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Doug Leier: Looking back at last year's darkhouse spearing season in North Dakota as a new season begins

Doug Leier, North Dakota Game and Fish Department1 / 2
There’s something to be said for anglers who understand the heritage and realize that while modern technology, gear and gadgets are fine, they aren’t afraid to try tactics and techniques that were successful in the past, as is the case with darkhouse spearing. (North Dakota Game and Fish Department photo)2 / 2

Lately, I've been intrigued by the growing interest in hunting and fishing methods that are more "retro" or "back-in-the-day."

From recurve bows for deer hunting, to fishing with a hook and bobber in the summer, to spearing through the ice in winter. There's something to be said for hunters and anglers who understand the heritage and realize that while modern technology, gear and gadgets are fine, they aren't afraid to try tactics and techniques that were successful in the past.

In fact, some may say the level of satisfaction related to shooting a deer with a recurve bow or muzzleloading firearm gives them a higher level of personal satisfaction with the hunt. I had a hunter remark a few years back, though a little tongue in cheek, that he'd rather have to pass up a marginal shot with a muzzleloader than be able to hit the deer with a rifle.

With this year's official darkhouse spearfishing season now in full swing, here's a little insight into how spearing northern pike through the ice went last winter.

2016-2017 darkhouse spearfishing highlights

(The statistics below were gathered via the mandatory spearfishing registration and a follow-up post-season survey.)

• 4,102 individuals registered, including 2,851 residents, and a record 1,251 nonresidents, including 944 Minnesotans, which accounted for 23 percent of all registered spearers in the state.

• The average spearer was 45.8 years old, and 91 percent were male.

• 75 percent of the respondents indicated they actually went spearfishing, which, given the difficult early winter and heavy snowpack, is a respectable number.

• 67 percent of the darkhouse spearfishing respondents indicated they also fished in open water, and 75 indicated they also fished through the ice with rod and reel.

• Darkhouse spearfishing took place on approximately 125 water bodies last winter. Devils Lake replaced Lake Sakakawea as number one in terms of pike harvest. Nearly half (48 percent) of all pike harvested originated from these two lakes.

• 6.4 percent of the pike speared were lost.

• Median and mean weights of the largest pike harvested by the respondents were 7.0 and 8.5 pounds.

• 7.3 percent of the respondents indicated the largest pike they harvested was 20 pounds or larger.

2017-18 season details

North Dakota's 2017-18 darkhouse spearfishing season opened on most state waters Dec. 1. Legal fish are northern pike and nongame species.

All individuals who participate in darkhouse spearfishing must first register online at the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov. In addition, anglers age 16 and older must possess a valid fishing license. Anyone age 15 and younger does not need a fishing license, but they still need to register to spear.

Spearers and anglers as well 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.

For more information on waters that are closed to darkhouse spearfishing and other winter fishing regulations, visit the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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