Spearing pike through the ice is an old and, frankly, fun sport. Spearing offers a unique experience that may just hook you permanently.
Winter ice fishing has a related cousin: darkhouse spearing.
But where ice fishermen use small rods and reels, tip-ups and tip-downs, and fish with hook and line generally through small 8-10 inch holes, darkhouse spearers use long-handled, multi-point spears and fish decoys to lure fish under large rectangular holes in the ice, where they plunge their tridents into the backs of unsuspecting northern pike and sturgeon.
Occasionally other species are also taken, but that is dependent upon state laws. It’s a fascinating and fun sport. Where it is allowed, spearing is passionately enjoyed by many anglers as a legitimate alternative to conventional ice fishing.
Since sturgeon spearing on Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago is a unique event pretty much unto itself, we’ll disregard that for this article. Instead we’ll concentrate on darkhouse spearing for northern pike.
Darkhouse spearing is legal primarily in the upper Midwest and northeastern United States. You’ll have to check your state’s regulations and laws to learn the spearing whens, wheres and hows of what’s legal in your area.
You may need a spearing license and you’ll need a few pieces of specialized equipment. Here’s what you need to get started:
1. First, you’ll need a spear. This is a barbed, multi-tined affair – usually five to seven tines – around five or six feet in length. It’s a heavy piece of equipment. You’ll need a good length of rope or cordage to tie to the end of it, while securing the other end of the line to something solid in your darkhouse (you could also tie it around your leg).
Spears generally cost anywhere between $50 and $200 dollars.
2. Next you’ll need a fish decoy to attract the pike to your spot. Decoys can be as simple or as artful and elaborate as you care to make them. Pike will come to most anything shiny, even soda cans or lengths of PVC pipe. But ideally, you’ll want a decoy that imitates a fish.
A good decoy will be made to move seductively (to a pike) through the water by virtue of its body shape and/or fins. It is tied to a sturdy line that you will periodically pull up and release, sending the decoy “swimming” through the water.
Decoy carving is an art form, and there are many carvers that take great pride in their creations. Who knows, you might decide that decoy carving or collecting is as much fun as spearing.
3. You’ll need something to make a large rectangular hole. Spearing holes are usually made by drilling four smaller holes – one in each corner of the rectangle – with an ice auger and then either chiseling or sawing the ice to connect the corners.
You can purchase specialized ice saws. Rather than sawing, some spearers simply drill more holes to connect the corner holes.
4. Next, you’ll need a shanty or “darkhouse.” It’s called a darkhouse because there are no windows in it. The darkness hides the spearer from the fish by eliminating silhouettes.
You should have enough room for at least one chair as well as the large hole you’ll cut into the ice. Make it bigger if you plan on inviting friends or family members to join the fun.
You can buy a portable ice shanty, build your own, or you can rent one. You can usually find a darkhouse rental service in most places where spearing is popular. These operations will likely have everything you’ll need for a day on the ice, including the spear, decoy, darkhouse, and they’ll probably even cut the hole for you.
That’s pretty much it for required equipment, which again, you may not need to purchase at all if you are able to rent everything.
Now you sit and wait. The wait could be short, or it could be long. But when that northern pike does appear you’ll need to properly identify it and size it if your state has size or slot regulations on what fish can be taken.
Seemingly the fish will appear out of nowhere. It’s an exciting moment! Thrust the spear behind the pike’s head and start hauling on that rope.
Pull it up and let the bragging begin! The only thing left to do is decide whether you want that pike fried or pickled.
Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.