Community fish house to launch on Fish Hook Lake once ice is thick enough
A grandmother's fervor for fishing has spawned a community fish house, affording seniors, handicapped and others the opportunity to head out on the frozen waters this winter in pursuit of a lunker.
Park Rapids resident Pat Munson, 77, has been an avid darkhouse angler since she and her late husband, Dean, purchased Storyland Resort on Long Lake, moving from Austin in 1962.
"Every day," granddaughter Sheila Heide recalls of her penchant. "From dawn 'til dusk. She planned her trips south around ice fishing."
Munson packed a lunch, grabbed her radio and - at the family's request - a cell phone and headed to the darkhouse, where she hand-chiseled to refresh the hole.
"It's exciting," Munson said of the fish moving on the lake floor below, comparable to watching high definition TV in dark surroundings.
"We came out more than once to fetch her out of a snow bank," said Heide, who purchased ice spikes for her shoes as a Christmas present.
An 18-pound northern displayed on Munson's wall bears testimony to her skill.
"I sprained my arm pulling it out," Munson said of the fish taking the spear down. And the behemoth didn't want to fit through the hole, she recalled.
"She buried it in a snow bank so no one would take it," Heide said, then headed back into the darkhouse to continue fishing.
But a couple of years ago, family members were unable to assist in pulling her house out on the ice due to scheduling conflicts.
Heide enlisted the aid of Dean Hanisch, who was secretary of the Park Rapids chapter of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association.
"Sure, I'll do it," he told Heide.
But Munson's dignity was compromised. "She was too proud for help," Heide said.
Munson told the family her spearing days had come to an end.
"That's when the conversation began," Heide recalled of questioning how many avid fisherfolk had ended their quest on ice due to similar circumstances.
Heide decided to approach the local darkhouse anglers on the subject, assuring members she'd raise the funds if club members would maintain it.
The MDAA was skeptical, initially, concerned with liability issues and insurance costs. But Albin Katzner saw the unique possibilities and convinced them of its merit.
And Heide and her family set out on a two-year mission to obtain funds, appearing in parades and garnering Operation Round Up and Walmart grants.
Munson would learn about the initiative in Arizona, reading Jason Durham's column in the Enterprise.
Thanks to community generosity and four main sponsors - Smokey Hills Outdoor Store, Ice Castle Fish Houses, Northland Fishing Tackle and the MDAA - the $13,000 fish house was purchased last spring.
"That's more than I paid for my first house," Katzner observed.
The 16-foot "castle" is bound for Fish Hook Lake, once the ice is deemed safe, likely in the next three weeks.
The icehouse will be used for traditional angling, the liability associated with spear fishing precluding that option.
The red house, holding up to six anglers, is just one of two community fish houses in the state, Heide said.
It's outfitted with an underwater camera, donated by Reed's, and a Vexilar depth finder, compliments of Delaney's.
Plaques will acknowledge benefactors.
Sunfish, crappies, perch, northern, bass and an occasional walleye - "we don't want to just watch the bobber" - are the likely trophies.
The house is wheelchair accessible.
The MDAA has agreed to maintain the fish house, including heating it, drilling the holes, plowing and moving it as needed.
The DAC has expressed an interest in making use of the resource, as has the Heritage Community. Veterans - active and retired - are welcome as are senior citizens. Kinship, Boy and Girl Scouts and other social organizations can drop a line.
The fish house will be open from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. seven days a week, except Sunday mornings.
Sign up for use of the fish house can be completed in person at Smokey Hills Outdoor Store. The key will be available at the store.
A barbecue rib dinner will be held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17 at the Park Rapids American Legion with all proceeds benefiting the community fish house. Volunteers are welcome.