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Spear Fishing Article, News Tribune - - - 2 messages. Showing 1 through 2.
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Joined 05/15/2005

sportsnut218's blogs, pictures and recent posts
Daily Subscription Msg 1 Posted: 11:10 PM 02/07/07 (CST)
Duluth news Tribune article

RAND RAPIDS — It’s 13 below zero outside. The ice on this lake north of Grand Rapids is expanding with metallic ricochets. The sound is like someone flapping huge sheets of aluminum.

But in his darkhouse spearing shack, “Duffy” Dufner of Grand Rapids is toasty. His propane-fired heater is cranked up, and he’s down to his street clothes.

Dufner, 75, stares into the milky green depths through a hole in the ice three feet square. Beside him, leaning against the wall, is his trusty spear. Its handle is tethered to a piece of cord that’s attached to the shack’s wall.

A jolly and affable guy, Dufner had been saying earlier that he knows a man who sits in his darkhouse just to watch the northern pike come through.

“He doesn’t even take a spear,” Dufner said. “I could never do that.”

Dufner intends to spear a northern or two or three on this January morning. That’s his limit — three — and only one of them can be longer than 30 inches. He’s been having a good winter. His largest pike was a 17-pounder, and he’s taken plenty of others. He fries them. Or he smokes them. Or his wife, Flossie, pickles them.

He’s staring into 10 feet of water this morning. About five feet down, Dufner has suspended a 9-inch live sucker and a red-and-white wooden fish decoy. The purpose of both is to attract the attention of a hungry northern pike.

Wait. Here comes one now. It’s angling in from the southwest, headed for the sucker. It’s a forest green dirigible. With a quick swipe, it snatches the sucker and moves out of the hole.

Dufner, who has been spearing since he was 13, has seen this trick before. Slowly, he pulls on the cord from which the sucker is suspended. The northern holds onto its prey. Within a few seconds, the northern is back in the hole. With a quick shove, Dufner launches the spear. It catches the pike, about a 4-pounder, just behind mid-back. The fish struggles, but the long, barbed tines of the spear hold.

“Got that puppy!” Dufner says.

He lifts the writhing pike out of the water and pushes the shack’s door open. In a cloud of condensation, Dufner thrusts the fish out the door. He steps outside to kick it free of the spear and kill it.

That’s one.


Spearing has grown easier for Dufner since his childhood, when he lived near St. Cloud, Minn.

“My dad never had a car,” he says. “We walked 2½ miles to Birch Lake with a sack of wood on our backs.”

The wood was for the shack’s woodstove. If Dufner was lucky enough to spear a couple of pike, he had to carry them the 2½ miles home.

Now he drives his pickup to the door of his shack, on a lake that must remain nameless. About 10 or 12 other spearing shacks dot the lake’s frozen surface. The ice is about 2 feet thick.

Spearing season opened Dec. 1, but because of poor ice conditions earlier, most shacks didn’t go out until early January.

We sit in the shack, hoping that another northern comes to visit. It’s oddly mesmerizing, staring down into the depths. It’s a little like being perched on the edge of a very large aquarium.

Bill McLaughlin of Grand Rapids, president of the Itasca County Darkhouse and Winter Angling Association, took his grandson out spearing as a 5-year-old.

“He said, ‘Grandpa, this is like watching TV,’” McLaughlin said. And the youngster added, “The only bad thing is, you can’t change channels.”

We trade stories in the dark. Dufner said his son asked him why he didn’t listen to a radio while he speared.

“I said, the wind and the snow blowing up against the house — that’s my radio,” Dufner said.

A predictable reply from a deer hunter who, with his brothers, still hunts from a tent camp each fall. Dufner wants to be as close to the outdoors as he can get.

Now another modest northern cruises in, angling for the sucker. Dufner slips the tines of the spear just into the water, avoiding the splash that would spook the fish. Standing, poised to send the spear, he looks just like the early humans that speared fish and game to survive. Now he sends the spear. His aim is true.

“I got him!” Dufner says, happy as a child.

That’s two.


We watch the hazy green television channel for another couple of hours. A few sunfish wiggle through, down deep. A bass or crappie fins past the decoy.

It is strangely satisfying, staring into this soft green light. The water has been intermittently murky this winter, Dufner says. That’s probably because the snow cover has been scant, allowing more light to penetrate the water, spurring algae and zooplankton growth, said Chris Kavanaugh, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at Grand Rapids.

Certainly, part of the appeal of this sport is the potential for a pike to appear at any second. In that way, Dufner said, it is much like deer hunting. Only warmer.

As humans, we are afforded few opportunities to see a wild creature moving and feeding in its natural setting. An occasional deer or moose, maybe. But fish, rarely. It is a treat to watch these northerns stalking the hapless sucker. Some pike come deliberately, as if they fear nothing. Others, perhaps hungrier or less secure, come knifing in on a mission.

You can imagine a spearer Bill McLaughlin spoke of, who watched a 30-plus-pound pike for 35 minutes in his shack one day. The fish left and returned later to harass the decoy for another 20 minutes, McLaughlin said. The man never threw his spear.

But Dufner is not here for recreational pike-watching. So when a 14-pounder comes skulking in from the east, Dufner doesn’t hesitate. With the skill honed by 62 years of experience, he sends the spear to its mark, just behind the neck of the fish.

He lifts it from the water, impaled on the tines. The pike hangs on the spear, its huge jaws agape, its body twisting in protest. The fish is primitive and menacing and wild.

“You’re looking at a 12-pounder,” Dufner says, but a scale later will prove him too modest.

It weighs 14 pounds and measures more than 35 inches long.

Outside, in the white light, Dufner removes the fish from his spear and loads the pike in his truck with the others. He’s a happy man. He has his limit of pike.

And he doesn’t have to carry them home on his back.

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Spear Fishing Article, News Tribune - - - 2 messages. Showing 1 through 2.
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