Excerpt from Oshkosh Public Museum
Summer 2006, Volume XVIII, Number 2
A BRIEF HISTORY OF ICE SPEAR FISHING ON THE FOX RIVER
AND ITS TRIBUTARIES IN EAST CENTRAL WISCONSIN by Ron Deiss
Ice spear fishing has remained virtually unchanged since antiquity when Native Americans discovered that certain fish could be decoyed within range of their spear. Ice spear fishing has been a long standing tradition on the frozen lakes of the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions. This winter activity requires a shelter over a very large hole cut through the ice to open water, a spear, and a fish-shaped decoy. A shelter (blankets, tepee, darkhouse, etc) is moved over the hole and the water is illuminated by sunlight that penetrates the outlying snow and ice. The contrast between the shelter's dark interior and the illuminated water enhances visibility for decoying and spearing.
Early decoys were made from heavy materials that sink, such as mussel shell or bone. Later, decoys were carved from wood and weighted with lead ballast to counterweight the buoyancy. When decoying, one end of a line is attached to ajigging stick (a small pole) and the opposite end of the line is tied to the decoy. The decoy is alternatively allowed to sink and then pulled up with the jigging stick (jigging). The best decoys for jigging have a slightly curved body balanced with lead, so that jigging produces a forward spiral path to mimic a swimming fish.
Typical spears are made of wrought steel, then weighted and balanced. Opposite the long handle is the head with multiple tines finished with barbed points. Within the darkhouse the spear is at rest with the head in the water and when in use moved directly above the decoyed fish. With a thrusting motion, the spear is aimed directly behind the fish's head, perpendicular to the spine. The impaled fish is secured in place on the tines by the barbs. The end of the spear handle is tethered to the darkhouse floor, and the rope is used to retrieve the speared fish through the ice hole.
..... More is available from the magazine - a great article written by
Ron Deiss, CEMVR-PM-A
Rock Island District Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 2004
Clock Tower Building
Rock Island, Illinois 61204-2004