Group of veterans learns what sturgeon spearing is all about

House in the Woods is giving 20 veterans a new adventure and new friendships
Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 4:54 PM CST
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LAKE WINNEBAGO, Wis. (WBAY) - The wait is nearly over. Sturgeon spearing opens Saturday on Lake Winnebago and the upriver lakes. Thousands of spearers will take to the ice in hopes of bringing home the big one.

Spearers could start cutting holes Thursday, but Friday is when the lake saw the majority of people setting up shop.

More than 12,000 sturgeon tags were issued this year -- 20 to a group of veterans on a retreat through the non-profit House in the Woods. The organization takes veterans hunting, fishing, and on other outdoor excursions. It was started by a Gold Star family in Maine to honor their son, Sgt. Joel House, who was killed while serving in Iraq in 2007.

”We want to do what he loved, going out fishing and hunting and being in the outdoors. He loved canoeing, kayaking, cookouts, and we want to share this with our men and women that have done so much for our country,” Paul House, executive director of House in the Woods, said.

House admitted, “I never heard of sturgeon spearing. Everywhere I look there’s a sturgeon on the building, there’s vehicles, they got ‘em on the side of their pickup, on the back of their pickup, so I think it’s really neat.”

Friday the group of veterans headed out onto Lake Winnebago to learn what sturgeon spearing was all about.

”Sturgeon virgin,” veteran John Lemke called himself. “Never been out on the ice more than about 10, 15 feet, so this is all new to me.”

Friday they traveled about three miles out onto Lake Winnebago, where they helped to cut the holes and set up the shanties that will be used this weekend.

”It will be a once in a lifetime trip for me. I don’t think I’ll ever get another opportunity to do it. And it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard of, so I’m really excited to be here and hope one of these veterans gets an opportunity to see and spear a sturgeon,” House in the Woods volunteer Warren Perry said.

“I’ve done lots of ice fishing before in the past, but nothing at this scale. To be able to cut the holes in, this is really something special,” veteran Jacob Vandenplas said.

While the group of mostly first-time spearers hopes to spear a sturgeon, this weekend with their brothers is about much more than that.

“It’s the camaraderie that takes place when these men and women come together. It’s phenomenal to watch them from the day they come to the day they leave. They’re a changed person, and it’s a great healing process for them,” House said.

House says even though he’s not a veteran himself, there’s a connection when he hears their stories and he tells his stories.

In the couple of hours we spent with the group Friday, despite not knowing each other really before this day you could tell they really clicked and enjoyed spending time together. Healing was happening.

House in the Woods provides these and many other outings at no cost to veterans. In addition to the spearing activities planned for the vets this weekend, there will be special dinners and public events and raffles at different bars around the lake where people can meet the veterans and support the mission of House in the Woods.

“The healing saves lives, and that’s the key to these men and women coming together. I’ve had some of the vets come up to me and say thank you for what your program has done, thank you for saving my life,” House said.

A non-profit treats 20 veterans to a new outdoors experience and some camaraderie

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