Community effort helps create ice roads on Detroit Lake

Ice roads and ice shack rentals brought to Detroit Lakes by Quality Baits and friends

Quality Bait owner Mike Witt (left) and his friend Don McDougall teamed up to create plowed roads on Detroit Lake for ice anglers, meandering drives and walks.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — Don McDougall was out clearing the ice roads on Detroit Lake when he took note of how little trash there was this year. Shortly after the thought crossed his mind, he saw something tumbling down the road.

“I was out in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “When it blew by my door, I saw it was a bill; turned out to be $50. I thought, now look at that, good trash.”

The lucky break topped off his gas tank and helped pay to maintain the ice roads on Detroit Lake that day. The project is one that he and his friend, Mike Witt, took on this year with no funding or sponsors.

Quality Bait owner Mike Witt and his friend Don McDougall have been creating and maintaining ice roads on Detroit Lake and other area lakes. The two use a Chevrolet and GMC, both 2500s, to do the work. One is a diesel and the other runs on gas.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

The men created roads that extend from the public accesses by the city beach and Holiday Inn out onto the lake. Fish house pads were also cleared in areas known for game fish, as well as pan fish.

They had a game plan of where to put the ice roads, but ultimately the path was determined by the ice.


“Sometimes the ice was so rough that when the lake said, turn right, you didn’t have much say,” Witt said. “We’ve ripped the plow completely off my truck twice so far, and busted it several other times.”

The duo use a V-plow blade to cover more than 20 miles on Detroit Lake and other nearby lakes, such as Big Floyd, Sallie and Pearl. Witt said the V-plow has moving components and is “less determined” than a fixed-blade plow, which he is saving up to buy before next year’s ice fishing season begins.

“We’re hoping to continue doing this every year,” Witt said. “Not everyone has a four-wheel drive to get out on the lake in the winter. Clearing a road gives everyone that opportunity.”

People have taken advantage of the maintained ice roads, too. McDougall has watched sedans that appeared to be out for a Sunday drive on the ice road, as well as workers driving from South Shore Drive to downtown. He has also seen people using the ice road to walk their dogs, and of course, the anglers heading to their fishing shacks.

The men emphasized creating the ice roads has been a community effort. Area businesses have invited them to thaw out their trucks in heated garages, helped with repairs and donated gas. People have also donated funds at Quality Baits (524 Washington Ave.).

“By no way, no how, has it paid for what we’ve done,” Witt said. “But, that is not why we are doing this. We want people to come to the community and enjoy fishing.”

McDougall added that Detroit Lakes is known for its outdoor recreation, so it “just made sense” to enhance the ice fishing opportunities.

Fish house parking pads on Detroit Lake are cleared by the owner of Quality Bait, as is the road system that allows vehicles without four-wheel drive to travel on the frozen lake.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune


Ice shack rentals offered on Detroit Lakes

Witt and McDougall have a history with fishing that dates back to their childhood when they met. Witt noted neither he nor his friend come from well-to-do families, and there were times they couldn’t get on the lake to go for the game fish because they didn’t have four-wheel drive.

“We’re glad to be able to help families without the fancy stuff get out and enjoy ice fishing,” he said.

Witt saw another opportunity to provide all area residents and visitors with an authentic winter experience in Detroit Lakes by offering a heated 6-by-12-foot fish house with six holes for rent. He also rents fishing rods and other gear, too.

“We just got those out,” Witt said. “And if people really don’t know which end of the rod to hold, for a fee, I will go out and give them a lesson.”

The duo plan to keep the main ice roads cleared through Feb. 28. When the big game fishing season concludes, they will concentrate on pan fish locations until the fish houses are required to be removed from the lake in March.

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