SPEAR FISHING- BORN OF NECESSITY
You sit in the dark house staring through a wide hole in the ice waiting for a big pike to swim into view. You need to stay alert when the pike starts to eyeball your decoy twitching in the current. Then you need to dip your spear, a trident actually, into the water so as not to startle the hovering pike. Yes, it is sport, but it is a practice rooted in the cultural pursuit of food. This is not catch and release but is something in which friends and family of Northern Minnesotans, like our member Brenton Zitka, all have participated.
Archaeological evidence suggests that indigenous tribes of North America began spearing fish through the ice more than 2,000 years ago and the technique hasn’t changed much since then. Folks in the far northern states equate spearfishing a big northern pike or lake sturgeon to
shooting that first big buck. There aren’t many companies that make spears today, and the design hasn’t changed for generations: five to seven barbed, parallel points at the end of a metal pole, usually about 5 or 6 feet long and weighing between 5 and 20 pounds. The spear is connected by a rope, allowing the fish to run and fight without the danger of twisting off the spear. The spear house is usually hard-sided, heavy, and made from wood. They lack the portability of newer ice fishing shelters like the pop-up huts from Clam Outdoors and others but they offer the opportunity to stay warm and provide storage for your spear, ice tongs, ice auger, ice saw, decoy, gaff, and slush scooper, and provides the darkness necessary to see into the hole.
When thinking of the right hole location, look for points, humps, and weed lines that concentrate fish travel. Shallow areas between 5 to 10 feet without too much distracting vegetation are ideal. Holes are cut big starting with a number cut an ice auger then formed into the shape of a
rectangle with a hand-held ice saw. Once you’ve finished cutting, use the ice tongs to remove the large pieces of ice, then remove any remaining ice and slush with some form of a scoop or strainer. Spearing is a game of patience, and you need to do your best to block out the light. The darker, the better. Your eyes will quickly adjust and you’ll be amazed at the detail that you see in the water beneath you. Once the hole is ready, its time for the decoy. Often attached to a wooden pole, decoys range from shiny spoons and homemade jigs to carved spearing decoys meant to attract fish with shiny surfaces or fluorescent colors. Jig the decoy to impart a swimming effect. Experiment with different jigging motions and decoys.
So what do you do when your intended target swims into view? According to Brenton, your technique and quick reaction are critical. Jumping up and chucking the spear into the water like
a Zulu warrior is a big DON'T. Patience is key. Slowly lift the spear off the ice and dip the tines into the water. Avoid any loud noises or splashes. Aim just behind the head of the fish. Let the heavy spear do the work. Throw, don’t stab- that's why you attached a retrievable by rope. Before you throw, make sure to identify the species. For example, pike are usually fair game while similar-looking muskie are not. When your aim is true, and technique sound, you’ll put dinner on the ice. The feel of connecting and fighting the fish by rope is the best part.