A record number of nearly 28,200 northern pike were taken during the 2017-18 darkhouse spearfishing season in North Dakota.
And we didn’t contribute a lick.
In a land of about 450 managed fishing waters, the majority of which are open to spearfishing for pike and nongame fish, we didn’t get out.
While I don’t remember everything that got in the way, I do recall disappointing reports of poor visibility on those waters we typically frequented.
So, maybe we were mostly undone last winter by murky waters, plus a certain amount of indifference to exploring new lakes in the state’s leanest months.
While I wouldn’t call it a hot tip, we did get word sometime in January of this winter of a lake in McLean County with good visibility and a pike population to match.
The lake was roughly 90 minutes from Bismarck, I was told, there was a chance the gravel road into the lake might be blown shut, and if it wasn’t, the access point on to the lake likely was, which meant we’d have to pull a sled loaded with our gear an undetermined distance.
We left the following morning.
While spearing a pike that swims into the 3- to 4-foot window in what passes for the darkhouse floor is cool, it’s also the most anticlimactic part of the outing.
The intrigue is the unknown, the unanswered until it happens. Will a fish rush out of nowhere and hit the submerged, red and white decoy at full speed? Or will it slip nonchalantly into view, with the swagger of an undefeated boxer as it eyes the fake wooden bait?
If you have a new pickled pike recipe (an unbeatable appetizer with some onions and crackers, the recipe’s author says) that you’ve been wanting to try, then you hope it’s the latter because you don’t stand a snowball’s chance at spearing one that screams beneath the hole unannounced.
Minutes after getting set up, zipping the windows and doors to shut out the light, and settling in on camouflage stools we last used dove hunting sometime in September, we spear our first fish, a 3- to 4-pound northern.
I unzip the darkhouse door, toss the pike on the ice and look around. The area we are spearing is no secret. Old spear holes are marked here and there with tree limbs and other brush for safety reasons.
Yet, today, we have the place to ourselves.
Between pike and jigging the wooden decoy, we talk, eat chips, jerky and ham and cheese sliders leftover from the football games the day before.
In the distance, we can hear the occasional vehicle traveling the gravel farm to market road. The unmistakable sound of a small airplane flies overhead, heading to who knows where. But there is a noise, not loud, but unusual, that doesn’t register.
Once outside, after I again unzip the darkhouse door and duck, I spy a shaggy, black and white dog lying atop the snow and ice flecked in blood, eating our pike. And as quickly as I write this sentence, the animal picks up its mostly frozen treat and beats feet, stopping only once to look back at a laughing man in dirty insulated bib overalls, before disappearing into trees surrounding a farm yard a quarter-mile south.
As I said, killing a fish with primitive gear is the most anticlimactic part of darkhouse spearfishing.