Bill Hansen, 59, of Chilton has lived less than two miles from Lake Winnebago his entire life.
He is proud to carry on the sturgeon spearing tradition set by his grandpa Leo Hansen Sr., as well as his dad Leo Hansen Jr. who pulled in dozens of sturgeon over the years.
Bill remembers his maternal grandpa Mike Pitzen as a farmer and ice fisherman, too. Bill was only 5 in 1964 when Grandpa Pitzen speared a whopper out on ‘Bago. Pitzen, of New Holstein, pulled in a 71-inch sturgeon weighing 115 pounds. He picked a good year to land that monster since the Oshkosh Brewing Company was holding a contest for the largest sturgeon speared during the 1964 season on Lake Winnebago. Chief Oshkosh was celebrating 100 years of brewing beer and first prize in the contest was a 1929 Model A Ford pick-up truck.
An Appleton Post Crescent photo from March 22, 1964 shows Mike Pitzen, along with Oshkosh Brewing Company President Dave Uihlein, standing by the Model A which was painted white with Chief Oshkosh in red letters. The Post Crescent caption stated Pitzen landed the big fish on Feb. 21, 1964 about six miles west of Calumet Harbor.
Ryan Koenigs, Winnebago System sturgeon biologist, said 685 sturgeons were registered during 23 days of the 1964 season on Lake Winnebago and the average fish taken was 55 inches and 47 pounds. His files indicate only seven fish weighing over 100 pounds were harvested that year, so that makes Mike Pitzen’s fish a true giant. Koenigs went on to say 1,967 shanties peppered the lake that season.
When asked to compare the 1964 season with the 2018 season on Lake Winnebago, Koenigs said 654 sturgeons were registered in 2018 with an average length of 60.1 inches and average weight of 51.4 pounds. There were 43 fish harvested in 2018 that topped the scale over 100 pounds and 4,448 shanties were on the lake on opening day.
Bill remembers his Grandpa Mike was proud to land that sturgeon and win the Model A back in 1964. The truck stayed pretty much the same until 1986 when Dean and Alice Connors of Chilton bought it. The fact that the Connors just happen to be Bill’s father- and mother-in-law have helped keep the 1929 Model A in Bill Hansen’s family.
Although the truck sat idle for many years by the time they bought it in 1986, Dean Connors recalled that when they put gas in the tank it started right up. Connors said they drove it back home and parked it in their basement garage. They removed the doors, back fenders, radiator, engine and transmission as well as complete running gear and started the renovation project. Connors, now 90, said they started the truck renovation in September 1986 and finished it on July 4, 1987. “We set the engine in the coaster wagon and we worked at night and weekends. It was many hours. A labor of love,” Connors said.
After the truck was restored it was driven in various parades over the summer including Chilton, Stockbridge, Marytown, and Cross Plains.
These days the truck is stored at the home of Travis Hansen (son of Bill Hansen and grandson of Dean and Alice Connors). Mike Pitzen kept the plywood sturgeon that was affixed to the winning truck back in 1964. Bill Hansen is proud to say he still has that plywood fish.
Bill said he’s landed approximately 25 sturgeons since he started at age 14. In 2014 he was experiencing a nine-year sturgeon drought but had an idea. “I took the plywood sturgeon out onto the ice and speared an 83-pounder,” Bill said with a laugh.
It is safe to say the Hansen family will continue to enjoy the challenge of sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago for many years to come. In the words of Ryan Koenigs, “The Winnebago System is home to one of the largest populations of lake sturgeon in the world and is one of only two places where sturgeon can be harvested during a winter spear fishery (the other being in Black Lake, Michigan with an annual harvest of five fish).

Bill Hansen’s face lights up when he talks about the tradition of sturgeon fishing on Lake Winnebago, and Koenigs said he feels the same. “The fish population is the resource that makes the sport possible, but it is the social aspects of the sport that make it special and keep people coming back year after year,” Koenigs said.