Ice Spearing

February 9, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Ice spearing is a new an exciting ice fishing season

Ice spearing is a new an exciting ice fishing season

It’s December, and if there’s a transition time for outdoor activities, this is it.

Deer gun season has closed, and while muzzleloader deer and many upland game seasons are winding down, another season has opened.

The fishing community in 2001 marked the opening of managed ice spearing in 30 North Dakota waters. Whether you agree or disagree with spearing, the North Dakota legislature directed the State Game and Fish Department to implement a spearing season. Since then, each winter a few thousand North Dakota citizens embark on darkhouse spearing.

As with any new season, the Game and Fish Department has taken a cautious approach, is learning from other states, and is listening to constituent wants, needs, and concerns. Combine that with biological and survey data and we can set spearing seasons that provide opportunities without hurting our resources.

All people who spear in North Dakota must first register with the Game and Fish Department. It doesn’t cost anything, but it does provide the agency with contact information for post-season surveys. During the first spearing season, 1,255 people registered, and 744 actually participated. These first-time North Dakota spearers took more than 6,000 northern pike.

Ice spearing is rewarding but is a lot of work

Ice spearing is rewarding but is a lot of work

For sake of comparison, last year 1,188 people registered and 638 reported actively spearing. The pike harvest via spearing was less than 2,000 fish.

The spearing season in North Dakota opens Dec. 1 and continues until Feb. 28. The only exception is Spiritwood Lake in Stutsman County, which opens to spearing on Jan. 1. North Dakota residents, and nonresidents from states that allow North Dakotans to legally spear, are allowed to participate. Currently, Minnesota does not allow nonresidents to spear, so Minnesota residents may not legally spear in North Dakota.

Any licensed angler can register with the Game and Fish Department, online at or by calling 701.328.6300. Follow-up surveys determine the amount of time people spend spearing, where they go, and how many fish are taken.

I have tried spearing, and will say that I enjoyed it. Never in my life have I been that close to a fish – at least that I could see – that wasn’t in a frying pan, and the darkhouse was quite an experience. With the water magnifying the size of a pike, and watching the fish attack a decoy while I am literally inches away, is an experience you’ll never recreate sitting in front of the television.

Watching a large pike come up to your spearing decoy is quite a rush

Watching a large pike come up to your spearing decoy is quite a rush

At times we were skunked and dead tired as we cut out holes, only to find the water too murky or submerged trees blocking our view and spearing lane.

And I’ve also speared some decent sized fish. But I’ll also admit that at times it seemed the fish were very receptive and success was almost guaranteed. While this combination can provide for quick limits of good-sized pike, critics are quick to point out that releasing speared fish is not possible.

But at the same time, not every fish attracted to the decoy is a whopper, and there’s no mandate to even spear a fish. Believe it or not, similar to watching a nice deer from the tree stand without taking a shot, it’s not always about spearing the biggest and the most pike.

And even at times the pike will drift near the decoy and pass on without even the opportunity to spear.

Over the course of the past half decade, spearing has become part of North Dakota’s outdoors. Here’s a little more detail on spearing in North Dakota:

* A spear is counted as a pole (line) while darkhouse spearfishing.

* Pneumatic or rubber band powered spear guns are not allowed.

* When a dark house is moved, or a hole larger than 12 inches in diameter is left in the ice, the hole must be adequately marked with a natural object, such as a tree branch or tumbleweed, visible from a minimum of 150 feet.

* There is no size limit on ice holes in lakes where darkhouse spearing is allowed. However, hook and line fishing is legal only in holes no larger than 12 inches in diameter.

* Legal live baitfish, with the exception of white sucker, and artificial lures can be used as decoys.

* Daily and possession limits are the same as for hook and line fishing.

* New Lakes for 2006-2007 season: South Eckelson, Barnes County; Sibley Lake, Griggs County; Stump Lake, Nelson County; Lake Irvine, Ramsey County; Island Lake, Rolette County; and Sunday Lake, Stutsman County.

* Other lakes where darkhouse spearfishing is allowed are Devils Lake, Benson/Ramsey counties; Silver Lake, Benson County; Powers Lake, Burke County; Rice Lake, Emmons County; Juanita Lake, Foster County; Lake Etta/Alkaline Lake complex, Horsehead Lake, and Round Lake, Kidder County; Flood Lake and Diamond Lake, LaMoure County; Beaver Lake and West Napoleon Lake, Logan County; Buffalo Lodge Lake, McHenry County; Coldwater Lake and Dry/Goose Lake, McIntosh County; Stanley Reservoir, Mountrail County; Lake Laretta, Nelson County; Cavanaugh Lake, Morrison Lake, and Sweetwater Lake, Ramsey County; Grass Lake, Richland County; Carpenter Lake and School Section Lake, Rolette County; Buffalo Lake, Sargent County; Coal Mine Lake, Sheridan County; Mallard Marsh and Spiritwood Lake, Stutsman County; Cottonwood Lake and Tioga Reservoir, Williams County; Lake Sakakawea from Garrison Dam to Highway 85 bridge at Williston; and Lake Oahe from the South Dakota border to McLean Bottoms boat ramp.

Give ice spearing a try!


2 Comments on "Ice Spearing"

  1. richardnori on Thu, 7th Jan 2010 3:30 pm 

    Doug, I thought I remembered you mentioning a book or pamplet about spear fishing…available at the extension office (ndsu?) Do you know which number I should call..I called & they didn’t know anything about the spear fishing book/pamplet
    Thanks, Rich

  2. terry hangge on Wed, 15th Dec 2010 9:39 pm 

    I think Minnesota allows non residents to spear if it is reciprocal

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