Sturgeon spearing has its roots in the customs of many of the Native Americans who lived in the Great Lakes region long before Europeans arrived in North America. Some of the earliest French explorers to Wisconsin wrote about their encounters with the Menominee tribe, noting their skill at spearing sturgeon through the ice. Just as they did with many Native American customs and habits, French explorers and traders adopted the ice spearing technique as a tried-and-true way to secure fresh fish during the long winters.
By the early 1900s, unregulated fishing for sturgeon—by spear, net, and setlines—had taken its toll on the population, and harvesting the fish in any manner was outlawed throughout Wisconsin in 1915. However, as the Great Depression took hold of the nation, sportsmen in Wisconsin began lobbying to regain access to the giant fish. The legislature listened, and in June 1931 the law passed to reopen sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago. And although specific rules and regulations have changed over the years, there has been an annual spearing season ever since.
For more information about the Lake Winnebago sturgeon spearing season, see http://dnr.wi.gov/fish/sturgeon/lakewinnebago. For more information about the book People of the Sturgeon: Wisconsins Love Affair with an Ancient Fish, a book sponsored by the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, see www.winnebagosturgeon.org