The Wall Street Journal, a publication that excels at sniffing out luxury in the most unlikely of places, recently ran a real estate trend piece that took some readers to one of the last places that they’d except to find flat-screen TVs, tricked-out entertainment systems, and roaring fireplaces: the middle of a frozen-over lake in Minnesota.
As someone who has never partaken in the time honored tradition of sitting around a hole in the ice and waiting for something to bite, my notion of what taking up temporary residence in an ice shack — or fish house, ice shanty, fish hut, bobhouse, or whatever you may call a shelter towed on by truck or snowmobile out onto a frozen lake for fishing purposes — involves would appear to be misinformed, romanticized, several decades expired.
I was aware that ice shacks had evolved somewhat from rudimentary wooden huts featuring nothing more than a couple of oil lanterns hanging from the walls, an assemblage of overturned buckets used as stools, a small burner, a heap of empty whisky bottles in the corner, a cigar box filled with rusted lures, and the requisite Sears catalog; maybe a bunk bed and a few musty Pendleton blankets if the shanty in question was considered “deluxe.”
But what I didn’t know is that over the past few years, dedicated ice fishers have begun hauling full-on tiny houses out onto lakes and enjoying all the comforts — and distractions — of home (satellite television, hot showers, full kitchens, etc.) that they’d enjoy off the ice. These are leisure-centric structures where it would appear that the concept of roughing it, something that I had assumed to be fully engrained into the sport of ice fishing, has been completely taken out of the equation.
And while “traditional” hand-built ice shanties still dot lakes across the northern U.S. and Canada during the winter months, many are being replaced by portable, generator-powered vacation homes that are anything but primitive.
"It doesn't matter how cold it is outside — it's like being home, only you're able to catch fish,” Dennis Larson, proud owner of a 30-foot-long custom Ice Castle Fish House that weights 6,200 pounds and can be towed via pickup truck, tells the Journal. When Larson spends a bit of QT out on Lac Qui Parle Lake in western Minnesota with his buds, he brings along a couple of flat-screen TVs, a poker table, and a “blender for mixing strawberry daiquiris” along with the compulsory ice fishing gear.
So much for sipping Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup out of a thermos and telling filthy jokes in the dark while huddled around a propane heater.
Though compact enough to be towed on a highway, Mr. Larson's new shack boasts a kitchen with an oven, microwave and refrigerator, a full bathroom with a heated shower and a skylight, couches that fold out into a king-size bed, a stereo system with built-in speakers and a pop-up dome satellite dish for catching Sunday football. A fireplace tucked in a cozy alcove between a set of bay windows casts a glow on the tongue-and-groove cedar-paneled walls and ceiling. The 10 fishing holes are carved right into the floor. Built-in holders for Mr. Larson's rods and rattle reels (named for the sound they make when there is a pull on the line), allow him to fish while he mixes cocktails at the countertop bar, or plays a hand of poker. An underwater camera hooked up to the televisions shows the crappies and walleyes swimming directly underfoot, while a sonar display gives their depth and finds fish out of camera range. Bait minnows swim in an illuminated aquarium built into the wall, powered by an automatic pump that draws fresh water from the lake; a second tank holds the day's catch.
According to the Journal, the “fancy fish-house trend” has grown dramatically over the past several years with annual sales climbing for leading manufacturers of prefab ice shanties including Montevideo, Minn.-based American Surplus. And with that, these souped-up shelters continue to grow in size and complexity — spray foam insulation, double-pane windows, and forced-air furnaces are all common bells and whistles. Some models, designed to double as hunting cabins when not parked out on the ice, even have air conditioning.
And while ice shanties outfitted with poker tables, flat-screen TVs, and model names like "Grandpa's Hideaway," and "Wolf Den" don't exactly scream "femininity," fish houses aren't exclusively dude-centric.
Cathie Kranz, a 54-year-old executive assistant, wanted to ensure that her $27,000 skid house — a traditional type of ice shanty built on runners — at Hunter's Point Resort at Mille Lac Lake in central Minnesota possessed a decidedly soft touch:
The 12-by-22-foot pine cabin is airy, with a cathedral ceiling, fan lights and large windows. It exudes a certain icehouse chic. A tiny antique sleigh hangs on a wall near a 42-inch TV in the full-size kitchen, where Ms. Kranz has prepared roast turkey and prime-rib dinners. The custom-made cabinets and drawers have handles shaped like walleyes, and there is a whimsical assortment of fishing poles in the bathroom, which is decorated with a light fixture that resembles a pair of jigging rods. It doesn't have running water, but there are outlets for Ms. Kranz's hair dryer, flat iron and makeup mirror
"I wanted it to be a place where people could come and feel comfortable. I didn't want it to be too manly—I want it to feel clean and fresh," Kranz tells the Journal.
Any ice fishers care to comment on the gussying up of ice fishing shacks? Are you all for it or do you think all the amenities and high-tech bells and whistles detract from the sport itself?
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