The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 29, 2013

Cross: Ice fishing in a high-rent district

The Mankato Free Press

---- — When it comes to ice fishing, my needs are pretty simple.

It all comes down to one word: Warmth.

Memories of sitting on a pail out in the elements, peering into a hole in the ice, are way too fresh.

A portable shelter, a hissing heater to ward of the cold, and I figure I’m pretty much sitting in the lap of luxury.

Of course, luxury is all in the eyes of the beholder.

Halfway to a limit of crappies the other day on Lake Washington, it occurred to me that comfortable as I was in my simple surroundings, I was fishing in a pretty high-rent ice-fishing village.

In case you haven’t noticed, wheeled fish houses equipped with virtually all of the comforts of home are extremely popular nowadays.

Ice fishermen have been building fishing shanties for all time. The more creative and ambitious builders frequently incorporate crude bunks, some battery-powered lights, a heater, maybe even a cook stove, into their home-builds.

But nowadays, commercial manufactures have gotten into the act, churning out factory-built units decked out with all of the comforts of home.

They come equipped with such amenities as built-in cabinets, foldaway bunks, kitchenettes, bathrooms, electric lights, pine paneling, built-in sound systems and satellite television.

The only limit to which creature comforts can be added to the hard water mansions is the depth of one’s pockets or aversion to debt.

Common to all of them is a retractable wheel system that makes it possible to be towed to a lake and then through a crank-and-pulley system, lowered onto the ice.

A peek through the frosted plastic window of my canvas shelter the other day revealed that I and the other anglers relying on our lowly canvas portables clearly were out-numbered by the ice mansions.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, when you think about it.

Depending on the level of luxury, these fishing shacks sell for anywhere from $6,000 for a basic rig to upwards of $30,000 for one of the deluxe models.

Then factor in the pickup truck, possibly even an ATV, needed to get the thing down the road and on to the lake.

Any way you slice it, it’s a whole lot of money to spend for something that might be used for about 10 weeks out of the year, depending on ice conditions, snow depth and other vagaries of nature, all to catch some fish.

True, many do double-duty as hunting shacks, summer fishing base camps and the like.

But for the most part, they mostly are towed out onto a lake to fish in during the winter.

That so many are willing to invest so much money into a hobby illustrates just how near and dear Minnesotans hold the ice-fishing tradition.

As I contemplated these things the other day, I became aware of the noise outside the thin fabric of my shelter.

Sure, there was the occasional snarl of gasoline-powered ice augers laboring through more than a foot of clear ice.

But as those fell silent, a hum still carried across the ice.

It was the drone of all of those portable generators feeding electricity to lights, flat-screened TVs, built-in refrigerators and the like.

Hardly loud, it was just constant, like a persistent mosquito buzzing about the ears.

True, I could have moved on to find a quieter spot far away from the ice-fishing city I was residing in.

But the fishing was good in this area, the main reason there were so many neighbors around me in the first place.

Like sputtering lawnmowers on a Pleasant Valley Sunday, the constant drone, I decided as I turned my attention back to the flickering wheel on my fish finder, was just a sound of the times.

I’m just grateful that Harley-Davidson doesn’t make portable generators.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at (507) 344-6376 or by e-mail at