It’s almost December, and if there’s a transition time for outdoor activities, this is it.
I felt it the last week of deer season as rain turned to snow, and the wind blew out the extended fall and brought in more “normal” temperatures.
When the daily high temperature is below freezing, it doesn’t take long for serious ice to start forming on small sloughs, ponds and lakes. While the transition this year isn’t as dramatic as last year, when some people already were ice fishing by the last weekend of deer season, the chatter is still turning from muzzleloader, late-season pheasant, grouse and early season predator hunting to hard-water fishing and spearing.
Officially, Dec. 1—Tuesday—is the spearfishing opener, but across the state, from small ponds to large reservoirs, just because it’s open doesn’t guarantee safe ice. So, before you get too excited about ice fishing or spearing, please check the local ice conditions.
But it’s not too early to get registered to spearfish. Everyone who spears in North Dakota needs to register before participating, even those younger than 16 who do not need a fishing license. Registration is available on the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, or through any Game and Fish Department office.
Darkhouse spearfishing gradually has gained popularity since it first was authorized in 2001. At that time, only a few waters were open, and fewer than 1,000 people participated. As fisheries managers collected more data, they gradually expanded the available options for spearing, and more anglers became interested.
Over the years, more waters were added, and last year, a combination of strong pike numbers in many lakes, open access because of little snow, and expanded opportunities accounted for record participation.
• A record 3,339 people registered (2,662 residents, 462 nonresidents).
• Average spearer was 44.6 years old, and 88 percent were male.
• 79 percent of those registered indicated they did actually darkhouse spearfish—the highest on record.
• About 76 of spearing registrants indicated they also fished in open water, and 77 percent said they also ice-fished with rod and reel.
• Total pike harvest by spearers this past winter was a record, 23 percent higher than the previous record set in 2012-13.
• As reported from a participation survey, spearing took place in 90 water bodies statewide. Lake Sakakawea continues to be tops in terms of pike harvest. The top three lakes (Sakakawea, Buffalo Lodge and Devils Lake) accounted for 44 percent of the statewide harvest, and the top nine lakes accounted for nearly 75 percent of the harvest.
• Median and mean weights of the largest pike reported harvested were 8.0 and 8.3 pounds, respectively. This continued a trend of slightly higher pike weights the past few years. The lowest on record was 4.0 and 4.7 pounds, respectively, in 2009-10.
• Few respondents continue to report spearing big pike. About 2.9 percent of survey respondents indicated the largest pike they harvested was 20 pounds or larger. This compares to the record of about 7 percent more than 20 pounds during the winters of 2005-06 and 2006-07.
This year, all North Dakota waters open to hook-and-line fishing also are open to darkhouse spearfishing, with the following exceptions:
• Braun Lake—Logan County.
• East Park Lake, West Park Lake, Lake Audubon—McLean County.
• Heckers Lake—Sheridan County.
• McClusky Canal.
• New Johns Lake—Burleigh County.
• Red Willow Lake—Griggs County.
• Sweet Briar Dam—Morton County.
For more information on spearing or ice fishing regulations, consult the current fishing guide or the Game and Fish Department website.