Spawn!

On summer days, I try to forget about the giant prehistoric creatures that inhabit Lake Winnebago and its tributaries as I frolick about with determined naivete.

When you share the water with a bunch of sturgeon, it’s unsettling to think about them slinking below and around you, possibly sucking up an appendage they’ve mistaken for insect larvea or pink algea. As flattering as it is to swim with fish bigger than you are, it’s also a little creepy.

When I’m safely on land, though, I find sturgeon fascinating.

I’ve written before about sturgeon spearing season in here in the Dairy State, in which generations of Wisconsin anglers cut holes in the ice and yank some of the least attractive fish you’ll ever see out of the water. Sturgeon season generally straddles Valentine’s Day here, which makes for some especially romantic weekends.

Speaking of romance, this weekend, for the first time in my life, I watched sturgeon spawning and their enthusiasm made me blush a little. I looked away a few times as I wandered the Wolf River shore near the Shawano Dam. Those fellers are frisky and those ladies rock! They really seemed to be enjoying themselves, despite the oglers on shore.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, female sturgeon, accompanied by two or more males, lay hundreds of thousands of eggs generally in one or two days and the males fertilize the eggs after they are released from the female.

The fertilized eggs stick to the rocks and gravel and hatch in five to seven days.

This whole thing happens every year in the exact same spots along the exact same rivers they have for thousands of years. It’s really cool. The male sturgeon arrive first, drawn by the temperature of the water, and begin porpoising, or flapping their dorsal fins and leaping up and out of the water. They continue doing this as the ladies arrive, and the men start cruising looking for ovulating females.

The dramatic mating process happens right near the shoreline in front of all sorts of gawking, camera-wielding onlookers, which might be off-putting for a bunch a fish used to the privacy of a lake’s deep waters. These characters, though, aren’t paying attention to anything but each other.

It’s kind of sweet to see a bunch of giant, elderly fish have such a good time.

As much as I enjoyed the show in the water, I also liked seeing how excited everyone on shore got as they watched all the activity. It was quite a spectacle.

It’s not often you can witness a species that has been around longer than yours happily creating the next generation.

This was the view from the bridge overlooking the Wolf River in Shawano Saturday afternoon.
And this is what all those people came to watch. These are the dorsal fins of a bunch of sturgeon doing a prehistoric mating dance near the banks of the river.
It was just as fun to watch people enjoying the show.
I enjoyed watching this young man petting the sturgeon but I later learned that this was a big no no. You’re really not supposed to disturb the fish in any way.
I don’t know enough about these fish to know what I’m looking at here, but if you look closely you can see either a bunch of eggs on a female sturgeon, or a gaping wound.
This area is protected because the sturgeon come back every year to this exact spot to spawn.
The DNR catches and tags the sturgeon as they come through the dam, then they release them to have their fun.
This wooden sturgeon is an exact replica of the largest sturgeon to come through the dam so far. Stella weighed 240 pounds and was 87.5 inches long when she was captured, tagged and released in 2012. At that time, she was approximately 125 years old and it’s possible she’s still swimming around out there.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.