Give Spear Fishing a Try

February 5, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Spear in the ready position

Spear in the ready position

The last time you tried something new, did you have a hint of apprehension, or at least a little adrenaline rush triggered by anticipation?

Whether it’s a new recipe for venison or test-driving a used car, you never know exactly what to expect, until you try.

While darkhouse spearfishing in North Dakota has little to do with culinary skills or a used car lot, it’s one of those new experiences that warranted some apprehension, and generated anticipation when it was first allowed a few years ago.

Anglers, fisheries managers, and even people who don’t fish had many questions when darkhouse spearfishing, with northern pike the primary quarry, began in December 2001. As the fourth season begins December 1 this year, those charged with monitoring and evaluating spearfishing have a better understanding of the myths and realities of spearing in North Dakota waters.

Issues to consider

Terry Steinwand, North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries division chief, says “Reviews from the public on darkhouse spearfishing are mostly good. But some people are concerned that spearers are taking all the big pike from those lakes where the activity is allowed.”

Patience is a must

Patience is a must

Information we’ve collected indicates darkhouse spearfishing is not changing the northern pike size structure on most lakes, Steinwand said. “As we learn more about the impacts on the pike population in a given lake, we will make adjustments if necessary,” he said. “Going into this we studied other states and were able to address the potential challenges of implementing a spearing season as mandated by the legislative session.”

A cautious approach is evident as spearfishing for northern pike is currently allowed in only 28 lakes. Pike are the only game fish spearers are allowed to take. Nongame fish like carp and buffalo are also legal, but seldom pursued.

The season runs Dec. 1-Feb. 28, not long by any means, but realistically most people stop spearing well before the season ends. As winter progresses and lake ice gets deeper, cutting the large holes necessary for spearing, and removing several cubic feet of ice in large chunks, becomes an exhausting task.

Water clarity was another consideration. Each water body is unique. Some lakes with seemingly acceptable water clarity may become cloudy, making spearing difficult. In such cases, there is concern that lakes maintaining clear water through the winter attract more than their share of spearing pressure.

An unsuspecting pike comes in

An unsuspecting pike comes in

While many open-water and ice anglers take exception to spearing, spearing was mandated by the legislature and Game and Fish has worked diligently in designing a season that is practical, provides opportunities in most areas of the state for darkhouse spearing, and still protects the resource.

Spearing is covered under the regular fishing license, but people who want to spear must register with Game and Fish. Registration is free and available at the Department’s website,, and allows the Department to monitor the number of registered spearers and follow up with surveys to track success.

Spearing is open to residents, as well as nonresidents whose states allow North Dakota residents to spear. Of North Dakota’s border states, South Dakota and Montana allow spearing by nonresidents, Minnesota does not.

Some numbers

In 2002 more than 1,600 people registered to darkhouse spearfish, compared to 1,255 in the inaugural 2001-02 season. Seventy-four percent indicated that they actually ventured onto the ice and tried their luck.

In 2002-03, participants took nearly 5,200 pike through the ice, while less than 2 percent of survey respondents said they speared rough fish.

A nice eating pike

A nice eating pike

The average weight of pike harvested was between 6-7 pounds. What has been found over the years is that overall pike harvest from darkhouse spearfishing is limited, especially when compared to traditional winter or summer angling.

I’ve tried darkhouse spearing and enjoyed it. Steinwand sums it up: “Darkhouse spearfishing provides another opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy North Dakota. What we are hearing from the people doing it, is that they really enjoy it.”

Spearing certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve never tried it, don’t let the apprehensions dictate the outcome.

List of lakes open to darkhouse spearfishing for northern pike

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


5 Comments on "Give Spear Fishing a Try"

  1. Marty S. Beckman on Sat, 30th Oct 2010 7:29 am 

    My Question Is : How do you keep the theifs out of your Dark House Other then Not Leave anything in it, but it still gets/got broken into? Another Question: Can I hook Up some sort of shocker to the house kinda Like a electic fencer .. I am Being Very Honest here, I am so sick of the garbage that goes on here on the Minn Lakes, And the Law does Nothen!!! Not good for the law to do nothen and get this.. The courts turn out in the long run, if you can catch these people are making it hard to leave the Houses Alone! Hey Fishin People… Let’s Stick together and put a STOP to this noncence.. Please Give me some Ideas!!!!

  2. admin on Mon, 1st Nov 2010 10:36 am 

    How often does your ice house get broken into??

  3. Marty S. Beckman on Tue, 2nd Nov 2010 11:44 am 

    I am 46 years old and have had my house broken into 3 different time but the fist time I caught the two that did it next 2 times nothen was takin just broke door ect. I did not leave nothen in the house for them to take but I am sick of pulling stuff out that i want to leave for next day of fishing Get Me? just such a hassle to load stuff up and bring back out like my heater or Reels attached to the house Now I have it where I can remove reels from the wall every time I leave for the night.

  4. rabbit on Sun, 26th Dec 2010 1:41 am 

    marty; these are not sportsmen leaving this bad taste in your mouth this is what the ole boy’s on ia. traplines would call johnny sneak-em’s they don’t have the heart to build a structure nor the mind power to use one createing misery satisfys their shallow minds with vandilisim but lets face it although once is to much i know people on busy lakes near large pop.’s that experince this violation of privaicy over and over and i’m afraid the only sane outcome is removing all valueables because someones trusted and lost, keeps these scum lookin,don’t giv’em anything take it with you.

  5. Josh W. on Wed, 13th Jul 2011 2:09 pm 

    I’d keep the shack unlocked and keep everything out of it. If they can get in and see there’s nothing there, they probably won’t destroy your shack.

    Don’t get discouraged, we all have to keep our eyes open for the folks that don’t respect other peoples property. But we need to remember that we’re out there having fun and we can’t let those buggars bother us.

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