Special Report: Outdoor Options 2
Dark House Spearing, Hunting for Northerns
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When the lakes and ponds are frozen across the Northland, ice fishing season can begin.
But on some lakes, ice fishing gets a little bit more primitive.
In a dark house – armed with a spear – and the patience that only hunters can appreciate, there are people who enjoy a different kind of winter sport.
As spearfishing enthusiast Cody Graupmann describes it, dark house spearing is “more of a hunting type of fishing.”
Graupmann has been sitting in dark houses waiting to spear northern pike on many days through the years.
“You get to choose the fish you want, instead of the fish always grabbing and you don’t get to see your fish normally when you’re ice fishing. In this aspect, you do,” he said.
The hole in the floor is like a window into the depth of the lake, and Cody is waiting for a northern to swim by.
When one does, he flicks the spear.
“It’s a lot like the ‘buck fever’ you always hear about with deer hunting,” Graupmann said. “You’re always waiting, you got a little bit of cold sometimes, and then out of nowhere you get that rush of excitement. You got the heart going, a little bit of nerves, then you stick the fish. You can see it hit the bottom, then as you’re pulling it up, you see how big it is. It’s an exhilarating experience.”
That experience has kept Graupmann’s friend Brandon Berndt, 30, coming back to the spear houses for more than 20 years.
“I used to go with my dad, at five-years-old,” Berndt said.
In spite of the quiet inside the spear house most of the time, Berndt says he also lives for the moments, however few and far between when a northern approaches his spot.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” he explains. “You can sit here and not see nothing for an amount of time and one will come in, and you about get buck fever in a spear house. Ain’t nothing like it!”
In his hole, Berndt has three types of lures that he works to attract hungry northern.
“I got a red and white artificial decoy that when I jig it it’ll sit there and swim in a circle,” he says, pulling on a line like a marionette puppeteer. “[I also have] a flasher that’s just a spoon that’s rigged up to a battery and sits down there and spins.”
He also has a live minnow that will swim around at a good spearing depth.
Inside, it’s dark and quiet. But outside, they are in one of several tiny spear houses, all at various depths, all with fishermen – or hunters – waiting for their own chance to spear a big northern.
There are no houses on Little Winnie. It’s actually quite isolated.
But those who enjoy it say it’s that isolation, that peace and quiet that attracts them to this sport.
“It’s kind of like being in Canada, but you’re not that far removed from the bigger cities like Duluth,” Cody said.
The lake where they go spearing is called Little Winnibigoshish, but Little Winnie is what locals call it, and the Little Winnie Resort is where people go to get setup for a full day of spearing.
The Little Winnie Resort has been the family business for the Graupmanns since 2000.
“Nature, just being there; a lot of times I like to think, ‘Who walked here before I did and what were they like and what did they do and how did they live?’ I thought that the whole time as I was remodeling the resort,” explains Shannon Graupmann, Cody’s mother and co-owner of the Little Winnie Resort.
The Little Winnie Resort allows people to rent a cabin to stay in while on their adventure to the lake.
For those who have enjoyed the sport of dark house spearing – just like any seasoned fishermen – they all have their stories of the biggest one they ever caught.
Brandon Berndt says his record is 16 pounds.
“That was something else,” he says, with a smile twisting on his lips. “It was lunch time and I’m sitting here eating a sandwich and it came through and never stopped. Then I went to put it down and about the time I said ‘Son of a gun I screwed up,’ here he came nice and slow underneath.”
Anticipating that next big catch, waiting for that adrenaline rush once again, that’s what keeps them coming back, year after year.
The spearfishing season will end on February 22.
It has a separate license from the state that comes with a $5 fee.
The season will pick back up in November.
The Little Winnie Resort does not advertise, but they say many people book vacations through their website.