N.D. spearfishing lakes expandingRetired Golden Valley County rancher Don Abernethy loves darkhouse spearfishing. Starting next year, he’ll be able to do it a little closer to home and for two weeks longer during the winter.
By: Blake Nicholson, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Retired Golden Valley County rancher Don Abernethy loves darkhouse spearfishing. Starting next year, he’ll be able to do it a little closer to home and for two weeks longer during the winter.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is lengthening the three-month darkhouse spearfishing season that begins each Dec. 1 by half a month and adding 16 lakes to the list of 37 that have been open to spearfishing the past two years.
“A fair number (of the new lakes) are in the southwest, where there currently is no real opportunity,” said Greg Power, the department’s fisheries chief.
Darkhouse spearfishing, a legal sport in North Dakota for only seven years, involves cutting a hole in the ice inside a dark fish house that keeps out the sunlight and improves visibility in the water. Anglers put a decoy in the water to attract northern pike and use a handheld spear to land them.
The regulations for darkhouse spearfishing are different from those for underwater spearfishing, which involves divers with spear guns. The 2001 Legislature approved darkhouse spearfishing at the urging of anglers who did it in other states and wanted the same opportunity in North Dakota.
About 2,000 anglers took part in the sport in each of the first couple of years, many of them trying it because it was new. Participation has since leveled off at about 1,200 per year, Power said. All darkhouse spearfishing anglers are required to register with the Game and Fish Department.
One of the old lakes available to spearfish anglers is being eliminated next season because it has essentially dried up, but the number of available lakes starting next year — 52 — will be more than double what was available the first season. Spearfishing in some of the lakes, such as Sakakawea, is restricted to certain areas or dates.
Power said state wildlife officials first ensure that a pike population can withstand the additional loss of fish before approving a lake for darkhouse spearfishing.
“The other thing we’ve always been cognizant of — we like to have (a fishing) opportunity within 50 miles of most places in the state,” Power said. Other than in eastern North Dakota, which has fewer lakes, “the rest of the state is pretty well covered” with the addition of the 16 new lakes, he said.
Abernethy said that he has traveled to such lakes as Buffalo Lodge Lake, east of Minot, and Lake Sakakawea for darkhouse spearfishing. He once speared an 18-pound pike in Sakakawea, just under the 20-pound minimum requirement for an official “whopper” designation.
“It’s a good sport,” said Abernethy, who had spearfished in Montana before the sport became legal in North Dakota. “We’re sure lucky North Dakota got it.”
About 3,000 northerns are caught every year by spearfish anglers in North Dakota. Power said he does not expect that figure to rise because recent dry years in North Dakota have cut into the pike population.
The best opportunity for darkhouse spearfish anglers is in the heart of walleye country.
“Morrison Lake just north of Devils Lake has been the No. 1 pike-spearing lake, year in and year out,” Power said.
On the Net:
ND Game and Fish Dept.: www .gf.nd.gov/
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