It’s A Mobile Society On The Ice Of West Central Minnesota Lakes, Annual Fish House Count Shows

Erica Dischino / Tribune
The crappie bite on Foot Lake in Willmar made it popular with ice anglers through the season, and the annual fish house count showed it.

SPICER – Finding the fish during the hard water season can be as easy as finding the ice fishing houses.

But know this:  Fish houses don’t stay put for long anymore, as the annual fish house count on area lakes shows. Today, it’s all about mobility, with easily-moved wheelhouses and portable fish houses the norm in place of the homemade, plywood shacks of Grumpy Old Men fame.

“The fish house count is a snapshot in time,’’ is the caveat that Brad Carlson, assistant fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, attached to the 2018 count.

Conducted by fisheries staff in early January, the count reflected conditions of that time only as fish house numbers vary through the season on each lake, Carlson pointed out. Along with the greater mobility, more or less houses may occur on a given lake due to access and ice conditions, weather related issues, and whether there is a hot bite or not, he pointed out.

This year’s count showed a total of 813 houses on the 44 water bodies where fish houses have been counted since 1978. They include lakes in all of Kandiyohi County, and parts of Swift, Stearns, Lyon, Meeker and Yellow Medicine counties.

This year’s total is down from 892 in the previous year, and well below the numbers recorded when the count first started. In the 1970’s and 1980’s the counts were often in the 1,500 to 1,800 range.

That should not be read to mean fewer people are ice fishing today.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the count likely included many houses that were left on a lake through the season, but could be unoccupied for periods of time. Today’s anglers just take their portable shelters and wheelhouses home with them so they’re ready to head to a new destination the next time out.

Portable fish shelters provide the mobility that many ice anglers want.

This year’s count may also have been down due to ice conditions in December. Carlson pointed out that conditions were poor in early December, but improved after Christmas. Koronis and Green did not ice up until December 12, and consequently many of the large wheelhouses may not have showed up until after the count was conducted.

Ice conditions have been good since the New Year, and it’s believed fish house numbers  increased.

Lake Lillian was an excellent early lake for walleye and large perch, according to Carlson. There was a hot perch bite on Big Kandiyohi Lake as well, but it didn’t occur until late January. Fish house numbers were low when the count was conducted in early January, but those numbers jumped fast once word got out about the perch bite.

According to Carlson, Foot and Rice Lakes both have been popular destinations for crappies this season. Long Lake near Willmar, Ringo, Minnetaga, Elizabeth, School Grove, Wakanda and George have been the most popular for walleyes.

Nest, George and Long Lake near Hawick have been the best for bluegill. West Sunburg has been the best bet for northern pike.

Overall, no surprises where the most fish houses were to be found. Green Lake and Koronis remain the perennial favorites, with Rice, Norway, and Diamond following.

A look at the top lakes and the number of houses counted:

Green Lake 105

Koronis 105

Rice 103

Norway 71

Diamond 71

Lillian 45

Foot 39

Nest 28

George 28

Florida 22

Games 18

Long (South) 18

Today’s wheelhouses offer mobility and comfort that would have been hard to imagine when the fish count started in 1978.