Warmup melting Lake Winnebago ice fast

Posted at 6:40 PM, Feb 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-21 19:47:01-05

OSHKOSH, WI -- This winter warm-up is wreaking havoc on the state's lake ice cover.

On Lake Winnebago, sturgeon spearers are battling inches of water near shore, and ice experts are worried that major upcoming events on the lake may even be in jeopardy. 
Experts say sturgeon spearing this year on the Lake Winnebago system might be one for the fish. 
"We're still quite a ways away from the harvest caps, and with the number of fish that are coming in... we're expecting that the season's going to go 16 days with below average harvests," says  Ryan Koenigs, Winnebago System sturgeon biologist with the DNR.
Koenigs says the slow season can be blamed almost entirely on poor water clarity.
"This year we knew we had dirty water conditions, or less than ideal water conditions, coming into the season," says Koenigs, "and that's led to the slower season up to this point."
Meanwhile, ice experts are hoping for a cold snap with limited sunlight for a good stretch of the week.
"If we have a couple more days of warm weather like this, sturgeon spearers are probably going to have to go out with four-wheelers," says Don Herman, who has studied Lake Winnebago's ice each year for decades, "because we might have to pull our bridges."
Herman says he's spending this weekend relocating the lake's ice bridges, and rescuing vehicles that break through the slushy mess near shore.
"That's what happens. The shoreline deteriorates, and you can't get out," says Herman, "and there's still good ice out there, but you can't get out because the shoreline deteriorates."
While the ice bridges are staying for now, Herman says they're analyzing the ice cover daily.
"They have a big weekend--Battle on Bago--coming this weekend," says Herman, referring to the massive ice fishing tournament that brings in fishermen from across the Midwest, and Canada. "There's going to be... 8,000 fishermen out here."
Right now, Herman says anyone traveling on Lake Winnebago needs to watch out for sturgeon holes, cut into the ice, and abandoned.
While you won't likely fall through with your truck, they can do serious damage to it.
Herman urges fishermen to keep daily tabs on the latest conditions.