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Trip leaves me wondering

The Outdoors
Lead Summary
Scott Rall, outdoors columnist

I just got back from a few days in northeast South Dakota from a pike spearing trip. I had been to the location last year, and the group I was with had probably the best spearing trip they will ever have. There were large numbers of pike, and the average size was very good.
I am not the kind of spear anger may other folks are. I think that once you have speared a pike in the 40–42-inch range, there is really no reason to ever kill another one. In my group a pike over 40 inches is a fish to be mounted, and the only way we would harvest another giant is if it beat the person’s personal best.
I have never speared a 40-incher but have several in the 36-38-inch range. This trip was nothing like the last one. We saw fish and harvested numbers of them, but they were all a lot smaller overall than last year. We took enough fish home to keep my elderly parents in a few meals of fish, but there was certainly no stocking up a freezer enough to last until next spearing season.
This lake is a very well known location, and the success rates in one end of the lake were very high. I would have guessed that there were more than a thousand people on this water body, all within about 80 acres of space. I opted for the quiet and undisturbed spot on the lake. I figured all of the traffic and commotion would make the fishing more difficult.
I set up about 6 miles away from the crowd and opened my first spear hole in about 24 inches of ice. I used my new 40-volt StrikeMaster battery-operated ice auger for the effort. I can say that you are able to drill about 34-36 holes with one charge. It takes about that many drills to open two holes 2 feet wide and about 4 feet long. I had rented a spear house from a local outfitter, and it was set up with two holes in the house. Normally they have one larger hole in the middle that is shared by both occupants. Drilling two smaller holes instead of one larger one was far more work.
I was working on the first hole of the first day and ran into big trouble. The area must have had some really high winds before the snow fell, and it had blown a bunch of sand and gravel unto the ice. There was no way to see it with 12-14 inches of snow stacked up on the ice. I ran my auger bit into that sand, and in about 4 inches it had dulled the blades on the auger to the point there was no way to ever drill another hole with my unit. It was dead in the water.
We moved to a different spot in order to dodge the debris and used the only other auger in my group to finish the job.  Luckily for me we reached out to the outfitter and they had an employee that was headed our way and he stopped in a town about 40 miles away and picked me up two new sets. I will never leave on a trip like this again without backup blades.
Lesson learned by me on this trip. We saw fish over the 2 1/2 days and never even got close to the daily possession limit. On the other hand, the location that looked more like Valley Fair in Shakopee, Minnesota, was a booming spot. I cannot for the life of me figure out how this area with tons of truck traffic and people drilling holes every 5 minutes all day long still had high numbers of fish in only 5 feet of water. It just goes to show that when you think you have it all figured out, you are proven to be a complete amateur.
The other house in my party set up within 40 yards of use and had better luck but not near like the carnival area 6 miles to our north. We moved our house three more times that trip and were never more than 40 yards from our partners, and even with lots of effort expended, we did only about 50 percent of what they speared.
It is a mystery to me how this happens. I used an underwater camera to see if they were on something different or unique, but it was for all practical purposes just a flat, clear bottom. I saw nothing different between what they were doing and what we were doing, and the lake bottom looked exactly the same.
It was still a quality outing, but it became completely clear as to why spearing is not all that popular a pastime. It takes good equipment and lots of effort to set and move a house. Regular ice angling is much, much easier.
There is nothing like watching a northern pike come cruising into your hole.  I equate it to whitetail deer hunting with a bow. Long periods with no action and then all of a sudden your quarry is right on top of you. It is this suspense that will keep me in a spear shack until I am no longer physically capable of doing the setup. Only time will tell when that will be.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at or on Twitter @habitat champion.

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