OSHKOSH, Wis. — Warm weather, rain and wind are wreaking havoc on Lake Winnebago’s ice conditions. Many stayed away from sturgeon spearing this year, while others scrambled to save their equipment.

On Tuesday morning, a sight no hard-water angler wants to see, a half-submerged ATV and fish house stuck in the ice at Asylum Bay in Oshkosh.

Owner Ryan Vesbach was driving off the ice with his father-in-law when they broke through.

“We heard the big crack and the rear end of the ATV just kinda sank down and just a little bit of shock,” Vesbach said. “Nobody ever expects to go in.”

(Spectrum News 1/Jon Fuller)

They were pre-fishing for the upcoming Battle on Bago ice fishing tournament this weekend. But because of rain, deteriorating ice and high winds, he wanted to get his gear off the lake. And he almost made it before dropping in a soft spot about 100 yards from the landing.

“The back wheel went in, then we decided things were happening, so we jumped into the icehouse and started pulling some of the more expensive electronics to salvage what we could,” explained Vesbach. “The other guy that was with me, he went in the water, so I had to pull him out. He’s a little wet and a little cold right now, but doing okay.”

Vesbach is assuming a total loss for his submerged equipment. He notified SUNK? Dive and Ice Service and could only watch and wait for them to arrive and pull his rig from the ice.

(Spectrum News 1/Jon Fuller)

At Paynes Point Hook & Spear Fishing Club in Neenah, sturgeon spearers were also pulling their shacks off the lake.

“When you have a shack out here on the lake, especially with a sturgeon hole cut, with all this rain, that rain needs to go someplace,” said Darryl Lehman, Paynes Point Hook & Spear Fishing Club President. “It’s swirling down into the sturgeon holes and making the holes bigger, so you need to get your shacks off or move them a little bit, so you don’t have to fish them out of the lake.”

The DNR counted 3000 shacks on Lake Winnebago for last Saturday’s opening day of sturgeon spearing. While spearers pulled in over 100 more fish than a year ago, the number of shacks on the lake was halved.

The weather seemed to go downhill since the opening. Margaret Stadig, DNR Lake Sturgeon Biologist, thought spearers exercised caution by staying away and playing it safe. But she also compared it to canceling Christmas.

(Spectrum News 1/Jon Fuller)

“It’s very striking. This year is very bizarre. Usually, you look out, and it looks like another little town popped up in the middle of the lake,” Stadig said. “This year it’s barren. It’s very empty. Hopefully, that will change this weekend, but as of right now, this year has been very bizarre and weird.”

Ken Inda’s been spearing since 1976 and has seen days like this before. He’s hoping cold weather will help firm things up for the rest of the season but pulls no punches on the current state of the lake.

“It does kinda suck. But what can you do? Nothin. Mother Nature, she’s naughty sometimes,” Inda said. “She’s protecting the fish. That’s a way of protecting the fish.”

When spearers head back out, they could face some murky water. Lehman said the unseasonably warm and sunny weather led to an algae bloom on the lake.

Stadig agreed things look bleak thus far, but hopes the weather improves and shacks can head back out.

“There are people who look forward to this all year, myself included,” Stadig said. “To look out and not see any spearers out today is very disappointing.”

Even if conditions improve, many around the lake don’t expect the quotas to be reached and said the season should last the full 16 days.