Battle on Bago inspires friendly competition

Sturgeon spearers and fishermen are toughing it out
Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 4:12 PM CST
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - Lake Winnebago is the place to be for fishermen and sturgeon spearers on the weekend of February 17 to February 19.

A flurry of activities rang in the sixteenth annual Battle on Bago!

Thousands of fishermen set out at the break of dawn, but the party is only about to begin on Friday afternoon, when scales open up for competitors to weigh their catches.

According to a board member of the event, around 7,000 competitors are expected to participate this year.

“We’re looking for that good entertainment factor. It’s a time to get outside but still be inside and have a really good time,” says Todd Reuss, a board member of Battle on Bago.

Reuss says it takes at least 250 volunteers to make the tournament run smoothly. “There’s different people that do different things. We have people that work on just the tent, we have people that work on the straw for the tent. Tying the tent down. Weigh in crew. The bar crew. We have clubs and organizations that also volunteer their time. It’s not just here. We have clubs and volunteers outside right now, managing landings, managing bridges, making sure people get out safe, answering questions at the landings,” Reuss explains.

The tournament looks a little different this year: Warm temperatures stopped some fishing clubs from putting out their vehicle bridges. Many are leaving their trucks and trailers close to shore.

“It’s gonna be different this year because you can’t drive out. So we’re just trying to get a fish,” ‘Turtle’ Kleinke from Combined Locks said.

It takes a lot of volunteers to make the battle possible.

“Well, there’s 18 scales. That takes two people. Someone on the scale and someone on the computer. Then there’s the command center. There’s probably 20 people up there going through all the tickets, sorting all the tickets for next year,” Reuss explained.

And those scales are vital to get prizes in the hands of fortunate fishers.

“First place you get a Yeti cooler and $ 2,023. The top prize is a Ford F 150 super crew. That’s 2,000th place,” Reuss said.

Kleinke won twice over the years:

“Fishing gear mostly. I won some rods and hats and stuff like that. Hope’s always there for – there’s enough big prizes out there,” Kleinke said.

Some big prizes are up for grabs, including cash, a truck and even a boat. Organizers are planning on having anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people fill the tent Friday evening, where live music from the band ‘Road Trip’ is a big draw.

“They do a phenomenal job. They’re here every year. We’ve got a fish fry going on that a lot of people come for. They’ve been coming here for years. We’re looking for that good entertainment factor. It’s a time to get outside but still be inside and have a really good time,” Reuss said.

Battle on Bago is more than just a contest - organizers give back to their community. The event’s mission is ‘For Kids and Conservation.’

“It’s a great feeling when it’s over with to give back and see some of these fisheries, kids getting fishing poles, DNR projects that need to get done. Or putting out docks or piers for people to have public access to. It’s a lot of fun it is really rewarding and it’s great to be a part of,” Reuss told Action 2 News.

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