The Dark House Experience
by Paul Rohweller
As another season comes to a close I am reminded how fortunate we in Minnesota are, to have the outdoor opportunities we do. Hunting, snowmobiling, angling and one of my favorite winter pastimes, sitting in the spearhouse.
At the ripe old age of 4 my dad would grudgingly take me along all bundled up as per moms instruction. Bouncing across the lake on the old bubble nosed skidoo we soon arrived at the portal to another world.
Upon arrival the first item of importance was getting the old reeves airtight woodstove fired up, newspapers, some kindling, freshly split red oak and fuel oil all added up to make a really toasty fire and an odor that still sticks in my memory.
The next task was opening up the hole. Dad had a really nice cold rolled ice chisel that he forged in the woodstove at home, it was always razor sharp. While he made short work of opening up the hole I would explore the shoreline looking at all the tracks from the animals and birds, by the time I would get cold his work was usually done and I would head in to join him.
The greater majority of our equipment was made at home. Decoy carving is now being passed on to a fourth generation of our family, grandpa is proud to be teaching his oldest grand daughter the fading art of whittling a working wood spear decoy.
She is a good student. Bright orange, green with white spots, red and white all are productive colors as the have been for decades. I still carve them when the urge strikes me.
After we were all settled in our seats the action would start. Little hammer handles would chase the decoy around and sometimes grab it and try to get away with their prize, dad would pull it away from them, sometimes they would come back often times not.
Perch hanging around the bottom of the hole were always a welcome sign and something else to watch when it was slow. If they scattered something big was about to happen!
Dad would whisper "look at that" as a large northern would cruise in and take a look at the offering.
In the late evenings if you were really lucky you would see a walleye, usually just a dark shape with a bright white tipped tail hugging the bottom looking for a straggling perch.
I grew to admire the grace and ease the fish had while swimming through the hole. In those quiet confines I learned the ways of fish behavior. It became a place to think and reflect.
As the years fly past I am extremely grateful to have had this unique learning experience. Being able to see how the fish react to things, long before the advent of the underwater camera and all the modern gadgets we have now.
For me it still remains a simple sport, unspoiled by modern ways, just you and the fish.
New things have been added for convenience and propane stoves are taking the place of wood burners.
This year we added an ice saw from fishes sporting toys in Winger MN, I wonder why we did it the hard way for so long. What a labor saver!
Good decoy suckers are still available in the better bait shops in the area. We found ours at County 6 Bait and Amoco in Detroit Lakes this season. They always seem to have the nicest variety there.
Looking back at the past thirty years I realize what it's all about.
Family, friends and passing along the skills that will be lost if things keep going the way they are.
We still take one on occasion to eat but that's just a piece of the big picture.
If you have never had the chance to try darkhouse fishing you are missing out on a great pastime and learning experience.
Have fun and be safe!
Pine to Prairie Guide Service (218)962-3387