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Portable fish houses offer mobility, ability to chase the bite

The DNR's Hutchinson Fisheries Management Area personnel conduct a fish house numbers survey the first two weeks of January every year. They have been doing this for 35 years. The survey covers seven counties and a total of 59 lakes. This year set the record for the fewest number of fish houses for the 35 years they have been conducting this survey. This year they counted a total of 111 permanent and portable fish houses. This compares to an average of 734 over past years.

Wow, that is a significant drop in numbers. I think we all know that the unusual winter we are having and the early season ice conditions are the main reason for such low numbers.

Mr. Sundmark, director for their area management office did make some interesting observations also. He noted that they do the survey during daylight hours. He believes a large number of portable fish house numbers that don't come out until the last hour of daylight don't make the count. Mr. Sundmark also believes that there has been a significant shift from permanent to portable fish house use. People tend to be more mobile, fish multiple lakes, and chase after the best bite. The use of cell phones can get friends to an active bite situation in a matter of minutes. He believes this might be a fast changing trend and I agree.

We notice on our area lakes that this year has far fewer permanent fish houses. The most popular ice fishing lakes that typically have more houses include, Big and Little Detroit, Sallie, Melissa, Pelican, Cormorant, Big Pine, Rush, Otter Tail, and Lida. The same trend has occurred here this year of fewer permanent fish houses, but an increase in the use of portables. I don't think this is just a trend due to the weather and ice conditions of this year.

The use of portables will continue to increase because it has been highly promoted by the fishing industry and ice fishing educators. Ice fishing articles and fishing shows focusing on ice fishing are all geared toward the new trend of "mobility." Improvements in winter gear, portable ice houses, augers, and portable GPS units all contribute to this trend. The old attitude of setting the house and fishing out of it for the season seems to be transitioning to the "keep moving until you find them" generation of ice anglers.

Even the improvement in the mobility and ease of setting up and taking down the permanent houses has been a focus of those building and selling ice houses.

There will always be the tradition of setting up the fish house for the season by some, and to many it is a refuge. It is more about the experience of ice fishing, socializing, tradition, and not just about the catching. The "mobility" movement fits closely with trends in our society -- time limited, efficiency, production, and fast pace. Maybe the best way to approach this is to find a balance. Be mobile and efficient, but slow down and enjoy the experience. Fishing is fun, but catching can make it more fun.

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