Pike spearing is a very popular activity in Minnesota and other cold-weather states.
Although I haven't done a lot of spearing, many outdoorsmen and women love to
stare down that big hole at a wooden decoy or live sucker minnow as a
"log" pike comes cruising in to investigate or strike. Slowly they
ease the business end of the spear into the water; take careful aim and send
the projectile into the pike's broad shoulders.
Panfishing through the ice is also a favorite
winter pursuit. And many are the times in the spearing house when you'll
witness several sunfish and crappies swimming through,
or even coming in to curiously investigate the pike-attracting decoys. In years
law forbade fishing with rod and reel while also engaged in spearing. That law
has since been lifted, and we couldn't be happier about that. Because now when
big bluegills, perch, slab crappies or even walleyes come in, we can catch them
(with rod and reel; you can't spear them). Check your state's laws to see if
your area allows both fish harvesting techniques simultaneously.
If your state does, then you're in for a real exciting treat and a learning
experience on fish behavior that you can't get anywhere else. To explain why,
let me explain the environment inside a spearing shack. The structure itself is
a windowless box that doesn't let in any light. It's a dark house. You sit in
the blackness looking down through a large hole in the ice. Outside, the sun lights up the
underwater world, making it very easy for you to see what's happening below.
It's a lot like watching a television screen with a live episode of
"Fish" playing beneath the ice.
So, imagine that the pike action is slow, but the panfish
are floating past in singles and small groups. Grab your ultralight
panfish rig and drop a bait
down to them! For this application, a wide assortment of baits will work, from
small ice flies to tiny spoons. You can tip these lures with waxworms or maggots, small crappie minnows or minnow heads,
or with soft plastics. Whichever lure you choose, ease it down slowly to the panfish to test their mood. Pay really close attention to
the attitude of the fish and how they react to your bait. If they come racing up for it, you know they're hungry and
aggressive. When that's the case, you'll fill your limit in short
Other times, when the panfish are in a more
neutral mood, you'll have to coax them a bit. Always present the bait above the
fish, as they are much more likely to rise for and strike a lure above them
(versus dropping down to hit a sinking bait). Get the
fish to commit to rising for the jig and when they're right below it, stop the
bait and let them inhale it.
Panfish Can Be Light Biters
One thing you notice and learn as you do this is how
l-i-g-h-t-l-y a panfish can
bite. You'll see them literally suck bait in and blow it back out in the blink
of an eye. It's a bite you would have never felt if you didn't see it happen
through the spearing hole. You'll also be amazed by how often they'll refuse to
eat or even investigate a bait at all!
Remember, this is "sight fishing," so there's no need for a bobber
when fishing this way. With that said, let light-biting panfish serve as a lesson for "line watching" to
identify strikes. Often, you won't "feel" the bite, but your
line will visibly twitch or go limp when they inhale. It's a visual cue that
will help you catch more fish when you're not sight fishing them from a dark
house. If there are crappies taking the bait, you'll notice that they routinely
eat the bait and continue rising afterwards. This results in a sag in your
line. So get used to reading that visual cue too and you'll become a better
Ever since Minnesota
law began allowing rod & reel fishing from spearing shacks, many panfish anglers have adopted the dark house approach to all
of their shallow-water pursuits. It adds a whole new level of excitement to ice
fishing. And it also allows fishermen to be selective about, which fish they'd
like to catch. If a small sunfish or crappie scrambles for the bait, simply lift it away and re-present it to a keeper
you'd like to put in the pail. In fact, I often employ a "dark house"
technique inside my Eskimo portable shelters by closing all windows and doors
to sight fish for panfish when water depths and
Finally, here's an added bonus that sometimes happens in a spear shack: Your
pike decoys are down and you're nabbing a few sunnies
while waiting for a northern pike. As a sunfish fights, he creates a lot of
visual commotion and distressed vibration. That can be like ringing the dinner
bell for Mr. Northern. So the big toothy critter moseys on over to see what all the hubbub is about. If everything goes perfectly, the
angler can lift the sunfish up, send the spear down and have a unique
"double" that you can only experience in one place ... inside a
For an assortment of Babe Winkelman fishing DVDs, click here.
For a fine selection of ice fishing gear, click here.
Editor's Note: Babe has shared his love of the outdoors with TV viewers for more than 25 years. Babe will share his tips and outdoor adventures weekly on sportsmansguide.com. In 1984, Babe's "Good Fishing" program debuted and later his "Outdoor Secrets" show became popular with hunting enthusiasts. Babe's programs appear on the Outdoor Life Network, WGN, Fox Sports Net, Fox College Sports, The Men's Channel, Sportsman's Channel, Great American Country, WILD TV, and Comcast. Babe also writes hunting, fishing and conservation columns that are carried by up to 350 newspapers each week. Winkelman sponsors include Chevrolet, Miller High Life, Johnsonville Brats, Crestliner Boats, St. Croix Rods, Browning, Hunter's Specialties, Nikon, Minn Kota, Optima Batteries, Mathews, Honda, and many more.