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NORTH DAKOTA OUTDOORS: Speaking for northern pike offers another fishing optiion

When it comes to trying something new, I'll admit I usually need a good reason to change or replace anything in my routine.

From breakfast to fishing, after nearly four decades on earth I still gravitate toward my preferred options -- sausage and eggs for breakfast and worms and bluegills for fishing.

The last time you tried something new, did you have a hint of apprehension, or at least a little adrenaline rush triggered by anticipation? I'll try a new sausage, but my eggs must be scrambled. I'm not that daring.

While darkhouse spearing in North Dakota has little to do with breakfast preferences, it's one of those experiences that warranted some apprehension and generated anticipation when the first season opened in 2001.

Anglers, fisheries managers, and even people who didn't fish had many questions when darkhouse spearing for northern pike began in December 2001. Though many open-water and ice anglers did not favor spearing at the time, the state Legislature passed a bill requiring a spearing season, and since then, the State Game and Fish Department has worked methodically to design a season that is practical, provides opportunities in most areas of the state and still protects the resource.

Water clarity is a major consideration. Each water body is unique. Some lakes with seemingly acceptable water clarity may become cloudy at ice-up, making spearing difficult. As such, different lakes show up on the list of the most popular spearing destinations from year to year, depending on water clarity.

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 This allows the department to monitor the number of registered spearers and follow up with surveys.

The 2011 spearing season opened Dec, 1 on most state waters, with the exception of Spiritwood Lake which opens Jan. 1. The season runs through March 15. Legal fish are northern pike and nongame species.

Darkhouse spearing is allowed for all residents with a valid fishing license and for residents younger than 16. Nonresidents may darkhouse spear in North Dakota if they are from states that offer the same privilege for North Dakota residents. Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana allow spearing by nonresidents, essentially allowing reciprocal opportunities.

In the inaugural 2001-02 season, 1,255 individuals registered to spear. Seventy-four percent indicated that they actually ventured onto the ice and tried their luck.

The average weight of pike harvested was 6 to 7 pounds.

Since then, the number of registered spearers has varied from 1,200 to 1,700. Annual harvest varies widely as well, depending on lake accessibility and water clarity.

Even in years with the highest overall spearing efforts, Game and Fish surveys indicate spearing harvest is just a small percentage of the overall pike harvest by open-water and ice anglers.

Like eggs Benedict, spearing certainly isn't for everyone, but if you've never tried it, don't let another 10 years pass.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email at