With the ice fishing season starting to wind down, I will take this time to remind you of ice off dates for permanent fish houses. Shelter removal dates are March 1 for all inland waters south of Highway 10, Minnesota Highway 34 to Minnesota Highway 200 to U.S. Highway 2.
Basically, the highway line from Moorhead to Duluth is the north/south divide line. North of that line fish houses must be removed by March 15. Next year the dates are extended about another week. If you do not remove your shelters you can be prosecuted, fined, and the structure and contents can be confiscated. Remember that you cannot leave your shelters at the public accesses anymore.
Spearing season also closes this year the last Sunday of February.
With the warm up we have had, it is a good time to make arrangements to get your houses off. Even some of the plowed roads have become slushy. When the roads re-freeze they can be very rough to tow houses on due to the ruts created by travel on them in the warm weather. It is a good idea to watch the weather and take advantage of available, favorable conditions.
Getting your houses off in the early morning works well this time of year as you can take advantage of the overnight freeze, and pull them when traction and travel are at their best.
This time of year, even if the temperatures stay below the 32 degree mark, the sun is powerful and can create significant thaw and slushing conditions on the lake. Sometimes it works well to go out to get everything ready the afternoon/evening before. You may find that you have problems you may not have anticipated. Houses freeze in and may need to be busted loose and jacked up. Tires on trailers may be flat. Trailer hitches may need to be chipped free. Discovering and solving the problems early will help, so when you get out the next early morning, things will go smooth and fast.
You can minimize the frustrations and challenges that can occur trying to get yourself off the lake with a house and bad travel conditions. Take a breaker bar, tools, ice chisel, and jack with you, just in case. Make sure you're safe for travel on the roads after you get off the lake.
For skid houses that go onto trailers, make sure bearings are good, lights are working, and the load is well secured. If you are putting your shack in the back of a pickup, make sure you strap it down, even if traveling a short distance. We have all seen examples this time of year of poorly secured loads coming off the lake.
For the houses with wheels, make sure tires and lights are good, you are properly secured to the ball hitch, and that safety chains are attached. It is a good idea to get all of your supplies out of the house before you tow and travel.
I have to admit, most of my advice about all this comes from the years of experience of screwing up. Learning these lessons from others, without the frustrations of these experiences personally, is a much wiser way to approach all of your outdoor adventures.
(Laabs runs Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)