Explore Cadillac – Spear Anglers Wait for Pike in Darkhouses

When you think of ice fishing, most folks consider it from the traditional stance of standing on the ice or sitting inside fish shanties. Using tip-ups baited with minnows or jigging with ice rods. There are other options – Darkhouse fishing. Rather than hook fish, they’re inside darkened shelters hoping to spear pike.

Any lake with a good population of pike and water clarity of at least six to eight feet offers spearing possibilities. Spearing is a big deal in Cadillac. Steve Knaisel, owner of the Pilgrim Village Fishing Shop, gets over 100 signed up for his annual pike spearing contest, for over 15 years. His leader boards show that Darkhouse anglers take the larger pike with many in the 30 to 36 inch range.

Inside a spearing shanty or Darkhouse, what catches your eye is the giant rectangular hole, often about 28 or 30 inches by 36 inches, which takes up most of the floor space. In contrast to the dark interior of the shanty, the hole is lit up as if illuminated from an underwater source, typically the sun shining through the ice. To help see fish swimming beneath, a layer of potato slices or egg shells is spread over the lake bottom so the dark fish will standout against the light background.

Once the hole is ready, the waiting begins. Sitting by the edge of the hole, the angler watches for a pike to appear. Many find it soothing to look down at the quiet lake bottom. To entice these fish into showing themselves, plastic or wooden decoys are used. The decoy is weighted and balanced so it will swim level. When the line is pulled, the decoy minnow glides about in smooth arcs. The attractors should be suspended several feet off the bottom so they can easily be seen by cruising pike.

Spear anglers will tell you that it’s that moment when a pike slides into view that makes the waiting worthwhile. Although adrenaline may be surging, moves need to be slow and deliberate as the spear is lowered into the water so that when it’s dropped there won’t be a splash. The sweet spot is just behind the eyes where the back is widest. Hit the pike there and it should stay on the tines as it is hauled into the shanty.

While catch and release allows fish to be returned live, there’s no spear and release. To avoid the chance of killing an undersized pike, most spear fishermen give themselves a margin of error on the 24 inch minimum size by not taking fish under 26 or 28 inches.

If spearing sounds intriguing, come to Cadillac and get ahold of Steve, or contact the Michigan Darkhouse Anglers Association website. The Mitchell State Park Carl T Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center in Cadillac offers workshops with how-to information for getting stated in spearing and decoy carving. Written for the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau by Dave Foley, Outdoor Writer/Enthusiasts.