Wisconsin Angler Spears Enormous 177-pound Sturgeon Through the Ice on Lake Winnebago
James Gishkowsky harvested the 6.6-foot behemoth during Wisconsin's annual sturgeon spearing season
On Valentine’s Day, a Wisconsin ice fisherman named James Gishkowsky speared a massive sturgeon through an ice hole on Lake Winnebago. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), the fish weighed a whopping 177.3 pounds and measured 79.9 inches in length or 6.6 feet. The female sturgeon is the seventh-largest fish ever taken with a spear in the Lake Winnebago system.
In a press release, the WDNR called Gishkowsy’s sturgeon an “F4 fish”, meaning it was full of up to 30 pounds of eggs and would have spawned in the spring. Gishkowsky told Field & Stream that he had to call for help in order to hoist the giant fish from a 3-foot by 5-foot hole that he cut out of the ice with a chainsaw.
“I tried to lift it up, and I can’t hardly lift it. I’m wondering if it got stuck on something. Then I see the fish, and I thought: Oh my God,” he said. “So I got on the phone with Sean Wendts. He’s like three miles out in the lake. I called him up, and I said, ‘Sean I need some help over here.'”
Gishkowsky’s fish was a lake sturgeon—a prehistoric, bottom-dwelling species that first appeared on earth around the time the dinosaurs went extinct. The species is characterized by its heavy, torpedo-shaped body and thick armor arranged in five rows along its flanks and back. Gishkowsky used a seven-tine detachable spearhead affixed to an 8-foot pole to spear the monster fish before Wendts gaffed it and hauled it out of the ice.
In Wisconsin, lake sturgeon inhabit the Mississippi, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior Drainage basins. Gishkowsky said he targets the fish by locating the small, red mud worms they feed on. “At around 8:30 A.M., I had a fish come through, but it stayed to the outside of the hole,” he recalled. “I had another come through at 9 o’clock and another at 9:30. They both stayed outside the hole. Then I turned around to adjust my stove, and when I turned back and this giant fish is in my hole. I threw the spear out, and I held onto the rope and—by God—I hit it.”
Related: Angler Catches Massive 16-Pound Walleye While Ice Fishing on Lake Ontario
A Sturgeon Spearing Tradition
The Lake Michigan basin contains the Lake Winnebago system where Gishkowsky speared his monster sturgeon earlier this week. According to the WDNR, Winnebago is home to one of North America’s largest lake sturgeon populations, and it’s one of the few places in the world with a wintertime spearfishing season for sturgeon.
The first modern sturgeon spearing season kicked off back in 1932, and the tradition has remained strong ever since. While there’s no residency requirement for spearfishing for Winnebago lake sturgeon, WDNR says that most of the participating anglers live within 60 miles of the lake. Gishkowsky, who lives on the lake, said he’s having the sturgeon’s roe processed into caviar, and he’ll be smoking the meat. “I took the fish to a local taxidermist,” he said. “A bar on the lake by the name of T.J.’s Bar and Restaurant is going to mount it and hang it in their bar.”