Around this time of year, there are numerous Becker County folks who spend their time in a tiny house on a frozen lake. Winter is all about ice fishing, they say. It’s pretty popular.

What's fascinating to me, from a historical perspective, is that, like all winter gear, a lot has changed over the years in terms of the materials and products available to make a fish house (as well as just about everything else used for ice fishing).

Some people still make their own fish houses, using common construction materials, while others buy modern constructs of various types, shapes and sizes. Some folks go for super minimal — it’s all about the fish and maybe just keeping the icy winds off their backs — while others go all out, creating a second home for themselves on the lake, for as long as the ice will stay.

Fish houses of yesteryear. (Photo courtesy of the Becker County Museum)
Fish houses of yesteryear. (Photo courtesy of the Becker County Museum)

It’s hard to imagine the folks 100 years ago trying to work or play in the cold with just their handmade natural fiber clothes and leather shoes. Some of those old-school things still work surprisingly well, though. I have a lot of leather boots, and with a touch of modern insulation material lining them, they're great. It's also still hard to beat a great pair of wool socks, although now, I think modern wool socks are often blended in some way to make them even better yet.

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Fish houses today come in so many forms that it gets quite interesting. From wood to Styrofoam to aluminum to nylon and myriad other materials, you can get a tent that pops up in about two minutes and works very well. I actually have one, and I use it to run sound for outdoor events as a sort of portable winter sound booth. Some folks, meanwhile, have rigs that look like small cabins, with all the comforts of home. The trailer/camper versions are quite popular right now, with full electricity via a generator and TV and satellite hookups inside.

This little log house is a modernized version of a fish house, complete with electricity and satellite TV. (Photo courtesy of the Becker County Museum)
This little log house is a modernized version of a fish house, complete with electricity and satellite TV. (Photo courtesy of the Becker County Museum)

In all types, a common feature is that the floor is either missing or full of holes, and the ones that roll all drop down to sit right on the ice so you can fish with ease. Most people I chat with say it's not about the fish, per se, but rather the time spent out on the frozen lake, socializing and recreating (and maybe enjoying a little beer).

No matter what kind of tiny winter house you choose, one thing is for sure — you won’t be lonely! Entire communities get built out on the ice, and around here most folks are willing to help each other out in case there are struggles. There are also a lot of great community events around Detroit Lakes that involve ice fishing: the annual Poles 'N Holes ice fishing derby, for example, is is one such event. It's coming up this Saturday, Feb. 8, as part of this year's Polar Fest.

This column is a regular feature of the Tribune's monthly History page.