Darkhouse spearfishing is an ancient form of ice fishing. In the USA, darkhouse spearfishing is practiced in several northern states, including Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota.
In North America, spearing fish through the ice was first practiced by Native Americans. Subsistence fishermen learned that fish could be attracted to holes in the ice with fish decoys. When a fish approached the decoy, it was speared and brought out through the ice. These early fishermen gained an advantage by laying under a cover, which provided shelter as well as concealing their presence to fish below.
By the early 1900’s, darkhouse spearfishing was common on lakes and rivers throughout the northern U.S. In some locations, the technique was known as “icehouse fishing”. Eventually, darkhouse spearfishing techniques found their way into small-scale commercial fisheries. According to U.S. Fish Commission reports from the period, commercial spearfishermen harvested northern pike, pickerel, muskellunge, and other species.
Little has changed over time in the sport of darkhouse spearfishing. Shelters vary, although nearly all designs emphasize the exclusion of outside light. Fishermen use multi-pronged spears, which are limited by state regulations. In most areas, hand-made wooden decoys still dominate the fishery.