Ice Fishing is for Real

29 Jan
Yes, those are trucks on the ice.

Yes, those are trucks on the ice.

When I moved to Minnesota I really had no idea what I was getting in to. I grew up in the moderate climate of Washington State, on Orcas Island, a location further moderated by the ocean and the rain shadow of the mountains. In my memory at least, it rarely got above 75 in the summer or below 25 in the winter. I’m sure it does get warmer and colder than that, but as a kid who was 15 when she moved away, I never paid much attention.

Just one of the villages.

Just one of the villages.

Yep...sitting out on the ice.  Better them than me.

Yep…sitting out on the ice. Better them than me.

We moved from Orcas to Bend, Oregon, in 1985. Located in central Oregon, Bend is considered “High Desert” in that it doesn’t get much rain…but it does get a lot of snow. Eleven months spent in Bend taught me that winters do exist and driving in snow was not something I looked forward to.


When I moved to Minnesota several years later, I was glad that I had that Bend experience to prepare me a little bit for real winters.

I was not prepared, however, for ice fishing.

Awaiting the elusive fish...

Ice fishermen...doing what I will never understand...and, I assume, loving it. More power to them!


Every winter, as the cold settles in and mittens, hats and scarves lose themselves in an organized-crime sort of way, I shake my head in wonder at the ice houses that appear on the lake. Still, after 19 years in the Mid-West, I don’t entirely “get” the attraction. Yes, I understand that the houses are heated, sometimes even fancified to the point of televisions and bunkbeds, but still, I don’t get the allure of a hole in the floor of your little house. What if I don’t look where I’m going when I climb out of my lovely bunkbed and accidentally step into the lake?


When I first moved to the Mid-West, I spent a few months in Wisconsin. I will never forget the evening I first met some of the local Cheeseheads. They were talking about ice fishing and I was convinced that they were pulling my leg. I mean, really! Ice fishing? That’s for die-hard Alaska-lovers, isn’t it? No one in the 48 contiguous United States goes ice fishing! That is ridiculous!

Luckily, I kept my mouth shut because, turns out, they were completely serious about their hobby. This was no joke, no set-up to fool a greenhorn. This was real.



Yes, it’s real. And I don’t mean to make fun of it. It’s just something that I, a temperate-climate lover, don’t understand. But then again, maybe it’s a guy thing and I don’t understand it because I’m, well, a girl. I realize that I’m treading on dangerous waters here (pun intended), so I won’t lump ice fishing in with football, mustaches, a love of fire, and other manly pursuits that I don’t understand. Suffice it to say, I get a kick out of the ice villages that pop up every year on the lake…

…even if I can’t fathom why on earth they do.


35 Responses to “Ice Fishing is for Real”

  1. Minnesota Prairie Roots January 29, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    Laughing here, Gretchen because I currently have an ice fishing blog post in draft status. We were driving by an area lake on Saturday when I snapped a few photos. Randy suggested we stop and drive onto the ice. I fired back, “No.” And that comes from a woman who ice-fished as a newly-wed. But I’m not so comfortable anymore with the thought of driving a heavy vehicle onto ice, ice which can never be 100 percent safe.

    I expect many non-Midwesterners share your thoughts.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 29, 2013 at 11:53 am #

      Just a couple of days ago a friend on facebook posted that his friend – an accomplished and experienced guide – fell through the ice on Lake Superior and died. Ice is not something to mess with, is it? Even those who totally know how to be safe, may come to grief. I assume that his story has been in the Duluth papers, but I haven’t checked…

      I totally DO NOT BLAME YOU for not wanting to drive on the ice – never have, and doubt that I ever will!

  2. gardenfreshtomatoes January 29, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    A wonderful expression of Respectful Confusion 😉
    Thanks for the giggle this morning!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 29, 2013 at 11:54 am #

      Oh, good. Thanks for saying so. I had to cut out a less-than-respectful paragraph…and re-word a few other parts…I don’t mean to be disrespectful even if I don’t understand!

  3. marimann January 29, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    Here on the coast of North Carolina, a similar “ritual” is carried out at this time of year, and I always think the same things as you do here, Gretchen….ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? Only instead of ice-fishing, it’s duck-hunting. So there are these duck blinds out in the bay, basically just platforms over the water “hidden” by pine tree branches; the duck hunters get up before dawn in the freezing cold, sometimes rain and wind, load themselves and their dogs and guns and huge Thermoses of hot coffee into boats, motor (quietly) out to the blinds and sit and wait for dawn and the ducks and geese to arrive. So they can shoot them and the dogs can leap into the freezing water and retrieve them and then leap back into the blinds and the boats, shaking ice-cold water off their coats onto everyone. Are we having fun yet?? I cannot imagine what might make me get out of my warm bed on a frigid morning and do this, but judging from the amount of folks here who do this on a regular basis, there must be something to it. I just, like you, can’t fathom what on earth it is…

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 29, 2013 at 11:55 am #

      🙂 Yes, they are very similar, aren’t they?!! Love your description! I’m glad to know I’m not alone in my confusion!

  4. cecilia January 29, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    wow! that is quite simply crazy! i had no idea! c

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 29, 2013 at 11:57 am #

      I don’t imagine that there is anything like it down in New Zealand! It is crazy, I agree…but, to many…a way of life around here!

  5. freshveggies/gingerleaphoto January 29, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    I didn’t think it was real either but it has been cold enough in Nevada to go ice fishing and I saw some people doing it the other day. Mind. Blown. bbbbrrrrrrr

  6. cravesadventure January 29, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    I have been ice fishing once and that was enough for me – ha! Happy Tuesday:)

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 29, 2013 at 11:58 am #

      I’m glad that a few readers can relate on a first-hand basis! I would go if anyone ever invited me…but no one ever has!

  7. whatimeant2say January 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    That is definitely not for me! Of course, I’m not a water fishing kind of gal either. Love the line, “mittens, hats and scarves lose themselves in an organized-crime sort of way.”

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 29, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

      That was my favorite line of the post, too! 🙂 And, I’m afraid, all too true…

      I have fished, like, once…about 35 years ago!

  8. hotlyspiced January 29, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Wow! I had no idea about ice fishing. So there’s a house with no floor and there’s a hole you could fall into? It does make you wonder what would be fun about that – especially when you add in how cold it must be inside the hut and out. Like you, I assumed this sort of thing only went on in Alaska xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 29, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

      I think, actually, that the floors are not all ice – they just have a hole in them for the fishing poles! And yes, I imagine you can fall in, but probably you wouldn’t be so foolish as to do so! I really need to get into one and find out the whole truth…OH, and most of them are heated, so…I guess they’re not too uncomfortable!

  9. Alice January 29, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    My legs ache at the thought of sitting or standing on ice…but it still looks like something I would want to try–at least once.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 30, 2013 at 7:35 am #

      Inside their heated ice houses, they have chairs, at least! And that guy sitting outside and fishing without an icehouse…well, it was a fairly “warm” day with no wind, so at least he wasn’t completly nuts! I would try it if someone asked me!

  10. Gwen January 29, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    Haha – great post. I’m a Midwesterner as well, and a lot of my fellow Chicagoans head up to Wisconsin for ice fishing. I don’t “get” it either.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 30, 2013 at 7:36 am #

      I guess it’s something you either love…or don’t get. Kinda like Brussels Sprouts.

  11. REV January 31, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    Reblogged this on "My Feet are Freezing" and commented:
    I get it…

    • Gretchen O'Donnell January 31, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

      Hey, wow, thanks! That’s so great! I’ll totally check your blog out!

  12. Lara Klein February 1, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    Wow! I love sharing a glimpse into your creative perspective!

  13. Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen February 5, 2013 at 12:23 am #

    Well.. I have to admit I have heard of ice fishing but haven’t actually gotten to experience it first hand. I think the allure (hahaha “a lure”, I couldn’t help it) is that the guys get to hang out away from their wives in their little shacks.. have a few drinks and fish. I think some of their “shacks” are quite kitted out from what I understand. Btw.. I’ve heard some don’t take down these structures and just let them fall in the lake (here in Alberta). That’s caused some upset here as you can imagine. xx

  14. Sartenada February 9, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    Here in Finland where I live by the lake, there is ice fishing also. Great post. Thank You.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 9, 2013 at 9:27 am #

      I can imagine! A lot of the people around here have Scandinavian roots – so it must be in their blood!

  15. dzynr2 February 11, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    I once experienced Ice fishing on Georgian Bay in Canada. I was visiting my parents who were then living near Meaford. I am now experiencing heat waves, fires and floods of varying intensity at the other end of the world and the artic sea ice is melting. C’est la vie.

    • Gretchen O'Donnell February 11, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

      I really would enjoy trying it some day! Yeah, it’s not good that ice is melting – here where I am in Minnesota it’s too dry but still plenty cold…

  16. Gretchen O'Donnell February 4, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    Thanks for the tag, Audrey!


  1. Call us crazy, but we really do drive vehicles onto lakes in Minnesota « Minnesota Prairie Roots - February 4, 2013

    […] FOR ANOTHER TAKE on ice fishing, check out Gretchen O’Donnell’s blog post, “Ice Fishing is for Real,” at A fi… […]

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