now.