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Gravy: Ice house population up; signals good fishing

Going into a third decade of doing so,the local Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Station here has conducted their annual fish house count on selected lakes.

They annually do this the first part of January and this year the count was done on Jan. 9.

Much like last year and the year before that, the winter got off to a mild start and anglers had to wait for solid ice before venturing out with their shelters. They waited and when it was safe, the houses quickly dotted area lakes.

The area saw a snowfall just as the lakes were starting to ice over that could have spelled chronic flooding problems had there been a little more ice at that time.

It didn't happen and anglers have been able to move around the lakes with ease, fishing much the same as last year.

Anglers have been out enjoying the mild winter up until this past week when temperatures plummeted well below zero. And as the temperatures have fallen, ice depths have done the opposite.

This year the DNR counted 871 houses on 71 surveyed lakes. Last year there were 583 houses on 72 surveyed lakes. In 2011 574 houses were counted and in 2010 a total of 764 houses were counted.

The highest total of houses in the count in a given year over the three decades was 1,083 while the low mark was a mere 318.

The uptick in house numbers on the lakes indicates it has been a good year to be out on the ice and to enjoy some winter fishing. "In general, there were more fish houses than expected considering the mild weather of November and early December and late formation of ice," said DNR Assistant Fisheries Supervisor Calub Shavlik. Shavlik takes over the position that was vacant after Edie Evarts was named the supervisor for the Tower management area after spending 10 years here in Park Rapids as the assistant supervisor.

"About 30 percent of the lakes had higher than normal numbers of houses which is the highest since 2001," Shavlik continued. "Notable among those were Potato, Portage, Blueberry, Kabekona, Sixth Crow Wing, First Crow Wing and Big Stony. In spite of the late ice formation, only 10 percent of the lakes had lower than normal numbers of houses. Most notable among those were Stocking (Wadena County), Big Island and Eagle. The other 60 percent of the lakes had about normal numbers of fish houses."

Over the years of the survey, it has been interesting to note how the number of fish houses on a given lake shifts from year to year. Access is certainly a big reason for shifts and is a reason Fish Hook annually has the highest number of fish houses no matter what the ice conditions or the bite. But one thing I have noticed is the fact a hot lake during the fall bite often times has more houses on it the following winter. That is, providing it is accessible to anglers.

And if a given lake starts the winter season with a hot bite, it doesn't take long for the word to spread and the number of houses on the lake to jump dramatically.

The lake-by-lake count for this year can be found in the outdoors section of the Enterprise web page.