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Interesting fish houses make their way to lakes

If you've driven past the Detroit Lakes city beach lately, you've probably noticed a village of fish houses on Little Detroit Lake -- including a large pull-behind camper parked out on the ice.

When it comes to what kind of shelter you drag out on the ice for fishing, pretty much anything goes.

"Common sense" dictates what kind of shelter people bring out on the lake ice, said Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon. "As long as it's properly registered, it's fine."

Anyone who's ever been to the Eelpout festival on Leech Lake at Walker or out fishing on the other large lakes in Minnesota knows that a pull-behind camper is small potatoes "compared to what's brought out in northern Minnesota on the big lakes," Gordon said.

"If it's a trailer, it needs to have license plates on it," Gordon said, "and if you are angling or spearing out of it, you also have to have an angling license or a fishing sticker."

While it's not legal to take up residence in a shelter on a lake -- because of issues with waste collection -- it's not unusual for people to spend extended periods of time in a fish house, said DNR Conservation Officer Joe Stattelman.

"There's a lot of unemployment in the wintertime," he said. "If people are going to stay out there overnight we stress carbon monoxide detectors and proper ventilation --we don't want anybody dying of carbon monoxide poisoning or suffocating."

People need to be careful, since lake ice in the area is of varied condition and ranges from 6 inches to 13 inches thick, he added.

"They're driving out there, but we're urging caution," he said.

Stattelman said two young men own the pull-behind camper on Little Detroit, and it is properly registered as a shelter. They are now down south, but friends have been using their trailer.

"There are no size restrictions out there -- as long as they have it registered and identified as a shelter," Stattelman said.

A shelter tag is required for both temporary and permanent shelters left overnight on the ice. The tag includes the owner's name and full address and driver's license, or DNR number.

"I monitor them (fish houses) all winter long," Stattelman said.

"One of the problems -- and we're seeing it this year already, and have in the past -- is garbage. People leave pop bottles, beer cans, old fish line, two-by-fours, all sorts of stuff out on the ice."

Some drill holes halfway to the water and fill them with garbage, or use them as toilets, then cover them up with snow.

"It's a real big deal," Stattelman said, noting that the local chapter of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association does a volunteer lake ice cleanup each year on Detroit Lake, and regularly pulls off "one to two dump truck loads of garbage."

DNR officers will cite people for littering on the ice, and the fines start at $135 for a DNR citation to $175 for a criminal petty misdemeanor citation, Stattelman said.

"People are getting sloppy already," he added. It's a minor problem at all lakes, but for some reason it's worse on lakes near Detroit Lakes, including Little Detroit, Big Detroit, Deadshot Bay and lakes Sallie and Melissa, he said.

Gordon said he expects to see some lake flooding from the heavy snow that fell early last week -- and he said high water levels in rivers are making the ice on lake chains more dangerous this year.

"We've been lucky," he said. "People are giving inlets and outlets a wide berth."