If you live where it gets cold enough for lakes to freeze, you’ve probably heard about darkhouse or spearhouse fishing. You may think to yourself, “What’s that?”. Well, we are here to help! Let’s bring you up to speed on spearhouse fishing.
What is a spearhouse?
To begin, a spearhouse is a shelter like a normal ice fishing skid house, but meant for spearfishing. A spearhouse has a large rectangular hole in it, allowing for a larger hole to be cut in the ice. The other distinctive feature is that the inside of the spearhouse will be black to increase darkness. This increases visibility into the water and conceals your movement better. This is why spearhouses are often referred to as a darkhouse.
Are there different types of spearhouses?
Yes, there are multiple different types of spearhouses. There are both soft sided and hard sided spearhouses. The ideal spearhouse is on a skid house frame, like our Stryker Skid House. Whether you’re considering darkhouse ice fishing, or you have been spearing for years, there are many advantages to owning a purpose-built spearhouse.
Where to Start
The first step to spear fishing is finding the right location. While you can ice fish anywhere the ice is thick enough, spearfishing mainly takes place in the northern lakes of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin as well as on the Great Lakes. While the Great Lakes provide a fantastic opportunity to get into the sport, nowhere is as popular as northern Minnesota. There, the ice is thick enough to drive 8,000-pound trucks pulling 3,000-pound dark house ice huts. Fishermen will drive miles out onto some of the largest lakes in the United States. They get out to their spots, drop their huts, and start cutting holes.
What species do you spearfish for?
There are many common species to target when spearhouse fishing. These include northern pike, sturgeon, catfish, trout, walleye, carp, and suckers. Be sure to check the DNR website for the rules and regulations for your area. The biggest difference between ice fishing and spearfishing is your target fish, with Northern Pike being the most popular. Massive tournaments are held every year, with hundreds of anglers trying to win the prize of biggest fish.
Spearhouse fishing through the ice has been going on for centuries. Before it was done as a sport, it was done merely to harvest food for the winter. Many of the ways and techniques that we use today are the very same techniques used by our ancestors. Spearfishing is one of the oldest forms of fishing, with the Native Americans doing it long before the Europeans did. Decoys can be dated back to the 19th century. We are not quite sure where ice spearfishing originated, it is thought that it may have been independently introduced around the world and no single location can lay claim to being the first. We do know, however, that people have been spearfishing over open water for over 16,000 years thanks to Paleolithic drawings found in Cosquer Cave in Southern France of seals that appeared to have been harpooned.
You may be used to ice fishing as the same way you fish normally, using bait and a hook. Of course, spearfishing varies greatly from this. Decoys can mean the difference between a successful spearhouse fishing outing, and coming up empty handed. Because your main tool is your spear, there is no hook or bait, only decoys. These can come in a huge range of size, color, and design, but they all have one goal: attract fish. These decoys are usually handmade, and hand painted, with many sportsmen having their own secret tips and tricks on how they create them.
While yes, you can buy spearfishing decoys in stores such as Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s just like you could regular fishing lures, it is much more traditional to carve and paint your own. Plus, it is much more rewarding if you have a successful harvest over decoys that you yourself created. Some people may only run one decoy at a time, and some prefer to run three or more at once. These decoys can make up a variety of bait fish species, being anywhere from white and silver shad, green and yellow sunfish, or rainbow-colored trout. Bass and perch decoys are also very popular models to use. It doesn’t matter how many decoys you run, as long as they get the job done.
Now that we have discussed location and decoys, it is time to talk about the best way to spearfish: in a dark house. Dark houses have been around for centuries, with the only thing changing is the luxury of which they are now. They must be completely dark due to pike being so skittish. The only light in these houses comes from the huge ice hole that has been cut out on the floor of the hut. This gives the angler perfect light to see approaching fish through the ice, and the gives the fish little suspicion that there is any danger waiting for them above the surface.
Of course, the next most important thing to have when getting into spearfishing is your spear. Spears range from two pronged to six pronged, with each prong coming to a sharpened point with a barb on it, like that of a normal hook. Attached to the end of the handle of the spear is a long rope, which the angler must grab onto in order to “reel” the fish in. You must always make sure your foot is off the rope, or it could mean losing a record fish! While these spears used to be hand forged, today is it much easier to buy one. There is an array for you to choose from, with no spear really being the wrong answer.
One of the most common phrases you’ll hear while talking about spearfishing is keeping your “spear on your shoulder”. You must always be at the ready because you never know when there could be a record fish below you. Instead of throwing the ice fishing spear like you would a regular spear, it is a calculated, forceful drop. While yes, you can (and need too) put a little emphasis into it, most of the work is done by both gravity, and the weight of the spearhead itself.
One key thing to note about spearhouse fishing is that it can be a solitary sport. While you can have multiple people in your skid house, usually only one person is spearfishing at a time. Most of the time, it is you by yourself, with nothing but your thoughts. Having company can be great, as long as everyone can remain quiet and still. No music, TV sounds, or Tik Tok. Spearfishing is a great way to just be with yourself, take a breather, and reconnect with nature in its’ purest form. If there are multiple fishermen in a dark house, many times they will take turns holding the spear. They will create a rotation system, whether that is so one person can go get something to eat or even nap!
Spearhouse fishing is that can be very challenging. One day you may see lots of fish, and other days you might stare at nothing but the water. For people that have been spearhouse fishing for many years, it’s more about the experience rather than the catch. Many spearfishing veterans will pass up easy shots on decent sized fish to better their chances at bagging a monster. Some people are out there for the thrill, whereas others may be out there to feed their families with a nice supper, or maybe even hope to break a new personal record. No matter your reasons for being out there, always remember that you can’t catch from the couch, and that a bad day on the ice is always better than a good day at the office.
Why spearfish in a spearhouse?
As we said, spearfishing has been around for a long time – even longer than ice fishing has! It is likely your ancestors used to use spearfishing as a method to catch fish. If that interests you, check out the history of spearhouse fishing! Spearfishing is still used as a method to catch fish today. Spearfisherman clean and consume the fish they spear, since catch and release is not an option when spearfishing. Sometimes called a spear shack, Ambush’s spear house is completely blacked out on all walls. This allows the light from under the water to shine through the spearing hole in the floor of the darkhouse, helping you see the fish you are spearing!