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Brad Laabs: New products help drive ice fishing industry

We are about a week away from the “shortest” day of the year. The winter solstice of Dec. 21 has the least amount of daylight hours, after that, our daylight continues to increase. That is good news for those that are already sick of winter. When it comes in hard like this with severe cold and snow, it makes you think it will be like this all winter. It won’t continue all winter like it has been the last couple of weeks. We will get some milder temperatures, days with wind under 25 mph, and scattered snow with a few heavier snows in the mix. That is the way all winters are around here.

These challenging months is why we Minnesotans have invented so many winter hobbies and pastimes. We have hockey, curling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, ice skating, winter camping, snowmobiling, and of course…ice fishing... just to name a few. These activities make a fun time out of what otherwise could cause a person to think they should live elsewhere.

Just the simple pastime of ice fishing has become a billion dollar industry. The popularity of this sport is growing every year. All the new products that make ice fishing easier and more comfortable help increase the popularity, and as the popularity grows, even more new and innovative products come on the market that make it even more accessible. The sport is booming and it will continue to do so.

The St. Paul ice fishing show is a clear indicator of how significant a part of our Minnesota culture the sport has become. My boys and I attended on Saturday, Dec. 7. The number of vendors represented was overwhelming, and the crowd of lookers and buyers was shocking to me. The weather was terrible, but it didn’t stop ice fishing enthusiasts from attending.

Some great deals were available. The timing for this show is great, and I am sure many purchases are going to be holiday gifts. Both my boys were able to get Gore-Tex bibs and parkas at one of the vendors for 40 percent of normal retail price. Like always, many of the new product innovations are just new and  updated versions of old ice fishing themes. Some of the innovations are cool and unique, and many are about catching the fisherman, and not the fish. I was able to watch a great many fisherman get caught during my time at the event! The show also featured many presentations by well-known ice fishing experts all throughout the three days of the event. These presentations were free to attend once you paid your $9 admission fee.

A couple of things stood out to me from my experience at this show. One stand out issue, was the competition between multiple companies for the manufacture and sale of high end pull behind permanent fish houses with retractable wheels. These are becoming travel trailers/5th wheel homes for the ice. They have all the modern conveniences and can double as your camping or travel trailer. Most seem to come with hydraulic retractable wheels now, because it is too cold for us now to get out and crank them up or down! They are high end, and are taking comfort on the ice to a whole new level. The other thing that really stood out to me is how many “pro ice fishing teams”  are sponsored now to promote products! Don’t be fooled…many are just ice fisherman that are helping sell product. The companies print cool shirts, the guys and gals get the name put on the back, and tag “pro ice team” somewhere on the shirt. There are very few true “pro” (making a living at) ice fisherman. It is  a little funny to me, but it seems to work for many to sell, sell, sell!

When you shake it all down, it is still a pretty simple hobby that can be made as complex and expensive as you decide to afford. You need a way to make a hole in the ice, a way to protect yourself from the elements, rod/reel/fishing line and bait. Locating where to put your hole, and being able to discern what is below you helps create more success. Lots to choose from now, so make your wish list for Christmas. We have several local vendors here that have what you really need.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)

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