Sitting in the dark house with a spear in my hand, I sat motionless, staring intently through a hole in the ice, waiting for a northern pike to appear. Eight feet of clear water lay beneath me and, after my eyes adjusted to the dark, I had the impression I was suspended over a huge aquarium. Midway to the lake’s bottom, my fish decoy hung suspended by a line tied to the roof over my head. Music from the movie “Jaws” ran through my head even before I saw the great predatory fish move ghost-like into view.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to fish. Whether I’m casting flies to trout or tarpon; plugging for stripers or largemouth bass; trolling for salmon or bluefish; or using worms to catch a mess of perch or crappies, I love all of it. But the truth is that fishing has always taken a back seat to hunting in my world.
Given a choice between the two, I’ll always pick hunting. Now, I was doing both. I was going after a fish (but not with a rod and reel or even a hook and line), and I was hunting pike with a spear. And at that moment, watching the pike was just as exciting as watching a whitetail buck coming my way… maybe even a little more exciting!
These were questions going around in my head at the time: Is this decoy really going to work? Would the big pike come within range? And if it did, would I be able to spear it?
I’d been peering into the water for hours, and all I’d seen were a few small yellow perch and one 12-inch bass swim by. Then, as if by magic and like deer often do, the pike just appeared as if from nowhere. It lay just feet from the suspended decoy, motionless. I suppose it was sizing it up and deciding whether or not to strike.
As with deer hunting, one false move by me would send it fleeing. I leaned forward ever so slowly and held the weighted, razor sharp spear over the pike like a modern day Poseidon. It was now or never. For a brief moment, I weighed my options of simply letting the spear drop (as many experienced dark house hunters do) or giving it a bit more energy with a thrust of my wrist. I decided on the thrust.
A cloud of mud and the writhing shape of a big pike met my gaze. I grabbed the line tied to the spear and attached it to the foot of the chair I sat on before I pulled the 3-foot pike to the surface. Only when it was on the ice did I let out the breath I had been holding in the form of an excited shout. The prongs of the spear had gone in just behind the pike’s head; it had been a perfect shot. Best of all, after two days of sitting and watching my decoy, I could claim membership in the Brotherhood of the Dark House and tell my friends I was both an ice fisherman and an ice hunter.
To learn more about spearing fish through the ice, decoys and dark houses, visit the Minnesota Darkhouse & Angling Association website: www.mndarkhouse.org. It gives you a bit of history and advice on getting started. Supplies like spears and decoys are available through various dealers; just search the net using the words darkhouse and ice fishing. But first, check your state regulations to see if darkhouse spear fishing is legal in your state.
Artwork courtesy of Kenneth Dahl. To see more of his prints, please visit his website: www.kennethdahl.com.