MADISON – People looking for a free, family-friendly event this spring can visit some Wisconsin waterways where fish put on quite a show as they travel to their spawning grounds.
One of the most well-known fish watching events, bringing out thousands of visitors each year, is the upstream movement of the ancient lake sturgeon along the Wolf and Embarrass rivers during mid-April to early May.
A short video clip of sturgeon spawning and the people who come out to watch them, “Come face to face with prehistory” is available on the sturgeon spawning page of the DNR Web site.
“You really can’t see anything like this anywhere else, not on this scale,” says Ron Bruch, Department of Natural Resources senior sturgeon biologist. “During their spawning runs, you are able to be within a foot or less of these prehistoric fish, some weighing in excess of 150 to 200 pounds, spawning right at your feet.”
The world’s largest naturally reproducing lake sturgeon population resides in the Lake Winnebago System thanks to Wisconsin’s century-old sturgeon management program, the dedicated work of DNR fisheries staff, and the commitment of citizens.
“This is such a unique resource,” says Bruch. “If you can just imagine, more than 150 million years ago, there were dinosaurs watching these fish do the same thing and the sturgeon then looked pretty much exactly like they do now.”
Depending on where the fish are, the public might also have a chance to watch DNR fisheries crews as they net the large fish, bring them ashore, measure and tag them, and then release them back into the river.
Spawning time is dependent on water temperature and flow but typically happens during mid-April to early May. An average spawning run lasts on average for seven days and there is typically no more than two days of peak spawning at every given site, so visitors are encouraged to call the Sturgeon Hotline (920) 303-5444 for the most up-to-date information.
“This is just a great opportunity in the spring to see a wonder of nature,” says Bruch. “We have these fish here because we’ve been doing it right with sturgeon for 100 years, and we’re reaping the benefits.”
Lake Sturgeon Spawning and Viewing Locations
- Wolf River Sturgeon Trail (near New London) - About two miles west of New London on County Highway X. Parking available on the south side of the river about one-half mile from the spawning site.
- Bamboo Bend at Shiocton - on County Hwy 54. Parking available on the north side of County Hwy. 54.
- Shawano Dam in Shawano - Parking available on the east side of the river at the end of Richmond Street.
Sturgeon guard volunteers still needed
While the sturgeon are spawning, they are fairly oblivious to human activity and are vulnerable to illegal harvest. “Sturgeon Guard” volunteers are needed who can commit to 12-hour shifts of watching the fish while they are spawning.
If you would like to sign up, send the downloadable form (pdf) to the DNR sturgeon guard coordinator at the DNR Oshkosh Service Center at DNRSturgeonGuard@wisconsin.gov or call (920) 303-5444. For more information visit the Sturgeon Guard web site.
Other spring fish watching opportunities
Sturgeon aren’t the only ones making waves as they travel to their breeding grounds.
The spring steelhead run has begun on Lake Michigan tributaries, and a number of facilities offer fish viewing during the run, including the Root River Steelhead Facility in Racine County, where people can watch fish move up fish ladders, and the C.D. Besadny Anadromous Fish Facility on the Kewaunee River in Kewaunee County that has a unique viewing window allowing visitors to see fall and spring runs of fish as they enter the facility.
Walleye, northern pike, and musky will also be on the move beginning in late-March. The DNR Fish Watching web site has more information on when and where these fish are in action.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: lake sturgeon - Ron Bruch (920) 424-3059; C.D. Besadny Anadromous Fish Facility- (920) 388-1025; Root River Steelhead Facility - (262) 884-2300; DNR fisheries management - (608) 27-7498