Dark House Spearing: A Whitefish Tradition

A dark house on the Whitefish Chain from Heath's Resort. Photo courtesy of Heath's

While typical ice fishing gets most of the attention in the winter on the Whitefish Chain, dark house spearing is a whole other facet of ice fishing, and a tradition in its own right.

If you're unfamiliar, dark house spearing is as the name suggests- a small fish house with no windows sits over a hole in the ice, through which anglers spear fish as they are attracted to decoys in the water.

The holes cut for dark house spearing are much larger than typical ice fishing holes, usually cut in the ice with a chainsaw. Because the dark houses are, well, dark, the only light coming into the house comes from the hole, where light reflects in from the ice and the bottom of the lake.

While the lake may seem dormant in the winter to some, dark house spearing offers a window into the life below the surface. Dark house anglers watch as fish- sometimes huge fish- swim through their opening to the lake. Then, they strike. Northern pike and whitefish are popular targets.

"I've always said it's kind of like bow hunting," said David Heath, owner of Heath's resort.

Heath's Resort on Upper Whitefish has been offering dark house spearing for more than 75 years, and is one of the few resorts in the state that still offers the service. Heath's great grandfather purchased the land in 1897, and his grandfather started the resort in 1938. It's been a three-generation family business, well-known for dark house spearing.

Heath's Resort was even the inspiration for wildlife artist Les Kouba's famous dark house spearing trilogy of paintings. Kouba and his family had been coming to the resort since the 1940s.

Owner David Heath remembers staging the photo from which the first painting was created. It wasn't winter time, so Heath put one of the resort's dark houses up on blocks. He put two Sorel boots down in front of the hole in the floor of the house. His father took a mounted pike that his grandfather had speared off the wall and held it under the hole. Heath stood on the bench in the dark house and snapped a photo, then sent it to Kouba. Thus, the painting was born.

Titled "Darkhouse Spearing," Heath says that print was Kouba's best selling of all. Kouba went on to create the other two paintings in the series. Look closely at the first painting below and you'll see a familiar name!

Currently dark house spearing is in full swing at Heath's, with 12-14 inches of ice on the lake. Heath said the season got off to a bit of a late start due to late ice, but the fishing has been good. Heath's has 25 dark houses available to rent, as well as cozy winterized cabins. All the dark houses are heated and rental includes transportation to and from the house. If you've never done dark house spearing, it's a bucket list item!

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