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I moved to Wisconsin 30 years ago, but my distant relatives didn't sense they were losing me until I not only accepted, but embraced Wisconsin winters. Though I still don't relish driving icy streets, a bright, sunny day in winter is darn enjoyable, and a day of ice fishing is a charmed day, indeed.
Then as now, I like keeping it simple. My first ice-fishing sled was bequeathed to me by Spud, a fellow student who was leaving Wisconsin to seek fame and fortune in Oklahoma. The sled was two wooden soda crates bolted together and hinged with plywood tops. Nailed to the bottom was some scrap tough plastic, so the rig glided effortlessly across the snow. The sled held everything I needed for an outing, and more – a small tackle box with tiny festive colored jigs, a small hemostat, drop weights, tube weights, two rods, a few tip-ups, an ice scoop, film canisters containing assorted fishing grubs, a Thermos, a flashlight, a brown paper bag with a bologna sandwich and a plastic bag for fish. Moreover, it easily fit in the back of my aging Chevy Vega.
That rig sufficed for 20 years, and it is still my favorite sled. When I turned 40, my spouse decided I should get out of the wind a little, so she bought me a molded plastic ice fishing sled complete with a molded holder for a minnow bucket and three metal tent poles that fit into holes around the seat. I can drape a simple black cloth around the poles to form a windbreak. It's quite comfortable on a mild day with a light breeze.
Well, winter doesn't always provide mild days, and we all know the ice-fishing season has been way too short for several years. So last year I seized the chance to join a friend who has a portable shelter that collapses into a big sled. We needed his minivan to haul it near the ice. We dragged it out across the frozen scape a mile or more, drilled a few holes, set up the tent, lined the plastic sled with a beat up remnant of oriental rug, started the propane heater, opened the door, loosened our winter clothing, and sat in comfort searching for perch despite cold and bluster.
One cold night when the wind chill has dipped enough to warrant a block heater on the dog, I get a call from the same buddy, who said, "Let's go fishing. The walleyes are hitting in the shallows." I reminded him that even on my best days, walking across the ice at nine in the evening to set up a tent in a steady wind just won't have the ring of "fun." He said another friend of his owned a permanent wooden shanty that we were welcome to use. Further, it was positioned on a "key spot" over a deep weed bar and some rocks.
So off we went, carrying nothing but a bait bucket.
In the distance, the shanty emerged from some swirling snow. As we got closer, it seemed a modest rectangular affair. We unlocked the door and lit a gas lantern. I couldn't believe my eyes. Here sat a propane heater and two comfortable chairs. Here was a small table with a window. Here were hooks on the wall for our heavy jackets and a small rack of ice-fishing rods and tip-ups all rigged up for success. Here was a boombox with a stack of CDs. And in the middle of the false floor, here were two pre-drilled holes covered with some Styrofoam and carpeting to ward off freezing.
The fishing wasn't great that night, but I have to admit I got a bit spoiled by the experience. It added a whole new dimension of comfort that could make a winter angler out of a Caribbean bone-fisher.
Readers, I got to wondering about you, as inventive a group of outdoor enthusiasts as I know. Surely, you too have found ways to increase your ice-fishing pleasure by adding a few homey touches to your shanties – his and hers ice augers, a little wood stove, a cribbage board shaped like a northern. Why not invite other readers in for a look? We're not necessarily looking for fancy touches, just good times and fun ideas – more of the Red Green approach than the Martha Stewart touch, if you get our drift. We'll bet that many shanties have an air conditioner and an icemaker.
You don't have to tell us exactly where your shanty is. We don't want to horn-in on your favorite fishing hole, but we would like to see photos of interesting shanties, unusual features in your iceside getaway and little improvements you've made to turn your place into an offshore oasis.
Send us your short descriptions of up to 250 words along with clear photos, (slides preferred) by June 30, 2001. We'll print your entertaining entries in our December 2001 issue.
Point out the unusual feature or features If the shanty contains an unusual device of your own making, show us that feature and please take close-up photos so we can clearly see what you are describing.
Show us the comforts of your icy home If you've found a way to make the shanty especially comfortable, show us in words and well-lit photos.
Packing it in Compact storage is always an issue in a shanty. Perhaps you've devised a storage idea that others could incorporate. If you've found a neat way to store rods, clean fish, get a signal from your tip-ups or other idea, we'd like to hear about it.
Show us the gang If your story hinges on the antics of a few diehard anglers, try and get them in the picture. If they stumbled upon any fish in the story, show them too if you have them.
Take several slides or photos We prefer slides if you can forward them. Quality prints work okay too, but we can't enlarge them very much and the colors are often less brilliant than from slide film. Digital photos are almost always too small for our use. Please consider slides if you can shoot them.
Send submissions to: Shanty Stories, Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine, P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707 by June 30, 2001. Entries will be returned in January 2002. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if you want your story, photos and artwork returned at the end of the project.
Ice guy David L. Sperling edits Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.