Did you spend any time on the ice last winter, spearing in North Dakota?

If you did, you were part of a record 4,328 participants who registered to darkhouse spearfish, an increase of nearly 1,000 from 2014-15.


(Photo courtesy NDGF)​

One of the likely reasons for that is that North Dakota has set records for the number of licensed anglers overall in each of the past four years. And part of the reason for that is that North Dakota currently has a record number of managed fishing waters with outstanding opportunities for success, including for northern pike, the primary quarry in darkhouse spearfishing.

Another variable that is hard to quantify, but is certainly a significant factor, is access to fishing waters. Last winter, with a minimal amount of snow to blow around and block access points, was about as good as it gets for driving or pulling a sled onto a lake. Pretty much every lake that had water clear enough for pike spearing was accessible.

This winter, many lake access points and section line trails already were inundated with more than a foot of snow before ice began to solidly form. However, while getting on the ice might present more of a challenge, the lakes are still there, and so are the fish.

Darkhouse spearfishing has been around for more than 15 years now so it's not really new, but it's always good to remind potential spearers that registration is required, in addition to a valid fishing license for those age 16 and over. Registration is free

at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, http://gf.nd.gov, or through any Game and Fish Department office.

Game and Fish biologists use registration information to survey people who spear, to document pike harvest, individual activity, and what lakes get the most pressure.

This year's darkhouse spearfishing season opened Dec. 1, with one new regulation that may come into play for some. Marking holes in the ice used for spearing has always been required, but this year people who create holes larger than 10 inches in diameter (this applies to ice anglers as well) must have materials to mark the holes in their possession at the time the hole is created.

In addition, Sweet Briar Dam and Braun Lake are now open to darkhouse spearfishing. All other waters open to hook and line fishing are open to darkhouse spearing, except:
  • East Park Lake, West Park Lake, Lake Audubon - McLean County
  • Heckers Lake - Sheridan County
  • Larimore Dam - Grand Forks County
  • McClusky Canal
  • New Johns Lake - Burleigh County
  • Red Willow Lake - Griggs County
  • Wood Lake - Benson County
North Dakota's darkhouse spearfishing season extends through March 15. Legal fish are northern pike and nongame species.

Nonresidents may darkhouse spearfish in North Dakota if they are from states that offer the same privilege for North Dakota residents.

North Dakota residents who do not have a fishing license, may spear during the winter free fishing weekend Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.

While it's possible that conditions this winter compared to last year could reduce participation and effort, most people will find rewards in the extra work it might take to get set up over a hole in the ice.

If you're not sure where to go, the Game and Fish website has some good information on pike populations across the state, as well as video and print instructions for removing the Y-bones from these tasty fish.

The 2016-18 North Dakota Fishing Guide, in print and online, has all the other details a spearer or angler might need to know as the winter fishing season gets into full swing.