SPEARING ON MILLE LACS: Regulations and Safety

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From the DNR: 

Keep safety in mind when enjoying darkhouse spearing

After sawing a wide rectangle into the ice, a person holds a fish spear at the ready while looking through the water, past a small decoy meant to lure northern pike into range. A well-placed throw results in a pike on the ice and destined for the frying pan.

Darkhouse spearing has ancient origins, but the activity may be new for many. It’s become especially popular on the newly-formed ice on Mille Lacs Lake, which opened for darkhouse spearing this year for the first time since the winter of 1982-83. The current season for darkhouse spearing opened Nov. 15 and runs through Feb. 22.

For those new to spearing, there are some additional points of safety to keep in mind while out on the ice, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Once a block of ice is cut, it can be pushed under the ice or pulled out onto the surface.

If removed, the ice should be placed back into the hole and the hole marked when the spearer removes a darkhouse.

If the block of ice is pushed underneath the surface, the hole should be marked, as should any blocks that are left on top of the ice.

“It’s great to see the crowds come out for this new opportunity to spear northern pike on Mille Lacs. We’ve got an abundance of smaller pike which can make for a great day on the ice, and for a great fish fry,” said Rick Bruesewitz, DNR Aitkin area fisheries supervisor. “Along with the popularity of spearing, we’re reminding folks to mark their holes when they leave them. Safety for those spearing and others traveling on the lake is the most important consideration.”

Paul Lundeen, president of the Minnesota Darkhouse & Angling Association, said the organization stresses the importance of putting your block of ice back in and marking that spot with biodegradable markers, preferably in each corner of the hole.

“Push that block back in the ice and make sure you mark that hole,” Lundeen said.

Usually, Lundeen said, the practice of pushing the block of ice under the surface is easiest because the ice bobs after being cut free.

“It’s actually so much easier. Why lift the block on top of the ice? That thing is heavy,” he said.

The spearing association also stresses to make sure spearers know their target, to avoid spearing fish that aren’t northern pike.

“Just like deer hunting, don’t throw your spear unless you’re aware of what your target is,” Lundeen said.

Lundeen also said spearers might consider passing on the large fish. While small pike have increased in abundance in Mille Lacs in recent years, large pike are limited in numbers and worth conserving. Also, make sure to pick up any litter from the ice when leaving, he said.

Overall, Lundeen said, spearing can be a thrill, just like hunting. And there’s the craft of making decoys that attract fish, of living the history of spearing, and of getting kids and grandkids out on the ice to share in the fun.

“It’s just like deer hunting – you can sit there for hours and all of a sudden you can look and there’s a deer. It’s just like that with spearing,” Lundeen said.

Statewide, anglers and spearers can keep three northern pike, and one of those three can be over 30 inches. On Mille Lacs Lake, anglers and spearers can keep 10 northern pike, and one of those 10 can be over 30 inches. All spearers and anglers should check for special regulations that may be in effect for individual waters.

For more information on Mille Lacs Lake management, see www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake. For darkhouse spearing regulations, see www.mndnr.gov/regulations/fishing.

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