Weather Forecast


Dock Talk: High ice house counts: good fishing?

Some lakes are experiencing an ice house boom this season. Others are seeing a declining population from previous years. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The Park Rapids Area Fisheries office conducted their annual fish house counts over the past few weeks. As always, the numbers are quite interesting to the angling crowd.

As in the past, some lakes have an increase in the numbers of permanent shelters seated atop their frozen cap, others show a decrease, while many entertain an average number of fish houses compared to past years.

When the DNR refers to "past years" they're specifically talking about 1983-2009, although 2010 is included in the survey.

"We began the fish house counts in 1983 to monitor angling trends, meaning fishing pressure," says Park Rapids Area Fisheries Supervisor Doug Kingsley, "but in the first years we only counted shelters on a few lakes." Now that number has greatly expanded.

Of the 73 area lakes surveyed, 21 percent were above average for fish house numbers, 60 percent were within a normal range and 19 percent were below average.

The lakes showing the greatest increase in fish house numbers compared to average (2010 fish house count/average fish house count) are Potato (35/27), 11th Crow Wing (30/25), Blueberry (28/23), Duck (32/12), Eagle (17/11), 6th Crow Wing (22/11), Big Sand (18/10), Ojibway (8/5), Boulder (8/5) and Peysenske (10/4).

From an angling perspective, some fisher-folk think that the lakes with the best opportunities to catch a whopper are those with the most fish houses. Theoretically, that idea, like the art of fishing, will sometimes grant you success, sometimes leave you skunked and often times, somewhere in between.

You see, many of the lakes with high fish house counts are also large bodies of water, meaning there are numerous areas to catch fish over an expansive region.

Yet if fish house numbers are high on a small body of water, there's a pretty good chance the fish stories circulating haven't tickled your ear soon enough. Those smaller lakes are much more susceptible to overharvest and what might be considered a great bite for a week, month or even a couple seasons can soon turn into unproductive water and require years to recuperate.

Kingsley added some additional thoughts to consider:

-Fish house numbers are heavily influenced by the weather. In years where the snow is deep and flooding becomes an issue, the number of stationary fish houses on the lakes typically declines.

-Although there may be more people participating in the sport of ice fishing compared to past years, there are more people using portable fish houses. Portable shelters are included in the fish house counts, but since the census is taken throughout the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, the likelihood of encountering portable shelters is lower, whereas permanent houses remain on the lake, no matter if someone's inside.