Published May 20, 2012, 12:00 AM

N.D. darkhouse spearing activity sets record during 2011-12 season

According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, more than 1,800 people registered to spear this past winter, and the estimated harvest was 10,191 northern pike. That’s by far the highest number of participants and the most pike speared since Game and Fish offered its first darkhouse spearing season in 2001-’02.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

Lack of snowfall, easy access and abundant pike populations combined to produce a record winter for darkhouse spearing across North Dakota.

According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, more than 1,800 people registered to spear this past winter, and the estimated harvest was 10,191 northern pike. That’s by far the highest number of participants and the most pike speared since Game and Fish offered its first darkhouse spearing season in 2001-’02.

The previous high was 2002-’03, when more than 1,600 registered spearing enthusiasts took 7,343 pike. Game and Fish estimates the harvest based on a mail-in survey sent to a random sample of people who register to spear.

Registration is required, and the season is limited to northern pike and rough fish.

“It was a very good year and perhaps not unexpected,” said Greg Power, fisheries chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck. “You had a number of things going for you: One, over time, we’ve opened up more and more waters to spearing, and then we had just an incredibly open season, really perfect for darkhouse spearfishing. And the biggest thing, of the 50 or so lakes that were open, most of them had record or near-record pike populations. It was kind of the perfect storm.”

Pike populations are thriving across much of North Dakota after several wet years that flooded grassy areas and created ideal spawning habitat. The wet cycle also resulted in several lakes that previously were little more than sloughs but now are booming pike fisheries.

Because of the bountiful pike numbers, Game and Fish this coming winter is expanding the list of waters open to spearing from about 50 to basically every lake except a handful with muskie populations.

“If we have another winter like this last one, there should be lots of opportunity next year,” Power said. “The pike will be there.”

He said the extent of this year’s pike-spearing take isn’t cause for concern.

“For sure, the hook-and-line take was a whole lot more than darkhouse spearfishing,” Power said. “Of the new lakes that will be open, there will be some phenomenal opportunities. They are very good pike fisheries, and a lot of them could use some thinning out.”

A few other highlights from this past winter’s spearing season:

- The average participant was 45.8 years old, and 89 percent were males.

- The top six lakes — Darling, Sakakawea, Silver, Buffalo Lodge, Diamond and Morrison — accounted for slightly more than half of the harvest.

- For the first time since the inaugural season, Devils Lake was not among the top five spearing lakes; it still was in the top 10.

- Only 2.1 percent of survey respondents said they speared a pike of 20 pounds or larger, down from records of 7 percent during the winters of 2005-’06 and 2006-’07.

Fishing notes

- While pike populations are booming in many parts of the state, Power said the department this week began its annual spring campaign to stock pike in lakes that don’t have good natural production.

- “Catching” remains excellent for anglers fishing the Missouri River in Bismarck, but the size of the walleyes is decreasing as larger fish move downstream into Lake Oahe. Power, the fisheries chief, said he and another angler landed 35 to 40 walleyes Tuesday night fishing near Bismarck. “I bet you there wasn’t more than two that were in the 16- to 20-inch range,” he said. “I suspect you’ll hear Oahe in the next week to 10 days will be its normal, very good self.”

- Devils Lake contributed 80 quarts of walleye eggs for state stocking programs this spring, with most of the 400-quart quota coming from Parshall Bay on Lake Sakakawea. “Parshall Bay has become our real bread-and-butter spot” for collecting walleye eggs, Power said. “It’s pretty amazing how many nice fish are in Parshall Bay.”

- The egg take on Devils Lake is dependent on flows from Channel A, which attracts prespawn walleyes, and flows that are too high or too low affect the run. Randy Hiltner, northeastern district fisheries supervisor for Game and Fish in Devils Lake, said the flow this spring on Channel A was about 50 cubic feet per second — a mere fraction of the 1,000 cfs recorded during the spring of 2011.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send email to bdokken@gfherald.com.

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