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Unique ice house leaves family memories

Terry Bartness placed his unique fish house constructed of garage door panels on Fish Hook lake last winter. Unfortunately Terry only used the structure for one season before unexpectedly passing away on Nov. 4. Jason Durham / For the Enterprise

With air and water temperatures gradually declining, it won't be long until Minnesota's lakes welcome fish houses to their frozen surfaces.

Fish house variety is what makes the structures so unique and appealing, no matter their dimensions. From single person shelters the size of a large dog house, to mini Taj Mahal look-a-likes, each shanty has its own personality. And most have a story that goes much deeper than the water they rest above.

Terry Bartness, the former Park Rapids School Superintendent who passed away Nov. 4, had one of those fish houses; a structure so unique that its story unfolded every time the door swung open.

Terry was an avid angler who enjoyed spending time on the ice with his friends and family, especially his grandchildren.

After his wooden fish house decayed, Terry's wife, Margo, bought him a Clam portable fish house. Terry enjoyed the portable, but after talking with a friend about the viability of constructing a fish house from garage doors, a new plan for a new fish house materialized.

More research came about, especially from the early morning coffee crowd at the West Forty restaurant in Park Rapids, though some of the "advisors" predicted the overall weight might cause the fish house to sink before anyone pulled a fish from the holes.

Undeterred, Terry sold his beloved Clam portable and started a search for garage doors. "We found them in Fargo, Detroit Lakes, anywhere someone was replacing a door. We scrounged for them," reminisces Margo.

Terry then began using the insulated aluminum garage door panels to build what his family refers to as the "fish house condominium."

"Sometimes I'd have to make alternate dinner plans because Terry would forget to turn on the crock pot - he was so wrapped up in that project," said Margo.

She adds, "We always joked that if he ever got in trouble with me that he could sleep in the fish house." But after 41 years of marriage, that was highly unlikely.

Last winter, with the garage door fish house complete, Terry Bartness and long time neighbor Kenneth "Kip" Johnson towed the massive house from the Bartnesses yard onto the ice of Fish Hook Lake using a snowmobile as the workhorse.

When asked if she went fishing alongside Terry, Margo agreed that she had, though she didn't catch many fish. "I read quite a few novels in that fish house. Terry used to ask me if I had gotten a bite yet and when I'd lift my rod to check, the line would be frozen in the hole!"

So Terry purchased an upgraded stove for this coming season, but never got a chance to try it out. He passed away at the age of 63.

In Terry's memory, the Bartness family chose to pass on his passion for fishing by contributing $500 to the Park Rapids Community Fish House, which will be placed on Fish Hook lake this winter with one of the holes named in his honor.