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Conditions just right for darkhouse spearfishing

The warm temperatures and low snowfall totals for winter 2011-2012 have left skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoers across western North Dakota disappointed with the weather. But conditions are just right for darkhouse spearfishing, and women ages 18 and older are invited to learn all about that winter sport on Saturday, February 11th. Lake Darling and the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge will host a Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) workshop that day from 10 am to 4 pm.

2/01/12 (Wed)


The spearfishing is great . . . The Mouse River at the Upper Souris National
Wildlife Refuge boasts excellent spearfishing conditions this season, and
women are invited to attend the Becoming an Outdoors Woman darkhouse
spearfishing workshop there planned for Saturday, February 11th. The
workshop is sponsored by the ND Game & Fish Department, and interested
women can enroll in the course online at gf.nd.gov.

.

By Caroline Downs

The warm temperatures and low snowfall totals for winter 2011-2012 have left skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoers across western North Dakota disappointed with the weather.

But conditions are just right for darkhouse spearfishing, and women ages 18 and older are invited to learn all about that winter sport on Saturday, February 11th. Lake Darling and the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge will host a Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) workshop that day from 10 am to 4 pm.

“It’s a perfect year for ice fishing and darkhouse spearfishing,” said Nancy Boldt, North Dakota Game & Fish Department BOW coordinator, “and darkhouse spearfishing is like opening a window into the underwater world.”

Last year, the workshop was held at South Carlson Lake near Minot. This year, winter fishing conditions on the river below the dam at Lake Darling are the best seen in years, according to Tighe Teets, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service law enforcement officer. “The river has been good for northerns [pike] and some walleyes,” he said. “We’re seeing lots of pike.”

During a spearfishing outing last week, a group of seven fishermen with Teets speared 27 northerns within a couple of hours. “We had three fish houses out there, and I’d say we saw anywhere between 100 and 200 fish,” he said.

He noted ice on the lake itself has not been good for most of the winter, and fishing there has been slow. In the Mouse River, however, the water has remained clear. With an ice thickness of eight to nine inches, drilling holes for spearfishing has been easy.

“There are no permanent fish houses on the river and we don’t allow anyone to drive out on that ice,” Teets said. “For the last three years, we’ve had winterkill of fish in the river, but this year we have so many fish because of the floods [last spring and summer].” The site selected for the BOW workshop is within walking distance of a parking lot at the refuge, with easy access to the river because of the light snow cover this year.

That combination of factors should provide a perfect introduction to darkhouse spearfishing to women who participate in the BOW workshop, and Boldt and Teets are preparing a successful event.

“We want the women to go from start to finish,” Boldt said. “We want them to walk away from the workshop with enough confidence to go out and do this themselves.”

Teets will host the group for the first hour at the refuge headquarters to demonstrate the equipment used and the basic techniques of spearfishing. “We’ll go outside after that and have the ladies cut one or two holes so they know how to do that,” he said. “It’s different than drilling a hole for ice fishing.”

Participants will be paired up with instructors from the ND Game & Fish Department and USFWS refuge staff for direct assistance in spearfishing. Several portable fish houses, complete with small heaters, will be available for the group to use.

“We’ll fish three or four hours, then end with learning to clean the fish,” Teets said. “We’ll show them how to filet the fish and take the Y-bones out.” With the fishing site located just a quarter mile from the shop and restrooms, participants can enjoy the comfort of a heated building while they clean their catch of the day.

Another aspect of the workshop will be learning to cook the fish, with the workshop instructors bringing several of their favorite pike dishes and recipes to share during lunch. “We want the participants to be ready to go home with their fish and cook them or prepare to freeze them,” said Boldt.

Spearfishing is sight fishing
According to Teets, a darkhouse spearfishing season was established in North Dakota about eight years ago and has only been allowed on Lake Darling for four years, so many women may not know much about the sport. “It’s a social event, like all ice fishing is,” Teets said, “but in ice fishing, you’re just watching a bobber or a tip-up. The fun part of spearfishing is that you’re sight fishing.”

He described spearfishing as a selective type of fishing. “You only take the fish you want,” he said, adding that in other types of fishing, fish may be harmed by catch-and-release practices.

Teets explained that a six- to eight-inch wooden or plastic decoy is used to attract hungry fish to the large hole. “It’s shaped like a fish with the tail turned or beveled,” he said, “so when you jig the decoy, it swims in a circle and stays within the hole. Hopefully, your decoy will slow down or stop the fish in the hole.”

He compared the hole in the ice to viewing an aquarium. “And right now, you see fish continuously down there,” he said. “The water clarity in the river this year is great for sight fishing.”

He noted surprises can show up in the holes, too. “You never know what you’re going to see,” he said, listing frogs, crayfish and turtles as possibilities. “A couple of weeks ago, I saw a muskrat in my fish house. It climbed up on the ice and sat there for a few minutes.”

Teets encouraged all women with an interest in fishing to participate in the darkhouse spearfishing workshop. “If you like bowhunting for anything, this is basically bowhunting for fish,” he said.

Register for workshop,
bring fishing license
Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshops are designed primarily for women with an interest in learning skills usually associated with hunting, fishing, and outdoor endeavors. Although the workshops are open to all women, they are tailored primarily to ladies who have never tried these activities or who are beginners hoping to improve their skills.

Usually, the darkhouse spearfishing workshop can only accommodate 14 participants, but Boldt said the Lake Darling event could accept up to 20 women. “We provide everything they need,” she said, “but they should come dressed ready to be outside for three or four hours.”

Teets reminded any women who take part in the workshop to bring a valid North Dakota fishing license, and register on the North Dakota Game & Fish website for a darkhouse spearfishing license before the session. “There’s no cost for that additional license,” he said. “You’ll get a number that you write on your regular fishing license.”

The workshop fee is $50, with all materials and equipment included. Preregistration with payment is required.

Women who plan to attend this BOW workshop can register online at the Game and Fish website, gf.nd.gov. A registration form is also available for download, or by contacting Nancy Boldt, North Dakota Game and Fish Department, 100 N. Bismarck Expressway, Bismarck, ND 58501-5095. She can be reached by phone at (701) 328-6312 or email ndgf@nd.gov.

Teets invited women in the area to take advantage of the spearfishing opportunity planned for February 11th. “We might not have these good conditions every year,” he said.