SCOTT RALL COLUMN: Spearing: Not giving up on this effort
Last week, I explained how I had turned over the management of our bee hives to someone much better at it than I was.
I would have stuck it out until I could have done it myself, if I hadn't become so dangerously allergic to additional bee stings.
What I am not giving up on is my novice spearing career.
I have spent my third exposure to spearing again last week on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes near Crosslake.
It is a 5½-hour drive from the flat lands and turbid lakes of southwest Minnesota to the land of clear water. I don't think I will ever get comfortable driving a full-size truck on the ice, regardless of how thick is it.
Spearing is not like angling in almost all respects. Sure, it is chasing the same quarry but, in angling, you can catch 100 fish in a day and as a spearer this in not really possible.
Where were two seasoned spearers that plied their skills on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Five of us speared Thursday and Friday and, at the end of the week, the group had put nine fish on the hard water outside the house.
This happened over 76 total hours of spearing in five different spearing houses. So, as you can see, it is more difficult than a hook and line.
We speared in 13 feet of water and could easily see to the bottom. Some local guys tried to spear in Lake Ocheda and could not see the bottom in 18 inches of water.
The spearing shack looks exactly the same on the outside as any regular fish house. The difference is on the inside.
In an angling shack, you take a gas ice auger and drill anywhere from two to six holes and start fishing. This takes about five minutes.
In a spearing shack, the hole is started with four ice auger holes in each corner and then the holes are connected with a long, specially-designed ice saw that is powered by two strong arms.
When you are done, the spearing hole, which averages four feet-by-three feet in the houses we used, is completely open. Once the hole is cut, the ice has to be removed in large sections that are piled up outside near the house.
If this freezes over, it is a lot more work to re-open than just re-drilling a few holes. To be a spear fisherman, you really have to want to do it. Just getting ready to spear or moving a house to a new spot can be a two- to three-hour ordeal.
I think, if I researched the Internet enough, I could find someone who could tell me what kind of stretching exercises to do before I went spearing. You sit as close to hole as you can without falling in and bend your head down to look toward the bottom in hopes of seeing a fish.
After four hours of this on the first day, my neck was so sore I thought my head was going to fall off. If your luck is like mine every time you lean back to stretch the neck in the other direction, that is the instant the fish will enter and leave the spearing hole before you can throw the spear.
Spearers normally target northern pike for several reasons. Northern pikes are larger and can usually be decoyed.
We used some hand-carved decoys make by Kirk Schnitker. He has made and acquired hundreds of hand-carved and painted decoys in his long carving career.
A pike, on most occasions, will see the decoy and start creeping toward it. You see them at the edge of the hole and can get ready. When they get underneath your position, you can generally throw the spear almost straight down.
This is the method that connects the spear to the fish most often. Other times, they will, without any forewarning, rocket in and slam the decoy trying to eat it. This is a little more challenging, trying to get a spear into a moving target. It they hold on long enough to come to a rest contact percentage is improved.
On the days that we were there, we had a big cold front come through and the nighttime low temperature was almost 30 degrees lower than the day before. This put the brakes on hard for any chance of seeing numbers of pike.
In fact, over the entire week, only two pike were speared. The other fish that ended up on the end of the spear was called a Lake Whitefish. These are a really cool fish and are found in very few lakes in Minnesota.
Only lakes that are very deep and have very cold water can support this species. They are separable, but are much more difficult. They will see the decoy and come sliding in to check it out.
The difference is that they will never commit. When the get within ten feet of the decoy, they see that it is not on their menu and will immediately move on. For the most part, they won't even check up (hesitate) for even a second or two. Throwing a spear at a whitefish is almost always done while they are on the run.
Spearing a pike in the hole that hangs out for 30 seconds or more is easier than seeing a whitefish moving through, having to identify it and throwing the spear in only a second or two before they are out of eye sight.
One similarity, that spearing has to musky fishing, is that you have to be concentrating at all times, as the next moment might be the big strike on the end of your rod or the instant that the fish cruises through the spearing hole. If you drop your guard for even a second, you can miss the only opportunity of the entire day.
Far more whitefish were sighted than a spear was thrown at them. They would appear and disappear in less time than I could get ready and make the throwing attempt. It is an addicting pastime and almost everyone that does it is also a decoy carver.
I have a great teacher in Kirk Schnitker. My wife and I had a great learning experience from him. My wife threw the spear two times in a little over 10 minutes and missed by only inches each time. I tossed four times and tallied two fish for the effort.
Next week, I will share with you some information on the Minnesota gem called a Lake Whitefish. They are very unique in many ways.
I will also show you how to cook one when you find them. This receipt will work on other fish, as well.
I guess I need to by some carving tools, if spearing is in my future and it certainly is.
Scott Rall is The Daily Globe's outdoor columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.