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Scott Rall: The transitioning time of year

I got some responses about my Christmas list column last week.

Hopefully, some of those ideas will work for that special someone on your gift list.  When Christmas rolls around it is really kind of a transition time for the game fish and wildlife person in your life.

The holiday season marks the near end of the pheasant season in Minnesota.  The season closes on Jan. 1 and won’t open again for more than 10 months. This is why I try to get out as often as I can.

The season is going well and I will cap off the 2018 effort with one last trip to Leola, S.D., to spend some time with my favorite cousin, John Bender.  He is the director of the Natural Resource Conservation Service office in Leola. The NRCS is the implementation arm of the United States Department of Agriculture.

They are a family and friends close to the hunting season, and one I look forward to all year.

When the hunting guns are put away it is time to turn my attentions to other outdoor pursuits.  I used to be a pretty die-hard ice fisherman, but that intensity has declined over the years due to the fact that I like being cold a lot less as I get older. My ice fishing passions have been replaced by my new hobby, which is spearing.

Spearing fish is about as primitive an activity as you can participate in. It is a lot more work than ice angling but requires a lot less equipment. Ice anglers have hundreds of jigs and rods and ice houses that range anywhere from a pop-up portable to a 30K wheel shack that needs 12 inches of ice to hold it up and a side-by-side UTV to pull it. Many require a truck to move around.

Spearing, on the other hand, requires a portable shack, an ice auger, an ice saw and about a half dozen spearing decoys.

Cutting a hole in the ice is the biggest chore and probably the biggest reason not many folks spear anymore. Most holes in the ice are about two feet wide and three feet long.

It used to be very popular and still is the northern part of the state, but very little of it happens around here. The reason for that is that the water clarity in southwest Minnesota lakes is so poor that you cannot see into the water far enough to see the fish.

I spear on Cross Lake right next to the town of Cross Lake, Minn.  That lake is 60 feet deep and we set up our spear houses in about 12 feet of water.  You can clearly see to the bottom 12 feet down.

A friend of mine went over to South Heron Lake a few days ago and drilled a hole. He lowered down a spearing decoy and could not even see the decoy 12 inches under water. With water clarity this bad, there is no way to successfully spear a fish.

There are only a few species of fish that you spear. Northern pike are the most sought-after but white fish, eelpout and a few others are legal to knock in the head with a spear.

Lake Ocheda used to be a great spearing lake, and it might be again soon. The lake has nice pike in it, but there are also a million pounds of carp in there stirring up the bottom, so water clarity is pretty bad most of the time. When the watershed gets the draw-down completed and the carp are killed, the lake should have great water clarity to allow spearers a good chance at a pike.

The pike will need to be re-stocked after the draw-down and it will take a few years for them to grow to a size that would make them legal to keep, but at least there is a light at the end of that tunnel.

When you finish the hole-cutting preparations and have your house set up over the spear hole, it just turns into a waiting game. A decoy is lowered into the water, which is designed to coax the fish into swimming near it to see what it is.  That is when you have the chance to throw a spear.

Spearing has been equated to bowhunting for deer. You set up, sit really still, make no noise and hope the big one walks or swims by.

Both require that you hunt in a spot that has the potential for a big one and have permission to be there.  Permission to hunt big pike is much easier to get than permission to hunt a big buck.

Some days you will see many fish and on other days you don’t see even one. I guided a gentleman by the name of Ron Parks on a pheasant hunt about six weeks ago and as a thank you he carved me two original pike spearing decoys.  They are both beautiful, and if the water conditions allow, I will dip them in a pond in southwest Minnesota as soon as the ice conditions allow.

Transitioning from hunting pheasants to hunting pike is a New Year’s tradition. It is one that you should start if you really like a challenge.