Skip to main content

Portable Shelters in Ice Country

Portable Shelters in Ice Country

It’s been quite a journey since the early 1980s, chronicling the changes on the ice-fishing scene, with sonar applications changing, from the initial use of open-water units modified for ice fishing, to the sophisticated options we have today, designed specifically for the task—sonar and LCD screens, and units with built-in GPS and mapping, not to mention housings that allow combination use of an underwater camera. Enter, too, most recently, Garmin Panoptix LiveScope, a potential game changer, which allows anglers to drop a transducer down a fish hole and see off to the side.

Meanwhile, we have ice rod applications that are every bit as sophisticated as those for open-water fishing. We have clothing—boots and suits and more—on par with space-suit technology.

Methods and means for getting through the ice have progressed from hand augers and spud bars to gas engines and four-stroke options. These days, various electric-powered units are all the rage. And so much more, including the vast changes in methods of travel on ice, as well as the evolution of shelter portability, which is, in part, the focus as we continue here.

In the beginning, shelters were built at home, often not much to look at, but functional once they were on the ice. Mostly, though, they were hard to move. The fish had to come to you. And we all know how that goes most of the time.


Dave Genz’s vision was of a small, portable one-man combination sled and shelter that could be pulled where you want to fish, with a top that popped-up-and-over to shield the angler from the elements. Inside, in relatively cozy conditions, the angler monitored a portable sonar unit. Not only could one see the bottom and read depth, the angler could also see a lure in relation to fish—and could monitor how fish respond to lure choices and the chosen methods of moving them. Just as importantly, it was relatively easy to move the shelter to go to the fish. Genz deemed his portable unit a “bass boat on ice.”


//content.osgnetworks.tv/infisherman/content/photos/Portable-Ice-Shelters.jpg
If the original single-person portable shelters were bass boats on ice, these new wheelhouses are plush yachts.

Soon various portable pop-up shelters from several companies flooded the ice scene. Multiple-person options hit the market, too. The ice world became quite a mobile place.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Anglers wanted more room and more comfort, especially for forms of fishing like tip-up fishing for pike and other species—sit-and-wait situations—as in evening bouts with basin crappies or walleyes along a drop-off edge. Larger pop-up designs called hub shelters filled that need. They weren’t as mobile as the smaller pop-ups, but they were more mobile than the old anchored-in-place shacks of the past. With a heater going inside, anglers kept the elements at bay and had lots of room to operate.

Another crucial change was taking hold. Anglers who used Global Positioning System technology on open water were using it on ice. GPS units, including handheld models, became more accurate and sophisticated. Mapping chips also become so accurate that anglers could in short order find just about any structural element in most major bodies of water. Spots that once took years for anglers to find, mark, and understand, could now be found in a moment by any angler with a GPS and a good map—or a mobile phone with a map app.

More recently, who could have predicted the full-circle move back to larger, seemingly more permanent, shelters? Enter the age of the wheelhouse. If the original single-person portable shelters were bass boats on ice, these new wheelhouses are plush yachts. Many of them have living quarters to include a kitchen, dining room, and beds, and amenities like TVs and satellite radio, and even on-demand underwater camera viewing to go with your fishing. Pricier models sell for more than $40,000, and double as travel trailers during the off-season, complete with air conditioning.


And, despite their size, these babies are mobile. Single or double axle, they pull easily and tow well behind a four-wheel drive truck. They aren’t just made to settle on a spot or two on one lake but to go anywhere in ice country one weekend, and head to another area the next. On any given Friday afternoon along major routes heading north to lake country in states like Minnesota, the traffic in trucks towing wheelhouses is almost the equal of that which transpires before major vacation events like deer hunting season.

The impact on lakes is historical in many cases. On major lakes like Mille Lacs, for example, the wheelhouse migration is dependent on ice formation and on ice road openings from resorts.

For several weeks to a month, as ice thickens on the lake, major flats and gravel areas well off shore are immune from the wheelhouse migration. Anglers can only reach these spots via four-wheelers, snow machines, or SnoBears. Traffic usually is light and anglers find most major spots untouched, save for another angler or two.


But when ice thickness reaches about 14 inches, the race is on, as trucks pull wheelhouses out into what will soon be wilderness no more. Again, using GPS and mapping, a wheelhouse can settle onto a key spot and stay the weekend. Or, if the fish aren’t going, it’s simple to move and settle onto a new spot. In the past, most ice excursions were day-long affairs. A wheelhouse stint often lasts 48 to 72 hours of non-stop angling. With impressive numbers of wheelhouses on the ice, it’s a fishing pressure phenomenon many lakes haven’t experienced before.

As always, anglers are left to adapt. We aren’t just pursuing fish, we’re also competing with other anglers for spots. Arriving at a spot, it’s up to us to judge how heavy the pressure on the area has been and how recent. If several wheelhouses and perhaps other shelters are still in the area, we must decide whether to move on down the lake or to set up on peripheral areas. If no other anglers are present on a spot, but from the remnant number of old cut holes it looks like there’s been recent heavy pressure, one can at times tell how recent the pressure has been by opening old holes.

And so it goes in ice country. More anglers spending more hours on the ice. Spending more on tackle and other equipment to make their fishing successful and enjoyable. Positive news so long as fishery managers can make sense of the increasing fishing pressure and figure ways to keep fish populations sustainable. Meanwhile, it becomes ever-more important for anglers to help sustain those resources by harvesting the fish they catch selectively.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Huk Waypoint Collection

Huk Waypoint Collection

Huk's new Waypoint Collection fishing apparel is conservation-minded by using recycled water bottles.

Portable Hornady Rapid Safes - Security on the Water

Portable Hornady Rapid Safes - Security on the Water

Hornady Security has a new line of portable safes with applications for anglers who want to have a firearm on board their boats, just in case.

In-Fisherman New & Notable 2020 – Mossy Oak Fishing

In-Fisherman New & Notable 2020 – Mossy Oak Fishing

Jake Meyer from Mossy Oak goes over some of the fishing clothing that Mossy Oak has rolled out with In-Fisherman associate publisher Todd Ceisner.

Rapala OG Slim 6

Rapala OG Slim 6

The 2019 Bassmaster Classic champ Ott Defoe sits down with In-Fisherman Associate Publisher Todd Ceisner, to talk about Rapala's new OG Slim 6 crankbait. The OG Slim 6 will feature a flat-sided, balsa body, and will dive around 6 feet. Featuring a circuit board lip, the OG Slim 6 deflects off of cover better than traditional plastic lips. Offered in 14 colors and available in tackle stores Fall 2020. MSRP $10.99.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

One angler's forgotten, overlooked, underutilized musky lure is another fisherman's all-time favorite.Forgotten (Or Temporarily Overlooked) Muskie Lures Pike & Muskie

Forgotten (Or Temporarily Overlooked) Muskie Lures

Cory Schmidt - August 25, 2020

One angler's forgotten, overlooked, underutilized musky lure is another fisherman's all-time...

Bass rigs can be simple or complex, but most have evolved to include multiple variations.Bass Rigs You Need to Be Fishing Bass

Bass Rigs You Need to Be Fishing

Matt Straw

Bass rigs can be simple or complex, but most have evolved to include multiple variations.

Little is known about the effects of softbait ingestion on bass.Effects of Softbait Ingestion on Bass Bass

Effects of Softbait Ingestion on Bass

Gabe Gries - August 11, 2020

Little is known about the effects of softbait ingestion on bass.

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate explanation from the In-Fisherman biologists. Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart Bass

Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart

Dr. Rob Neumann - January 22, 2017

Check out this Largemouth Bass Length To Weight Conversion Chart, a simple and accurate...

See More Trending Articles

More Ice Fishing

Tungsten and lead jigs often complement each other.Ying and Yang: Tungsten and Lead Jigs Ice Fishing

Ying and Yang: Tungsten and Lead Jigs

Doug Stange - February 06, 2020

Tungsten and lead jigs often complement each other.

Pre-baiting an ice-fishing spot to attract your targeted species, and chumming your hole while you're fishing, may be the most overlooked facet of the sport.Baiting for More Ice Bites Ice Fishing

Baiting for More Ice Bites

Gord Pyzer - March 12, 2019

Pre-baiting an ice-fishing spot to attract your targeted species, and chumming your hole while...

Winter smallmouths are different animals.Tactics for Winter Smallmouths Ice Fishing

Tactics for Winter Smallmouths

Matt Straw - March 17, 2020

Winter smallmouths are different animals.

See More Ice Fishing

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All In-Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now