Monday, April 19, 2021

The diversity of ice fishing

by Mike Howe
| January 7, 2021 12:00 AM

In my mind, there are few activities in the outdoor world that bring the diversity of satisfaction to the participant as ice fishing does.

Ice fishing can be enjoyed in so many different ways, bringing so many different methods of participation, and in the end offering so many different outcomes to the participant.

Whether the end result is a harvest of fish, a photo and release or a “skunk”, the satisfaction and enjoyment of time spent on the ice is as personal as it gets.

I write these thoughts today, sitting in the comfort of my newly acquired “wheelhouse,” a generic term for a hard-sided icehouse, and one of many different terms for a structure of wood, fiberglass and metal that is towed onto the ice by means other than human-powered.

In North Dakota, and across most of Northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and of course into Canada, the “wheelhouse” is arguably the most popular form of shelter, and the styles, brands and construction are as varied as the species of fish the angler pursues.

Designs range from a simple homemade “skid house” that is drug onto the ice by any means possible, to elaborate, triple axle RV style campers with plumbing, heat and A/C, gas-powered fireplaces and TVs in every room.

A press of a button hydraulically lowers the unit down to the ice so holes can be drilled and fish can be caught. In fact, the most popular camper sold in Minnesota over the last four years is an RV certified wheelhouse that can be used any time of the year, as a camper, a lake cabin, a hunting cabin and of course, an ice “house.”

On the complete other end of the spectrum is the traditional ice angler, the angler who keeps it as simple as possible, often making a hole in the ice via a hand auger, or maybe even a chisel.

Using one pole with the line wrapped around two pegs, or even a hand line, they catch fish through the ice the simple way, and enjoy their pursuit every bit as much as the modern technical angler.

Somewhere in the middle is the angler that most of us can relate too, especially in Western Montana. Rarely do we find enough ice to drive a full-size truck, capable of towing a three-ton wheelhouse onto the ice, and leaving it there all winter.

Sure, we see the occasional homemade skid house, or a commercial aluminum structure that can be pulled via an ATV, but most of us use a portable shelter of canvas and plastic, drill a hole via a powered auger and maybe even use modern sonar to help us locate and catch the fish we pursue.

Rods and reels range from the same rigs we used in the boat to elaborate, hand made rods and reels that rival the best in tournament competition.

Again, the outcome and definition of success is personal, the methods used only a means to an end, and the end cannot be defined by anyone other than ourselves.

A couple of years ago Cindy and I spent the winter in Minnesota, completely immersing ourselves in the ice fishing culture that only a few states can offer.

This year we bought a small “second home” in northern North Dakota where bird and predator hunting will dominate our autumns and ice fishing will dominate our winters.

We purchased the above mentioned toyhauler style wheelhouse so we can tow our snowmobile or four-wheeler to the lake, and if the ice is capable, we will make base camp out on the ice, and if not, it will stay on the shore and we will fish by portable.

It is the best of both worlds, nothing elaborate but warm and capable of providing a good night’s sleep for a night or two.

Every ice angler should experience a night sleeping on the ice, in a hard sided house with heat, a TV and a warm bed.

There are hundreds of places in Minnesota and the Dakotas where you can rent them, with many resorts and outfitters in business only in the winter, and only in the business of renting “sleepers” to their clients.

If you are an avid ice angler, why not plan a “winter vacation” to the playgrounds up North?

And maybe, I’ll see you on the ice!

Howe is the owner/outfitter at Howe’s Fishing, A Able and Mo Fisch Charters. Call 406-257-5214 or at