With never-seen-before numbers of northern pike swimming in North Dakota waters, the Game and Fish Department opened most of the state to darkhouse spearfishing in 2012.
The results, while good to see, weren't surprising.
According to Greg Power, North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries chief, 2,582 people registered last winter to spearfish, which was a record. Of those nearly 2,600 participants, 86 percent were residents.
"We went from about 50 pike lakes to slightly more than 200, which provided more opportunities to spear and more opportunities for some people to spear closer to home," Power said.
Not surprisingly, the rise in darkhouse spearfishing participants led to a record jump in the number of northern pike taken through the ice.
In winter 2012-13, about 18,500 pike were harvested, or more than nearly double the number speared in 2011-12, which stood as a record at the time.
Northern pike and nongame fish are the only legal species for darkhouse spearfishing, which runs from December 1 through March 15. Last winter, just 4.7 percent of the participants reported spearing a nongame, or rough fish.
Power said the number of spearing days also jumped dramatically, from 6,895 in 2011-12 to 12,084 in 2012-13.
"North Dakota has a core group of people who regularly darkhouse spearfish year in and year out," Power said. "By opening up nearly the entire state to spearing, hopefully we exposed a new group of people to spearing and they'll want to go out and do it again."
Last winter, with nearly the entire state open, participation was reported on 102 waters. Five of the top 10 lakes, in terms of pike harvest, were new waters: Twin Lakes, (LaMoure County); Souris River; Boom (Marion) Lake, (LaMoure County); Willard Lake, (Richland County;) and Pipestem Dam, (Stutsman County).
Power said the top three lakes in 2012-13, Sakakawea, Darling and Silver, accounted for 40 percent of the statewide harvest. Lake Sakakawea, which accounted for 21 percent of the state's pike harvest, was the number one lake. And for the first time in more than a decade of darkhouse spearfishing in North Dakota, Devils Lake did not make the top 10.
"For this winter, we do know that pike numbers are as strong, or stronger than last winter, and access has been generally good," Power said. "We fully anticipate a record, or near-record year for participation and harvest."
Whether darkhouse spearfishing or fishing with hook and line through an ice hole, participants are reminded that the daily limit for pike is five fish and the possession limit is 10.
A five-pike daily limit was instituted in North Dakota in 2012 for both the open water and ice fishing seasons.
Darkhouse Spearfishing Numbers
- Average darkhouse spearfishing participant in 2012-13 was 45 years old and 87 percent were male.
- 79 percent of 2012-13 Game and Fish Department survey respondents indicated that they also ice fished.
- Average weight of the largest pike harvested during the 2012-13 darkhouse spearfishng season was 8.2 pounds. The lowest was 4.7 pounds in 2009-10.
- The number of water bodies open to darkhouse spearfishing climbed from 28 in 2002-03 to all but a handful of waters across the state today.
- Since 2001, Lake Sakakawea has been one of the top five lakes in terms of northern pike harvest eight times, while Devils Lake has been in the top five 10 times.