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North Dakota Outdoors/ Doug Leier: Darkhouse spearing is one more option for winter outdoors enthusiasts

Last year's spearing survey showed that 27% of those who responded did so for the first time in the winter of 2019-20.

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It’s been more than 20 years since darkhouse spearfishing for northern pike became legal in North Dakota. (Photo/ North Dakota Game and Fish Department)

Have you ever tried darkhouse spearfishing in North Dakota? If not, there’s a first time for everything. As we’ve seen since last March when the pandemic began canceling, rescheduling and turning much of the world upside down, interest and participation in recreating outdoors has been on the rise.

Recently, Greg Power, Game and Fish Department fisheries division chief, shared some insights from last year's spearing survey that showed 27% did so for the first time in the winter of 2019-20. While there used to be an opening date to signal the start of the darkhouse spearfishing season, that’s no longer the case. You can start spearing whenever you can find safe ice to set up a darkhouse.


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It’s been more than 20 years since darkhouse spearfishing for northern pike became legal in North Dakota. The 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 2019-20 season, based on information gathered in a post-season survey.

2019-20 highlights

  • 4,433 people registered (1,478 of which were nonresidents and nearly 80% were from Minnesota). More than 18,000 northern pike were harvested.

  • Average spearer was 47.9 years old and 87% were male.

  • 74% of the respondents indicated that they darkhouse spearfished.

  • 69% and 75% of the respondents indicated they open-water fished and ice-fished, respectively.

  • Survey respondents indicated participation on 81 water bodies (identical to 2018-19; down from 104 waters in 2017-18). Lake Sakakawea set a record in terms of reported spearing days. Devils Lake came in second, but a ways back. As noted in the past, Sakakawea and Devils Lake again received the majority of the pike harvest.

  • Median and mean weights of the largest pike reported harvested by respondents were 8 pounds and 9.2 pounds, respectively, which was up compared to recent years.

  • Also, a full 10% of all spearers reported harvesting a very large (20 pounds or larger) pike.

Individuals who possess the needed valid fishing license participate in darkhouse spearfishing must first register online by going to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov. Anglers age 16 and older are required to have a valid fishing license.
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. 26-27, 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 in McLean County; Heckers Lake in Sheridan County; Larimore Dam in Grand Forks County; McClusky

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Canal; New Johns Lake in Burleigh County; Red Willow Lake in Griggs County; Wood Lake in Benson County; Lake Ashtabula in Barnes and Griggs counties; and Whitman Dam in Nelson County.

Anglers and spearers should refer to the current North Dakota Fishing Guide for more information.

Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.


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Doug Leier

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