Darkhouse spearfishing, also known as darkhouse or icehouse spearing is one the oldest forms of fishing. Although darkhouse spearfishing is now prohibited in most states, it was once common in the Great Lakes, New England, and parts of the Mid Atlantic region.
Darkhouse Spearfishing History
It is likely that early forms of darkhouse spearfishing were practiced long before the colonization of the Mid Atlantic region. Early explorers reported that native Americans harvested fish by laying under a blanket and spearing through a hole the ice.
By the later part of the 19th century, darkhouse spearfishing techniques had evolved considerably. Historical reports from the U.S. Fish Commission provide details about small-scale spear fisheries that once existed in the Great Lakes region, New York, Vermont, and other areas. Historical fisheries targeted musky and northern pike, although other species were occasionally taken.
Fishermen utilized a small hut or darkhouse, which as the name implies, was built to exclude virtually all exterior light sources. Although the space inside hut was darkened, The water below was illuminated by natural light which penetrated the surrounding ice.
Inside the hut, a rectangular hole was cut in the ice. Equipment was sparse, consisting of only essential clothing, a small stool, decoys, spear, line, and knife. While fishing, a multi-pronged spear was attached to a short line and kept within arm’s reach. To attract fish, fishermen sat or knelt above the hole and slowly jigged a wooden fish decoy.
When a fish came into view, the fisherman carefully took aim and launched the spear. Fishermen usually aimed for the back of the head, hoping to disable the fish quickly. If the strike was successful, the fish was hoisted up with the line and placed outside the hut on the ice.
Modern Darkhouse Spearfishing
Darkhouse spearfishing is allowed in a few U.S. states. Regulations vary from state to state, with most allowing the spearing of northern pike and rough fish.