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Pike spear pioneer

By MATT TUNSETH/Frontiersman
Published on Monday, December 17, 2007 8:40 PM AKST

WASILLA — A long-toothed leviathan prowls the icy waters of a frozen Alaska lake, stealthily searching for a quick meal. Suddenly, a promising flash appears nearby. The monster slips silently closer for a better look at what appears to be a tasty bait fish circling near the surface.

As the hunter moves closer, smaller fish scatter in its wake, making sure to stay far clear of the deadly rows of razor-sharp teeth.

Then, at the very moment the big fish moves in for the kill, something quite unexpected happens. Without warning, a heavy metal spear plunges into the icy water, striking the big pike just behind its slender, deadly head.   

ROBERT DeBERRY/Frontiersman Arrowhead Outfitters owner Howard Tieden talks about the use of lures and how Northern Pike respond to them at his Wasilla home Monday.

(Use arrows above to view more photos)


The hunter has become the prey.

Long a popular method for catching northern pike in waters of the Lower-48 and Canada, winter pike spearing has arrived in Alaska. And according to Wasilla hunting and fishing guide Howard Tieden, the Valley is home to some of the best spearing waters anywhere.

“We had 35-fish days last year,” Tieden said. “That’s a lot of fish.”

And they’re no minnows. Last winter, Tieden said he speared several fish that weighed in excess of 20 pounds. Considered an invasive species in much of Alaska, pike are considered a nuisance fish that threaten resident populations of trout and salmon. But where others see a problem, Tieden sees potential.

A pilot and guide, Tieden runs Arrowhead Outfitters, which operates fly-out pike trips within an hour of Wasilla. Along with fellow guide Mark Braaten — who, like Tieden grew up spearing pike in Minnesota — he started flying to area lakes to spear pike last winter. They had such good success, Tieden decided to offer trips to the public this


After hosting one pike spearing seminar at the Wasilla Sportsman’s Warehouse, Tieden said his phone has begun ringing off the hook.

“We’ve got a bunch of bookings already,” he said.

Winter pike spearing is appealing, he said, for several reasons. First, it’s warm.

“You’re not standing on the ice, freezing your [rear end] off,” he said.

Instead, Tieden sets up a temporary ice house equipped with a portable heater that keeps things nice and toasty inside.

Second, it’s a unique style of fishing that gives people a view on the underwater world frozen beneath the ice.

To get at the fish, Tieden first cuts a large hole in the ice, through which a flashy decoy is dropped into the water. With this window cut into the water, pike hunters can watch as fish swim back and forth beneath their feet.

“It’s like looking in an aquarium,” he said. “You see all kinds of other species of fish. It’s really cool.”

Then, when a big pike comes by, it’s time to strike.

“When the northern comes in, you coax him up. You just ease your decoy up, and he’ll ease right up with it,” Tieden explained, waving his arms for emphasis. “And when he gets to four or five feet, and you’re comfortable — boom! — you zap ‘em.”

Tieden uses long, heavy metal spears equipped with as many as nine individual spikes to subdue his prey. When a fish approaches the decoy, the spear is plunged into the hole and — hopefully — into the pike below.

“It’s a kick in the pants,” he said.

Tieden and his fiancee, Debbie Moore, are currently offering special deals —even gift certificates — on pike trips just in time for Christmas. The trips include a fly-out fishing trip, along with a lunch and cleaning of any pike speared — as well as a post-fishing barbecue. Tieden said the trips are perfect for couples, as well, who may be avid summertime fishers but don’t get out much in the


“A gal just called here this morning for her and her husband,” Tieden said.

He also said he’ll take out children under 16 for free if their parent books a trip.

“I want to promote our sport,” he said.

And once someone gets the experience of pike spearing, Tieden promised they’ll be ready for more.

“If they do it, they will be hooked on it. They will absolutely love it, love it, love it,” he said. “It’s addicting.”

For more information on Arrowhead Outfitters’ pike spearing trips, contact Howard Tieden at 746-7744.

Contact Matt Tunseth at 352-2265 or matt.tunseth@


As with any winter activity, comfort is paramount to enjoying your time spearing pike.  Staying warm is not difficult when you are spearfishing. Boots, Jackets, and Heaters are always a good choice.

A typical spearing hole will be around 2 foot deep by 3 foot wide.  This size is sufficient for making approaching pike visible, and it's plenty large for wiggling even the largest speared pike out of the lake.  You can lure pike in with a wooden or plastic decoy, or a live sucker on a pin or live minnow harness rig.  The pin rig and the live minnow harness both keep the sucker minnow alive for use on multiple consecutive days.

Time between fish can drag if your just staring at an empty hole.  In order to stay fishing longer, its always nice to have snacks, beer, and a deck of cards or some magazines.

Remember that ice is never 100% safe, and it's up to you to decide the best transportation onto the lake of choice, as in a Truck, Trailer, Snowmobile, ATV, or an Argo.  If your in the truck it's a good idea to keep the doors ajar, and your selt belt off in case you do go through.  Both these options speed your exit form the vehicle, and no, your insurance will not cover the damage to, or extraction of your ice fishing rig.