Darkhouse Spearfishing Has Staying Power

Doug Leier

By Doug Leier

We are a hearty bunch. When temperatures drop and the ice begins to form, it doesn’t signal the end to spending time hunting and fishing. It’s just a transition.

One of those transitions taking place now is the wait for darkhouse spearfishing. When the first spearing season opened there was a set date, which sent a mixed message. It wasn’t meant to indicate safe ice. In fact, no matter the legal opening of the season, no matter the date, 100 percent safe ice doesn’t exist.

Spearing no longer has a specific opening date, so you can start spearing whenever you can find safe ice on which to set up a darkhouse.

It is hard to believe it’s been over 20 years since darkhouse spearfishing for northern pike became legal in North Dakota. Here’s a few changes on how the North Dakota Game and Fish Department gradually adjusted the spearing season.

● 2008-09 was the first winter that the first two weeks of March were open to darkhouse spearfishing.

● 2009-10 was the first winter Minnesotans could darkhouse spearfish in North Dakota.

● 2012-13 was the first winter where most of the state was open to darkhouse spearfishing.

● 2020-21 was the first winter when individuals younger than 16 did not have to register.

Survey numbers show that people are taking advantage of the expanded opportunities for winter outdoor recreation.

Here’s a recap on darkhouse spearfishing in North Dakota from the 2020-21 season, based on information gathered in a post-season survey.

2020-2021 highlights: include

► 4,372 individuals registered (2,853 residents, 1,519 nonresidents) – 16,605 northern pike were harvested.

► Early ice conditions were again relatively unsafe until close to the holidays due to mild weather. In addition, ice-out was earlier than normal.

► The average spearer was 49 years old and 88 percent were male.

► 72 percent of the respondents indicated that they actually darkhouse spearfished.

► Median and mean weights of the largest pike reported harvested by the respondents were 6.0 and 7.8 pounds, respectively, which was down from last year.

► 60 percent of the darkhouse spearfishing respondents reported they had taken someone darkhouse spearfishing in North Dakota who had never been spearing before.

Other darkhouse spearfishing information:

Individuals who participate in darkhouse spearfishing must first register online at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov, and possess a valid fishing license (16 years and older).

Spearers and anglers are reminded that materials used to mark holes must be in possession as soon as a hole greater than 10 inches in diameter is made in the ice.

North Dakota residents who do not have a fishing license may spear during the winter free fishing weekend Dec. 25-26, but they still need to register to spear.

All waters open to hook and line fishing are open to darkhouse spearing, except:

East Park Lake, West Park Lake, Lake Audubon, all McLean County; Heckers Lake, Sheridan County; Lake Ashtabula, Barnes and Griggs counties; Larimore Dam, Grand Forks County; McClusky Canal; New Johns Lake, Burleigh County; Red Willow Lake, Griggs County; Whitman Dam, Nelson County; and Wood Lake, Benson County. Anglers and spearers should refer to the current North Dakota Fishing Guide for more information.

Leier is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Dept.

Featured Photo: More than two decades have passed since darkhouse spearfishing opened in North Dakota, and many changes have occurred since that time. NDG&F Photo.

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