Sunday, December 26, 2021

Ice Fishing in Minnesota

The lakes are all starting to freeze over and the highways and roads are beginning to be dotted with ice houses pulled by trucks, SUV’s and cars setting out to find their spots on the 10,000 Minnesota lakes. It is fun to watch all the variations of ice houses traveling the countryside. 

There are the smaller 1-2 person ones that look more like outhouses you’d find out behind the cabin. In between the small and gigantic ones are the ones that someone made from a camper or maybe a pop-up trailer. Each one was made and decorated to their own styles. They may have Swedish flags or Viking colors of purple and gold. Although this year those Viking colors may be getting repainted. 

And then there are the ice castles tooling down the road being pulled by big ¾ ton trucks. These are the ones that people decided a few years ago should be used for summer camping too. Afterall, you may as well get your money’s worth and use it year round. You will always find several ice castles parked up next to the electricity in a state park campground spot. To me they always look a bit out of place at the campgrounds. They look like they are missing the snow and frozen lake.

No matter the style of ice house a person has, this is the time of year where people will load them up and take them to a lake. They will haul them out on the frozen lake with their vehicle in hopes of getting the best spot on the lake. Many Minnesota lakes will become little individual new towns with roads and streets leading up and down the lake. Some will even have ice houses out on the lake doubling as a bait store or a little grocery store selling snacks and frozen pizzas. A few years ago we were out driving on Mille Lacs lake and found the corners of the new streets with actual street signs.There were several hundred ice houses of various kinds in rows lined up and down these “streets” on the lake. 

Fishing in Minnesota is more or less a rite of passage and most Minnesotans have tried their hand at fishing by the time they are about 8 or 10 years old. Many much earlier in life. Of those who fish the open waters here in Minnesota, there are many Minnesotans that also ice fish. Or at least will give it a try at some point or another in their lives. Many are successful...and then there are those like me.

While I am more of an open water fisherman, I have tried my hand at ice fishing several times over the years. And in all honesty I have yet to find the thrill of ice fishing versus open water fishing. But it could be, for me at least, it was all in the manner and timing of when I did the ice fishing. 

My first attempt at ice fishing was to bring our 12 year old son onto the lake to try ice fishing. Over the years he was my fishing buddy from the time he was about 3 years old. We would take the row boat out and fill the stringers with fish. In his pre-teen years when there were more arguments brewing due to teenage angst, fishing was the one thing we could do together and not have it end in an argument. It was a life saver for those few years as he was finding his way into adulthood. The attempt to go ice fishing ended with the whole family driving the 1 ton van, we called Lucille, out onto the lake and getting stuck in a drift of snow. While my son and I drilled the hole with the cheap KMART hand auger we had, the others were digging the van out of the snow. It was well below zero and there was a good wind blowing from what seemed like all directions.

We got the hole drilled and decided one hole was all we had the energy for. If ever needing an aerobic winter workout, grab a hand ice auger. My son dropped his line and after frostbite hit my cheeks, toes and fingertips, he finally caught a 3 inch perch. The others were all in the van and snuggled up together under blankets while I stood by my son as he caught his perch. He brought it up out of the little 6 inch drilled hole and with excitement threw it back in the water and baited his hook. I was afraid we were in for another long wait for another small fish. Finally when I could no longer feel my hands that were tucked under my armpits for warmth, I suggested we go get some hot chocolate and warm up. And so the first ice fishing expedition ended with all of us in Lucille heading back to land.

That was the beginning of what I consider pure torture fishing. Ice fishing is always freezing cold, a wind blowing in your face no matter which way you turn to get out of it, and a tiny hole where the fish have to come to you versus being able to cast a line multiple times in order to find where the fish are lurking.

I have gone ice fishing out in the open without any ice house and I have also gone out ice fishing in a small portable ice house and also a canvas winter tent with a potbelly stove in it. And guess what? I never caught a fish and I still froze to the point of not feeling my feet or hands. Maybe, just maybe an ice castle would do the trick and make it a fun event. But the way my luck runs with ice fishing, we would be at the only spot on the lake where the fish were not hanging out. 

I must say, I admire people who have great warm ice houses and get out there on the frozen lakes and fish...and actually catch fish. I even envy you because you get to keep fishing while us wimps that only open water fish are on the sidelines hearing the fish stories for the next several months.

At least for now, I will just watch all the ice houses pass by me on the roads and maybe take a day and drive the streets and roads on MIlle Lacs Lake. But even that I will wait on, since the temps have climbed into the 30’s the past week. Right now the ice houses are lined up and waiting to get on the lakes once it refreezes.

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