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Scott Rall: You gotta love a spirited debate

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

Life without controversy must mean you have a straight line and a steady tone on the EKG machine. I just returned from a few days up north at Cross Lake. I went spearing for northern pike and whitefish.

For the record, I got skunked.

I really like this sport but have not done it enough to consider myself any good at it. In all, I have spent maybe 10 days in a spear house and after I have spent 100 I will have had enough experience to consider myself a spearer.

The first thing that caught my attention on this trip was when I went to purchase a license. It was only $6 and not the $26 I paid last year. I asked the store clerk why this was and she had no idea, so I searched further and got an answer from a knowledgeable spearer.

The Minnesota Dark House Association was the key to the change. They asked the Minnesota Legislature why there was a special spearing license that had to be purchased. There is not a special license required to ice fish. There is not a special license required to fly fish. A general angling license allowed many different methods of fishing during different times of the year with an exception of spear fishing. Why was spear fishing singled out for extra license costs when no other kinds of fishing were? It appeared that nobody had a good answer as to why spear fishing was singled out and the fee was reduced to $6. This is far more equal, but $6 is still more than other types of anglers pay.

The controversy that I listened to over the weekend was the talk that spearers kill all of the large northern pike. Spearers get blamed for all kinds of things, and for the angler that knows only rod and reel summer angling, many of the claims seem legit on their surface. Spearers can and do take big pike.

They see a fish and determine if it is one they want to try to take. I looked at a pike in my hole and determined he was too small and I passed on my shot of the weekend. The other guy in the house told me that the pike I thought was 20 inches long was really 26 inches long and this was the perfect one to harvest.

I passed on the best opportunity of the weekend because my size assessment was off. Spearers can pick and choose and this allows for selective harvest.

The reason that spearers, in my opinion, do not harvest all of the big pike is that spearing is hard. We had five guys that speared for an entire week (I was there for two days) and the total for the week was five pike and four whitefish. This is about one-third of a fish per person per day. We could have speared more fish if small fish were on the table and a few very big fish were passed on as well.

Dedicated spearers would rather see lots of big fish each day and harvest a few mid-size fish to eat. Seeing big fish is the coolest part of spear fishing. Just like great dog work while pheasant hunting is best part of any hunting outing, the rooster in the bag that results is the icing on the cake. It is not all about the killing. Spearing has as much to do with seeing if you have the skills to get that big fish in close enough as it is sending a spear in to it.

Take it from me who has speared very few fish. If seeing them wasn’t the coolest part and harvesting was the most important, I would have given up this pastime long ago.

The other reason spearers don’t kill all the big northern is that aren’t enough of them. On the south end of Cross Lake there were only four other spear houses, and in the few days that I was there, they all went un-occupied. I think the number of spearing licensees sold in the state is about 18,000. It is my understanding that there were 1,198,000 general fishing licenses sold in Minnesota in 2012. These are tiny numbers in comparison.

The third reason I think that spearers are not killing all the large pike is the fact that ice fishermen use tip-ups account for far more pike harvested that spearers. Ice fishermen are allowed two tip-ups per person, and when you have 10 anglers in a group this equals 20 tip-ups spread over a very large area. Pike caught with a tip-up sometimes do not live even if released as live bait is most often used and pike have a tendency to take these baits deep in the throats.

I am not opposed to any form of angling as long as all participants act ethically, demonstrate good sportsmanship and respect the resource. All different forms of fishing have their place, and if you choose to use one or many different methods you just need to respect the resource for the benefit of all users you share the lake with.

In the end, there will always be a little finger-pointing between the different user groups as to who harvests the most big pike, but in the end there is room for all user groups. The best way to understand and appreciate the other user groups is to at least understand the harvest statistics and not listen to the bait shop talk. An informed decision based on accurate facts and figures makes for the best debates. There is nothing better than a good debate with folks armed with accurate information.

I don’t know if the facts will ever change the other user groups’ opinions as to who harvests the biggest pike, but it does make for good conversation over a cold adult beverage with friends.