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Spearfishing season opens

Courtesy Photo A northern pike is speared during darkhouse spearfishing in this undated photo, courtesy of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Without the ease of a fishing rod's mechanisms to aid in the harvest, some venture into a more hands-on mode of winter fishing.

Open only to northern pike and non-game fish, darkhouse spearfishing season opened Tuesday and runs through March 15.

North Dakota's darkhouse spearfishing season is fairly new.

"There isn't a whole lot of people that do it," said Jeff Hendrickson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department Southwest District fisheries supervisor.

After a legislative vote, North Dakota saw its first season of darkhouse spearfishing in the winter of 2001 to 2002 with about 1,200 participants, said Scott Gangl, Fisheries Management Section Leader for NDGF.

"The second year, it bumped up quite a bit to about 1,600, but since then it,s been pretty steady in that 1,200 to 1,400 range," Gangl said.

While about 1,400 fishermen registered to darkhouse spearfish last year, about 700 of those participated. Collectively, they speared more than 5,000 northern pike, according to the NDGF Web site.

With the temporary demise of Dickinson's Patterson Lake from a fish kill, the closest body of water where darkhouse spearfishing is allowed would be Heart Butte Reservoir near Glen Ullin, Hendrickson said.

"Patterson was, but good luck stabbin' one there," Hendrickson said. "I don't think anybody will get one there this winter."

While several North Dakota lakes suffered winterkills last winter, several are still approved for darkhouse spearfishing.

Jeff Merchant, a NDGF fisheries technician and a yearly darkhouse spearfisherman, said he has been participating in the sport since its North Dakota birth.

Armed with a spear containing several barbed teeth, a decoy and an ice auger, Merchant said the best time to darkhouse spearfish is generally morning and midday.

"It's not too complicated," Merchant said. "Definitely try to talk to somebody that's maybe done it."

Patience can be a valuable tool when darkhouse spearfishing.

"If you don't see anything, it can kind of be a long day though," Merchant said. "There's been times where I've sat there for a couple hours and haven't seen anything."

Merchant said the process of waiting "for the animal to come to you," can be exhilarating, comparing it to bow hunting.

"The fish, when they come into the decoy, it's pretty exciting," Merchant said. "Sometimes they even attack the decoy."

"Typically, the lakes we allow it on have good pike populations," Merchant said. "Whether they're going to be able to spear or not is beyond their control."

The top three lakes for darkhouse spearfishing harvest last year were Island Lake in Rolette County, Devils Lake in Ramsey and Benson counties and Morrison Lake, also in Ramsey County, according to the NDGF Web site.

Harvest limits for darkhouse spearfishing are similar to regular fishing season, three daily, Hendrickson said.

Hendrickson said water clarity also makes a difference in the success of darkhouse spearfishing, so lakes like Patterson Lake may not be the ideal choice.

"When the lake is really turbid, when the water's dirty, then you've got less of a chance of catching one too because you can't see them," Hendrickson said.

As winter deepens and ice thickens, however, it becomes more tedious to darkhouse spearfish as removing thicker ice blocks can be tricky, Merchant said.

Participants must register with the NDGF prior to fishing and can do so online or at a NDGF office.

A list of fishable lakes can be found at