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Ice Spearing | Darkhouse Spearing Tips & Gear (2021)

Ice Spearing | Darkhouse Spearing Tips & Gear (2021)
February 11, 2021

Ice spearing is a sport that has been passed down for generations! Ice spearing, commonly referred to as darkhouse spearing, is where fishing and bowhunting hunting from a tree stand combine. Mark Norquist from Modern Carnivore came to Gearbox Talk to explain what darkhouse spearing is, how to choose a good spear, how to approach decoy selection—yes, they’re decoys not lures, managing the ice and accessing the water, and lastly Mark and Brad talk about food, because Mark is the Modern Carnivore!

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Gear Mentioned:
Fish’s ice saws
Trophy Strike Auger
Ion Auger (lime green)
Ice Tongs
Lakco Ice Spear
Wild Caught and Close to Home: Selecting and Preparing Great Lakes Whitefish
Stealth Spearfisher Thermal Hub

Show Notes:


Brad: have you ever heard of dark house spearing you may be inclined to think of an apocalyptic hero and this is his lone survival tactic it's not it's spear fishing over ice in a fish house and it's dark but it's actually awesome today I have Mark norquist on the show to talk all about dark house fishing this is actually one of my favorite things we've ever talked about on the show because I learned so much in this episode mark's going to tell us all the ins and outs including first what is dark house spearing how to choose a good spear decoy selection and yes they're decoys not lures managing the ice and accessing the water and we talk about food because after all Mark is the modern carnivore if you love learning about new gear and tactics like this hit subscribe and also text the show to a buddy to share it with them all right grab your spear and shut off the lights we're talking dark house spearing this is gearbox talk with Mark norquist


mark norquist from modern carnivore how's it going man

Mark: going great Brad

Brad: dude I'm excited to dive straight into this and dive we shall you ready

Mark: I'm ready

Brad: all right dude I didn't even know about this until a few weeks ago when you're like hey I was on meat eater here's the episode and I'm looking at you with this like you look like a warrior with the spear and this this awesome saw that you've got for the ice you got to tell me dude just what is dark house spearing

Mark: so dark house spearing is an activity you do in the winter here in the north so northern regions of the other country that goes back to ancient traditions it's really the first type of fishing there was which is spearing a fish and so you're you're basically cutting a hole in the ice about two feet by three feet on average and you're putting a structure over it to block out the light and then you're going in there with a little decoy on a on a stick and you're in you're working it down through the water column to create curiosity of a big fish big predator fish and then when it comes in you're hopefully getting them with a spear

Brad: all right why why is it called dark house fishing

Mark: okay really good that's that's a great question so

Brad: that's the most bizarre part of it to me I was like well spearing i've heard of i've done some spear fishing saltwater but I mean I could get that part of it but this this was the first thing I was like what what is it called

Mark: this is the interesting aspect and the fun of it which is you are using either a portable or a permanent structure to go over the hole and over you which is a fishing shanty you know your typical angling shanty or or fish house is going is not going to have light blocked out because you're just cutting a small six or eight inch round hole and you're jigging down it to try to hook a fish traditionally for spearing you want to get all the light out and what that's going to do is that's going to allow your eyes to adjust it's going to create a a a very transparent perspective from the from the underwater column standpoint where they're not going to see up and you are going to have basically a tv screen in front of you which is a square hole in the ice peering down into the water and your eyes adjust to that darkness and it's just this bright screen and you're waiting for that fish to come in much it's much more like hunting than it is fishing to be honest

Brad: all right impromptu question here as I always do are you having to find a place like are the fish typically more top water because you're spearing you can't go too deep here are are you having to coordinate that on your setup or or are they these predators generally more open to coming up to the top within range

Mark: so where I'm generally spearing is in anywhere from five to ten feet of water okay so so so the the bottom of the lake is is five to 10 feet below I do know of people who say that they go after big northern pike in very deep water 50 60 foot depths because they're saying that that the that the big pike are trolling through those types of areas i've never done that I'm generally having these fish come in anywhere from right below the surface or right below the ice to mid column to down closer to the bottom so they're working all through that area

Brad: okay cool let's talk a little bit about the setup what kind of gear is involved in in darkhouse spearing

Mark: yeah so first thing is you're gonna get out on the ice once you figure out zero in on where you're gonna go you need to cut that hole and that can be done a few different ways we used to usually use a chainsaw but you got to be careful and make sure you dry it off after otherwise you're going to rust it out completely use a chainsaw to cut a square hole in the ice what i've been doing the last couple years is using an ice auger to punch four or six holes in the ice which are the corners of the square of your house and then one in the middle on each side and then using an eye saw to cut a square to connect those holes cut one down the middle now you got two two nice sized blocks now it gets into methodology either you push them under the ice and shove them back or you pull them out and set them on top while you're spearing i've traditionally pulled them out I don't have I don't have my auger or my saw with me here today they're pretty big items and I couldn't bring them into the room but it's i've got pictures out we actually did a post on the modern carnival blog recently highlighting this old guy in northern minnesota called fish who makes fish's ice saws and he's one of the original guys that doing this ice saw

Brad: it's pretty cool to see yeah that thing was wicked looking too when you pull it out it's like some kind of medieval weapon that you that yeah for a kentucky guy I haven't needed one of those so that thing looks a little crazy when you pulled it out on the show our audience watches this show and they're looking for guidance on what to buy what what ice auger do you prefer do you have a brand and a model that you like

Mark: you know I I'm using one right now called a trophy hunter which is I don't know exactly that I don't know a whole lot about the company the big one that's being used right now is ion and I know a lot a lot of people are buying those they're they're they're green they're lime green we've got a great you know we got some great auger companies some fishing companies here in minnesota between rappler who owns the strike strike master to the jiffys and others so there's a whole bunch of them out there they basically come down into either combustion engine that's going to be gasoline or propane powered or the new lithium ions and things are pro are very rapidly progressing to the lithium ions I just got mine last year for the first time and it's wonderful

Brad: yeah I thought the one you were using in the show sounded like it was a electric auger

Mark: yeah that one was actually so that was an ion that we used that we use in that show and very similar the trophy hunter that i've been using this year very very similar to that again just a really quiet consistent you don't have the exhaust you know when you're when you're cutting holes in in a in a nice fish house like an ice castle for angling which is more like you know it's a sleeping quarters you don't have that that gas smell that's going to hang around in there so

Brad: it makes a lot of sense all right get you get your hole cut what's next

Mark: get your hole cut next thing is you got to scoop out the ice and so a lot of guys have shovels or this is a custom-made ice scoop and it's got some pretty interesting designs on the holes if you look at that

Brad: yeah that's like custom fabricated for you that's not like I took a dust pan and made this myself

Mark: exactly so this is you're gonna so you got the hole cut now you're gonna be able to take this and scoop out the ice and strain it out so you get that done you're then going to oh you know what here's another item to get those chunks of ice out you gotta have tongs here's the big boys so these these are these are the ice tongs that you're gonna it's like a classic tongs that were used in the old days for for ice that was harvested for for refrigeration these are pretty nice these are these are really sturdy they're pretty heavy but they help look heavy lift up those those blocks of ice yeah so you got that done you got the hole cleaned out now you're just going to get your house on top and it could be either a permanent structure which could be made out of plywood that's generally going to be homemade or you're going to do a pop-up hub I have I have one this year from clam corporation called the the the spear fisher that is awesome it's it's their first it's their first house that's that's completely darkened out and designed to be a blackening environment inside so you can see down that hole really well so know

Brad: more room on the top like do you have more room on those because I mean imagine you're kind of you you need more elevation above you than if you're just traditional ice fishing right

Mark: right exactly so you do and so do you have to have that no so like the hub i've got it is I think it's around seven feet high but you are sitting down and so you're sitting down in the ice house peering over the hole directly over the hole and so like this here's here's a spear here of mine this is the only quote-unquote new manufactured one i've i've gotten otherwise the rest that I spear with are old school ones that were made by craftsmen back you know 50 75 years ago this one as you can see you know it's it's it's about you know five and a half feet tall and and so it can easily fit in in the house we were we were spearing a few weeks ago up in the superior national forest up in northern minnesota with it with a friend and he he has a hub that's actually really small and he also has a custom-made spear that breaks down and then it it's it's a lot shorter and so he can he can be very ultra light in his setup and he's able to to fit it in there

Brad: nice nice okay okay cool and I know we're going to talk about the decoys here I think this is like a whole conversation in itself right

Mark: it is well here so you set up you got the spear so here's here's a spear and like I said the thing about this about this activity is there isn't a ton of industry around it there are some some companies that manufacture spears but not many and then there's a lot of artisans which is really cool you can go out there and online you'll see things but like the key is how this is structurally made this is actually a stainless steel sphere manufactured and the key is to look at the tines how is it manufactured a lot of them are are stamped metal versus actually metal worked by by a blacksmith so there's a lot of different ways the spears can be manufactured and there's a whole host of opinions out there on what's good and what isn't

Brad: is that weighted at the bottom or is that that structural girth as it kind of comes to a head

Mark: so that is a really good question so it is weighted down here and that is intentionally why that is made that way and this to be honest I bought this spear about a year and a half ago two years ago and I used it the other day for the first time and I was curious about it because I was I was a little bit worried that as as to how it was going to throw and you want it to throw really well and the waiting is key and I was really happy with how it did

Brad: what brand is that

Mark: this one it actually doesn't even have a brand that I know of on it like literally there's no name I bought it online I was looking for to add a new spear for new spears to use and couldn't find a whole lot and this one it's called if you look for it online it's called the amish spear like amish spear now who actually is making it I'm not sure

Brad: you can't comment as to whether or not it was actually the amish that made that spear nice okay look does it make sense to go to decoys next

Mark: yeah sure you want here no here's one other thing then you got you got to have the important kid shovel the kids shovel I always have along so you can you can bank up your your your structure and keep all the light out so you get a lot of the snow and you put it up around the skirt on the outside of the hub and that's going to help you nice keep the light up so yes let's go to let's go to okay so this is the box that was in that video you saw yep and this this is this is my my dad's box that my brothers and I share so what you've got is you've got a jig stick a little bit tangled up here and this is you know again you could buy a manufactured one I think i've got one here somewhere here it is


small small manufacturing by a guy up north that he makes these nice nice ergonomic trigger handle where you're going to basically have the line go through it and then it's going to come down and you're going to have your your your decoy on there okay is that I can't tell on the video is that line that's spooled around it looks like he's got that in the design too exactly so it's gonna come up out of the hole here go through the eyelets and then it's gonna you're gonna wrap it around so when you're finished you're gonna take it and you're just gonna wrap it around there about as simple as it gets this one my brother made for me and gave it to me as a christmas present years ago you make them all like some type of you know like window shade spindles or something like that but then you got the old cigar box here oh yeah with

Brad: I love the home brewed equipment

Mark: yeah so like here is and of course I didn't bring my box with the new decoys but here's here's some I'll show you so like here's a classic this one right here this one is your typical decoy so handmade balsa wood fins made out of tin artisans over the years have made them out of tin cans they've gone and bought sheets of metal cut out the fins filled the bottom with lead for weight like this is

Brad: I was going to ask how how do you make this sink

Mark: it's a pretty this one is hefty and then the interesting thing I don't know if this camera is good enough to see there's right back here this one actually has had has deer hair on it yeah I can't see that and and you don't see those too often nowadays but that's that's that was utilized leather and and and deer here was often used by old classic decoys decoy makers and then you know you've got modern ones that are that are more like this

Brad: I was gonna ask because you mentioned that the market's small for it I was kind of curious how like how much modern tackle there is for this

Mark: very little yeah very little and that's that's the part of it that I think is is sort of fun yeah it's kind of cool you got all

Brad: like I said you got all this home brewed gear and and you know I think it's cooler to that that you've you've got your you know whether it's your jigging sticks or or your your tackle here that's homemade you got like deer hair that some guy set down and you know individually put that into this this thing that's really cool yeah I mean these are these are all decoys that that were my dad's my grandfather's handed down I'm sure some of them were made by my father I don't know exactly he passed away years ago but you know you look at you look at something like this it's it was halfway made and never completed this one here my my younger brother actually got into decoy making years ago and that's that's the thing all of the artists do is they they put their put their initials or their names on that's cool and so yeah it's it's pretty fun

Brad: yeah it's I keep calling them lures or tackle but it's decoys right it's it's not necessarily the same is there a nuance there I mean that terminology alone it's all I mean is it is it because it's a distraction as you're trying to spear and or you're luring them in though I mean it is like a lure

Mark: no so absolutely so so I primarily primarily go after two two species here in minnesota you can you can darkhouse spear northern pike lake whitefish and rough fish and generally going after pike and and whitefish and the northern pike definitely come in and are lured in you are decoying them in you're just trying to get them to come in and take a look and see what's going on I put a video out on instagram the other day because I still am on instagram unfortunately but I'll i'll put it up or send you a link you can so people can see it and it's just an image of me jigging this new decoy and and a northern pike comes in and just smacks it and and so in that case you know you you've decoyed it in it's it's coming it's actually hit it other times they just come in very slow and then with whitefish a lot of times you're just trying to get their curiosity because they're primarily eating they're bottom feeding they're eating small things and so a lot of people think white is a is a very is a very common or a very attractive color to them and so you're just trying to get them to come in and take a look so most of the time whitefish are just passing through they're passing through on the lower part of the water column

Brad: what are the nuances in in your decoys are there I mean those those are there's a lot of variety in the boxes there as you're going through those you mentioned color but I noticed a variety of differences in those as you were going through I mean size was obviously pretty significantly different in some of those can you talk through some of the other things to keep in mind with your decoy setup

Mark: yeah you know and it really I would say comes down to personal preference so you look you look at these two here pretty pretty dramatically different size okay so now you could take even another so we just put a post out this morning I mentioned to you on the on modcarn.com john kachorick who's doing this whole hard water hunter series with me this year his favorite decoy is a bruel decoy that was the bruce and helen I believe are their names they combined it the couple that that made these custom years ago his is I think it's a 14 inch decoy so double the size of this one and so everybody's got a personal preference on what they think works and I think it's it's like anything with the outdoors and with fishing hunting do what works but but at the end of the day most spearers are changing it up frequently throughout the day as some people really love the aspect of decoys and making decoys and then putting new ones down throughout the day and seeing which is which is going to bring them in let's change something out let's change it up

Brad: how much movement are you putting on this I mean I know with you know cold weather fishing a lot of times it's slower retrieve you're not doing as much movement talk a little bit about your technique and and how you're using the decoy rather it's not just a dunk it in there you you are putting some motion to it can you talk through that

Mark: yeah absolutely again personal preference some people will use a stationary thing to to hold on the top of their house and then run a line down and not have a jig stick like this example other people are are only going to use a jig sticks they're they have in their hand at all times so they're ready to to to jig it around as needed generally speaking what I would say in my method is I'm just periodically using the jig stick to swim that bait around or that decoy around the hole like this and then you're gonna let it sit and let it sit calmly and what you'll find is on that video you'll find I was jigging and I believe on that one I let it sit and as soon as I as I let it sit that's when the northern came in and and hit it it's it's different in all scenarios but I think most people on average are are jigging you know maybe you're jigging for 20 seconds and then you're letting it sit for a couple minutes and then if you're finding that you're not seeing a whole lot what i've found to be successful also is to do to do dramatic jigging where you're going to take this and you're going to really swing it up so you're getting that decoy to go from the bottom of the water column up to the top and you're causing disturbances which is going to hit that lateral line of that fish and cause them to to be curious and maybe turn you're also in that situation sometimes bringing in other other forage fish you'll see minnows perch are coming in sometimes after after you're doing that dramatic jigging so it varies

Brad: you're really committing to a spot with this setup I mean just to get started seems like a lot of work how much that to me I'm after everything i've learned in our little 20 or 30 minutes here whatever it's been to me that's what I'm like the foundational knowledge seems like it would be on knowing where to set up where these fish are are typically active or or would they come a long way if they see a decoy Marl: yeah you know it you know they'll come a certain distance all depends on what's the water clarity what's the what's the structure you're in you know so last weekend I was out john and I were out on saturday we were in the dark house for I want to say you know seven eight hours and we did not even see a perch or a minnow come through it's dead nothing sunday moved set up on this different area I was talking about with my younger brother who made those decoys who knows this lake pretty well and he said you know what why don't there's these two points out on this edge of this bay where we're at and it's really sanding comes up shallow in this section maybe check that out so we went out we found this spot that was around seven feet is what we wanted to target in between some two deeper waters and that's what I often times find as a good place and we set up there and started seeing fish right away that morning and so you are that is that is the that is the limitation of this style of fishing some people there they're historically over the last 20 30 years has been some controversy here in minnesota we've got we've got a big community of northern pikes fishermen big community of muskie fishermen and and also a very healthy group of of dark house spearers and there's sometimes been a feeling that dark house spears are taking too many of these big fish and I think there there's there's a certain point that that that the musky guys and the and the northern pike anglers have however there are a lot of there's so many different variables at play you are stuck in one place like in this case you go a whole day you can't move you know you could move but it's it's a pretty big production to take down

Brad: right I mean that's what I was thinking I mean it's kind of like the fishing fishing's version of a tree stand it's like I could be my climber but I'm not I mean I'm stuck totally

Mark: and that's and that is where the analogy why we've got this hard water hunters theme is is so appropriate it is it's it's more akin to bow hunting out of a stand than just about any other outdoor activity yeah and once you commit to it you can move yeah absolutely you can but it's it's it's a lot of work

Brad: it's funny man no matter what you're doing you always feel like the other guys they're taking too much it's like ah you know if you're if you're a compound bow guy you're like those crossbow hunters they're just out here wreaking havoc all right last question man I wanted to ask you about was just you know for whatever species you want to call out here what's your favorite way what's your favorite fish recipe

Mark: oh man I love I mean I love smoked white fish I love a classic fish fry yeah but I just made the other night something that is one of my new favorites and go-to's it's a little bit involved I made a fish stock out of the carcass

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