Run-and-gun enthusiasts often disdain the use of shelters. Takes too much time. Gotta run, gotta jig, gotta drill, baby, drill.
So the thought of setting up a cabin-sized shelter that fits 6 or 8 people causes eyes to glaze over for some. In fact, it was suggested, when this assignment was passed out that, "You and I might never fish this way, but hub shelters are getting popular."
Okay, let's do this. But, a shelter 8 feet high with 30 to over 100 square feet of space inside? Really? Probably not my style. Then I talked to Guide Brian "Bro" Brosdahl, who has one named after him — the Frabill Bro Series Hub Ice Shelter ($349.99). "When hubs first came out, I said, c'mon — it's like the Mary Poppins effect," he said. "I thought they'd blow away like an umbrella. Now I'm eating my words. I use them on every guide trip."
Light began to flicker behind my glazed eyes. "Hubs actually take up less room until you set them up," Brosdahl adds. "People carry them back-pack style. They leave them out overnight, staked down tight, if they're coming back in the morning. That's why hubs are hot right now. A guide like myself can put several people in each shelter.
"In the modern ice-fishing day, lots of pop-up shelters are out there, so we designed the Bro Series for hardcore anglers, with 600-denier fabric," he says. "It's insulated, and has strong, 11-mm diameter poles. My hubs are sturdy, and won't blow down as easily. At 8 x 8 feet, it has a great footprint. It comes with an oversized back-pack style storage bag, so when you fold up the house, it has extra room for a coat or other items. It's easy to raise, easy to put away. Lots of advantages.
"The windows have hook-and-loop covers," he continues. "There's a strap on the inside and it has a metal ring so you can cinch it tight and drop it in the pack. I can set one up over my four-wheeler. And if you're fishing with someone who is in a wheel chair who can't get into a portable shelter, you can raise a hub over them. It has heavy screw-downs so it's not going anywhere. You can stand up in it. There are storage pockets. Four people can fish in one, instead of setting up several portables. It's a great place for warming people up. You can entertain visitors, or have an audience while fighting and landing a trophy. Two people can lift and move it without folding it up, and it won't collapse in strong wind.
It's a great family shelter, where everybody can get under one roof."
So, from a guide's perspective, hubs make sense. They also get people involved who otherwise can't or wouldn't ice fish. And they have strategic value as well. "In a hub, the hole pattern is up to you," Brosdahl says. "You can drill holes where you want inside the shelter, and locate people in the center and scan all lines with one camera. You can fish with big minnows and nobody tangles because you have room. There's space for longer rods, bigger hook-sets. You can stand up and back away from a hole quick to keep lines tight when fighting fish."
The Frabill Bunker 450 Hub Ice Shelter ($439.99) is just one of many other hubs offered by Frabill. Fully insulated for big-water comfort, it's 160 inches long, 80 inches wide, and 80 inches high, offering 89 square feet of fishing space. Frabill carries six other hub models, ranging from $149.99 to $599.99.
Clam Outdoors offers a big lineup of popular existing and new hub shelters. According to Brian Lindberg of Clam Outdoors, the Clam BigFoot XL 4000T Sportsman Thermal Hub Ice Shelter ($369.99) offers 64 square feet of fishing area with an 82-inch height in the center for standup fishing. "The 600-denier fabric — we call it Full Thermal Trap Technology — retains heat and reduces condensation better than anything else out there," Lindberg says. "The tough, flex-tested poles are 11-mm thick. It comes with an oversized skirt for ample snow banking, and an oversized carry bag for easy re-packing and storing extra gear." Other features include triple-layer corner pockets, convenient ice-anchor straps with strap pockets, four ice anchors and tiedowns to beat the "Mary Poppins Effect" in windy conditions. It fishes 4 to 6 anglers comfortably.
That's one of Clam's more economical hubs in their selection ranging from the 6- x 6-foot, 2- to 3-person Vista ($219.99) to the giant BigFoot XL6000T Garage ($579.99). This is a fold-up cabin at 96 x 168 inches, creating a massive interior space measuring 112 square feet, the same dimensions as the XL6000TC ($469.99). What makes the XL6000T a "garage" is it adds an "open-wall" design. You can open the wall on nice days, use it as a windbreak, or drive your ATV or snowmobile right inside. It features a 600-denier Full Thermal Skin and fishes 6 to 8 anglers comfortably.
The Clam Six Pack 1660 MAG ($419.99) has a unique, tension-loaded, six-sided design that creates 94 square feet in a package that folds into a small bag. Clam duplicated this brilliant bit of engineering in their new QuickSet Screen Tent for summer use. Both units pop up and collapse down in less than two minutes, even in bad conditions.
Clam's popular Vista line of shelters is now even more versatile. Enter the new Vista Link ($239.99), which can connect to another Vista Link via an optional Hub Link ($39.99), doubling space in minutes. Vista Link shelters feature 420-denier fabric, super-duty poles, oversized skirt, and a setup size of 72 x 72 inches, with a center height of 82 inches. It's also available in a thermal model ($329.99) with 600-denier fabric and Full Thermal Trap Technology. Ice anglers who sight-fish have a new hub option in the Vista Link
Thermal Stealth ($329.99), with a black Full Thermal Trap Technology Skin that reduces light from entering the hub, creating dark conditions for easy viewing below holes.
The Eagle Claw Shappell 4500 hub shelter ($179.99) is smallest of the Wide House series, with a center height of 61 inches and a floor space of 25 square feet. The 5500 ($229.99) covers almost 40 square feet, and the 6500 ($279.99) has over 56 square feet of space inside. All three have the same appearance, but the weight of the polyester fabric ranges from 300 to 600 denier in the larger units. These are some of the lightest hubs on the market, ranging from 18 to 22 pounds with easy backpack-style carrying cases. All three feature the same kind of pop-out walls that make Clam units so easy to erect.
Otter Outdoors is big into hubs, and the XTH Cabin Hub Ice Shelter ($299.99) is one of the best for the price. "One of the most exciting features of our XTH (Xtreme Thermal Hub) Shelters is the incorporation of Otter's patent-pending Thermal-Tec Insulated Shell," says Troy Tufto of Otter's marketing department. "Thermal-Tec was developed exclusively for cold weather. Otter combines a strong outer shell with a full thermal inner shell to maximize the insulating factor while minimizing heat loss through seams. We've virtually eliminated the exterior seams on a full thermal shelter allowing less light penetration, providing superior insulation qualities, and increasing the life of the product.
The Otter XTH Cabin has 36 square feet of space to provide plenty of room for up to three fishermen and gear. The XTH Lodge Hub Shelters ($349.99) have 63 square feet of space that can keep five fishermen moving around and setting hooks comfortably with room for extra gear. The triple-layer shell also reduces condensation, keeping you warm and comfortable through the coldest days. Xtreme Duty 11-mm poles and reinforced shell corners stand up to stout wind. Otter also offers the massive XTH ($469.99), at 101 square feet and weighing 56 pounds — definitely a shelter to have when ice-road truckers hit the hard water. All Otter hubs include oversized carrying bags for storage.
Saving some of the best for last, Ryan Kibbe, promotions coordinator for Eskimo, says that the company is "the innovator of the first pop-up portable ice fishing shelter, and now offers the QuickFish6 ($319.99). Room enough for up to six anglers, the QuickFish6 is a small house on ice with 68 square feet of fishable area. With YKK zippers, an extra-long skirt that helps to eliminate drafts, heavy-duty material sewn over corner joints for reinforcement, the QuickFish is built to last. The Eskimo FatFish 6120i (insulated version is $449.99) has all the features of the FatFish 6120 Pop-Up Portable and more," Kibbe says, "including 76 inches of height at center and 80 square feet of fishable area. In addition to the comfortable size, YKK zippers, and strong metal-ball-and-socket hub design, this FatFish also features Eskimo's IQ Insulated Fabric. This fully-insulated pop-up shelter is 35 percent warmer than comparable non-insulated shelters and protects you from the harshest conditions."
Eskimo offers an assortment of 11 hub-style shelters, ranging from $169.99 (25 square feet, 18 pounds, 2 anglers) to $519.99 (109 square feet, 55 pounds, and up to 9 anglers). So Eskimo is the entity to ask, why else should we consider buying hubs as opposed to portables? "We've noticed mobile anglers often need a warming station, even when running-and-gunning for hundreds of yards," Kibbe says. "Hubs create a headquarters for warmups and supplies. And for younger kids, hubs are great. They can't always get out and play around like they want to and this offers a roomy play room when fishing gets slow."
Sitting in a hot hub ice shelters on that big bucket you take everywhere, big cooler of beer and goodies, wetting a line, trading stories, and setting hooks with enough buddies to form a basketball team. Strategic, economical, pretty darn cozy, and hubs can make ice fishing accessible to more people. Not so bad after all.