Portable fishing houses are part of the landscape in high-latitude areas that provide long ice-fishing seasons. In a few places, they form a major part of the landscape. On Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota, every winter a temporary village materializes, made up of as many as twenty thousand people and fifty-five hundred fish houses, a population larger than 90 percent of the state’s town that exist on actual soil. So intensively is the lake fished that roads are plowed and road signs mounted on the ice, speed limits are posted, trash is picked up, and pizza is delivered.
Most of the ice houses on Mille Lacs are individually owned, but some are rented, with transportation out to the ice provided. Ice houses may be spartan cubicles, or they may contain some combination of gas heaters, cookstoves, refrigerators, tables, chairs, bunks, carpeting, insulation, paneling, thermal windows, curtains, lighting, bathrooms, televisions and antennas, and music systems. In fact, there are persistent rumors of fish houses on Mille Lacs with large-screen satellite TV’s, digital satellite dishes, and even hot tubs.
Fish houses for use on the ice are so popular in the the Upper Midwest that they’ve been extended for use on liquid water. On Wisconsin’s Wolf River, fish houses on small barges are arrayed tight to the bank at strategic spots for walleye fishing on the spring spawning run. Numerous rod holders are mounted along the outside railing, and the angler can watch the baited rods placed in them from a large window inside the house, which is outfitted with many amenities. When a strike occurs, an angler can put down his coffee and be fighting a fish in seconds.
Despite the sometimes brutal weather conditions, the dedication of fishermen can be remarkable. A few years ago on Lake Simcoe in Ontario, anglers were fishing when a gap opened in the ice, spreading quickly until it was more than one hundred yards wide and twenty miles long. Six military helicopters, a hovercraft, and several boats rescued several hundred fishermen, but high winds and snow suspended the rescue at nightfall, leaving two hundred people stranded on ice. The next day, eighty-three more people were brought to shore, but dozens of others insisted on staying. One policeman summed up the situation with this observation: “They’re determined ice fishers.“