There are some who say Loren Hjelle of rural New London is a sharp guy, and they wouldn’t be telling a fish tale.
A retired Ridgewater College welding instructor, Hjelle has been making darkhouse fishing spears for about 30 years.
A Loren Hjelle customized spear is top prize for the Minnesota Darkhouse & Angling Association West Central Chapter annual raffle coming up Monday, Feb. 6 at O’Neil’s in Spicer. Social hour starts at 6 p.m. with the event to start at 7 p.m. Raffle tickets are $5 and will be sold at the door. Dinner is on-your-own.
Guest speaker will be Troy Haverly, owner of Pete’s Surplus in rural New London. A 2014 Minnesota Trapshooting Association Hall of Fame inductee, Haverly will be talking about the NL-S High School trapshooting team.
Demand for Loren Hjelle handmade spears has taken off since his son Scott set their business up with a Facebook page, Hjelle Arc Custom Spears.
“In a normal year, we make about 30 a year, but this year we’re making more because of the Facebook page. I’ve got orders like crazy now!”
Hjelle makes what he calls “three speeds on the column with no radio” basic spears all the way [to] high-end spears with square tines and twisted tines. The number of tines range from one to seven.
He has a one-time spear made out of a Russian bayonet. But most of his spears are made from old pitchforks or silage forks.
“They’re made out of a spring steel and have a shape to them. They have to have strength for lifting,” Hjelle said.
He cuts the tines, straightens and rotates them. “On spears, you want tines that have as little flexibility as you can.”
The hallmark of a Hjelle spear is a wishbone design.
“Why the wishbone? Number one, I can put more weight down here without a thick, heavy piece. I want my spears to balance. I want my spears to throw well and be functional and then I make them pretty.”
Darkhouse spearfishing is done in an ice house that is painted black inside to reduce the chances of a fish being spooked at the hole, according to “Learn the Basics of Darkhouse Ice Spearing” by Eric Sorenson at www.liveoutdoors.com.
Instead of small circles augered into the ice as with ice angling, a darkhouse has a large rectangle, 42 inches-by-20 inches, for example, cut out of the ice. Through the hole, “it’s like a plasma TV on the floor—crystal clear,” Hjelle said. Clear, and thus popular, lakes for darkhouse fishing in Kandiyohi County are Green and Florida, he said.
The spearfisherman uses a decoy, usually painted red and white, to lure the northern to the spearfishing hole. “As with lures, a good decoy should move well in the water and provide action that attracts fish,” Sorenson’s article states.
As the fisherman is waiting for the fish, his spear should be in the water, ready to go. “The best way to spear the fish is from behind, so it is less likely to see the spear coming at it,” according to the article.
Hjelle learned spearfishing at his father Marvin’s elbow.
“Dad used to take me, actually Mom made him take me, even before I was old enough. My Dad was probably the best spearfisherman I ever saw. He hit them right square each time and he never had one get off. My Dad used a small five-tine, so that’s what I like to use.”
While some will spear carp or suckers, most spearfishermen go for northern pike. “The scales of carp are just like a flak jacket and they will bend your tines,” Hjelle said.
Spearfishing is popular in Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. Wisconsin has a limited sturgeon spearfishing season on Lake Winnebago, but otherwise does not allow spearfishing through the ice.
In Minnesota, spearfishermen can have one fish over 30 inches, unless they are spearfishing up north, in the boundary Waters, for example. There, the limit is one fish over 36 inches, Hjelle said.
The way to tell is to compare the fish’s length to the length of the decoy. Most spearfishing decoys are about 6 inches.
A 30 inch northern is about 7 pounds, while a 35-inch fish is 10-12 pounds, he said.
“The saying is if you get one over 30 inches, just go home, because if one 35 inches comes by. . .,” Hjelle said. The implication being a spearfisherman may have a hard time resisting a throw.
In most of Minnesota, spearfishermen can have three fish a day, with one being more than 30 inches. Next year, the state will be divided up into zones for spearfishing, Hjelle said. In North Dakota, spearfishermen can have five fish a day with no size limit. South Dakota allows spearfishing of walleyes.
At a recent spearfishing tournament in North Dakota, Hjelle, his brother and another fishing buddy won fourth place, with their smallest fish being 6 pounds. His brother lost an 8-pounder after it flopped back into the hole.
“We were 1.6 pounds out of second place. I told my brother that was a $600 fish that went down that hole!”
As far as selling his spears, a busy time of year for Hjelle is in April, after darkhouse spearfishing is over.
“The biggest show for me is up in Perham the second weekend in April, during the National Decoy Carver Show. I usually sell eight-to-12 spears up there.”
Although he puts his signature on most of the spears he sells, Hjelle is willing to customize a spear with a company name, for instance. Many of the metal accents he uses on his spears are salvaged.
“I didn’t realize it, but I’m a repurposer,” he said. Made of solid brass, a 20 mm shell makes the perfect accent collar. A friend working for a power company saves the endcaps of fuses, also made of brass, which Hjelle uses to top off his wooden spear shafts.
“All of my spears are handmade. I pride myself on that—that’s the only way I do it.”
For more information on darkhouse spearfishing, see Minnesota Darkhouse & Angling Association’s website, www.mndarkhouse.org or check out Fear the Spear Facebook page. It’s a closed group, but anyone may request to be let in, Scott Hjelle said. There also are a number of darkhouse spearfishing videos on YouTube.
For more information on Hjelle Arc Custom Spears, fine them on Facebook or call Loren Hjelle at (320) 220-2935.
Lakes Area Review by Dori Moudry, Editor