ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota company leads our evolution on the ice

Jeff Drexler built his first fish house in 1997 at the request of a dealer selling the backyard storage sheds he was manufacturing at the time. Montevideo-based Ice Castle now produces 50 different models of its popular RV/fish wheelhouses, and demand continues to grow.

IceCastleIMG_2471.JPG
Ice Castle is producing at its maximum for its workforce and facilities, some 32 to 36 units a week through the entire year. Jeff Drexler, company president, is shown in a portion of the company's Montevideo manufacturing facility on Feb. 2, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

MONTEVIDEO, Minn. — In the beginning, there were upturned buckets and jig sticks.

And it was good, but ice fishing has gotten a lot better thanks to innovations in everything from cold weather clothing and electronics to portable and wheel fish houses.

One of the biggest game changers in ice fishing continues to bring us in from the cold in style.

IceCastleIMG_2411.jpg
Ice Castle produces 50 different models. This "Minnewaska" model Ice Castle was found on Lake Minnewaska on Jan. 30, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Ice Castle in Montevideo is turning out 32 to 36 of its popular RV/Fish house units each week, on pace to match or exceed the 1,600 units it produced last year.

“It’s about our max right now, and I’m OK with that,” said Brett Drexler, son of Ice Castle founder Jeff Drexler, and current president of the company. Ice Castle relies on a workforce of about 160 workers to produce its 50 different models.

ADVERTISEMENT

Demand continues to grow, said Drexler. Everything from the COVID pandemic, which caused a nine-week suspension of work last year, to supply chain issues make things challenging.

There is currently a six-to-eight months wait for Ice Castle’s models with hydraulics to hoist and drop the units, and a four-to-six weeks wait on the hand-crank models. It’s the longest ever for the products.

IceCastleDSCN4237.JPG
Ice Castle fish houses are popular for their comfortable and attractive interiors. Customers are able to customize their units when ordering.
Photo courtesy of Ice Castle

Drexler said the waits are frustrating for Ice Castle and customers alike.

“Customers get excited when they order it,” he said. “They want it and they want it fast.”

Used by their owners as both ice fishing wheelhouse and summer RV camper, about 90 percent of the Ice Castles leave the Montevideo manufacturing facility with air conditioners installed.

Company founder Jeff Drexler said he debuted his first Ice Castle with an air conditioner years ago at the Minnesota State Fair and the reaction was uniform,
“Everyone thought we were crazy. ‘What do you want an air conditioner on a fish house for?’” he said, laughing.

IceCastleDSC_0001.JPG
Ice Castle workers are producing 32 to 36 units a week to keep up with the demand. <br/>A workforce of about 160 produce the company's 50 different models. Workers in Montevideo are shown on Feb. 2, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Jeff Drexler built his first fish house in 1997. Drexler had been working for a company that produced manufactured homes. He started his own company, American Surplus, in 1993 to produce backyard storage sheds.

Drexler said he was selling many of his sheds through Milaca Unclaimed Freight in Mora. The owner there suggested he build a fish house.

ADVERTISEMENT

He built a 6½-by-8-foot box on a trailer.

“Nothing in it at all, basically carpeted floor and four holes,” said Jeff Drexler.

They’ve come a long way since: Today’s models range in size from 6 ½-feet by 8-feet all the way to 8-feet by 32-feet. They come customized with everything from private bedrooms to dinettes.

IceCastleDSCN4245.JPG
Ice Castles are popular for both ice fishing and summer camping adventures. Ninety percent of the units come complete with air conditioning units, reflecting the fact that they see as much summer use as winter.
Photo courtesy of Ice Castle

The models range in price from $9,500 to $64,000. The majority of sales are for models in the $20,000 to $40,000 price range, according to Brett Drexler.

The most popular model right now is the 8-foot by 21-foot hybrid RV Extreme 2. It’s designed for a family of four or five, with sleeping quarters in the V nose and multiple sleep spaces in the rear.

READ MORE OUTDOORS BUSINESS COVERAGE:
Last summer was the year of extreme drought; this summer has been just the opposite.
Members Only
Pick your fish species, rod size and colors, and the Chisholm resident will do the rest.
Conservationists have spent years trying to stave off a national decline in hunting and fishing, but the 2020 pandemic appears to have righted a sinking ship.
Members Only
Popular Lund boats made in New York Mills factory will be common on Minnesota lakes on fishing opener Saturday, May 14.
Jeff Roste has 35,000 Marshmallow Mitts in a warehouse, and 35,000 Hot Dog Mitts coming in July.
But in some cases, more white stuff meant fewer customers

No matter the model, Ice Castles have changed ice fishing in many ways. Families use them for weekend “ice camping” adventures in the winter. Surveys on some of the state’s biggest lakes have shown an increase in winter and night time fishing pressure due to the growing popularity of wheelhouses.

Yet it’s hard to know the impact of wheelhouses in terms of overall fishing pressure on the state’s lakes during the winter, according to Jack Lauer, southern Minnesota regional fisheries manager with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Wheelhouses are among a plethora of advances, from electronics to portable houses, that have expanded opportunities for anglers, he noted.

IceCastleDSCN4235.JPG
Ice Castle produces 50 different models, and is seeing continued customer interest in larger models such as this White House model.
Photo courtesy of Ice Castle

Wheelhouses have certainly opened up ice fishing for more people. Drexler said customers come from all ages. Many are purchased by families. He knows more moms and dads and their children are enjoying time together on the ice because of them.

ADVERTISEMENT

There are private Facebook groups for Ice Castle owners who share information and ideas on how to enjoy their units.

There is also a growing after-market as well. Entrepreneurs are producing everything from mounts for rattle reels to magnetic fish catch “scoreboards” designed for use in Ice Castles.

Looking forward, Drexler said the company is looking to develop a bigger footprint in the summer camper market. It’s producing some models without holes in the floor for sale in warmer weather states.

The ability of the units to be set flat on the surface makes them popular as RVs for many, especially seniors. No stairs are needed.

Drexler anticipates that demand for Ice Castles will continue to be strong, and not just because more people are discovering them. The lives of Ice Castle owners change, he noted. Some couples downsize to a smaller model when they become empty-nesters. Others will upsize as their family grows or they have more time for recreation.

Overall, he said the trend is towards larger units.

IceCastleDSC_0015.JPG
Brett Drexler, son of company founder Jeff Drexler, oversees the company operations as president. His father continues to drop in and lend a hand as well. The company is located along Highway 7 East in Montevideo, where Jeff Drexler opened American Surplus in 1993. He built his first fish house in 1997 at the request of a dealer who sold the backyard storage buildings he was building at the time.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
Ice Castle Fish House.jpg

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
What to read next
Members Only
It had been a few years since there was a decent blueberry crop where I pick, but this year the stars aligned.
To learn more about the program and apply, visit z.umn.edu/MG_info or call 612-625-9864.
It's a far cry and a long plane ride from California, but at Tettegouche State Park, visitors to the North Shore can find both the water and as close as we get to the mountains in Minnesota.
One year after the Lake County wildfire, the scorched Superior National Forest, cabin owners and McDougal Lake Campground all show resilience.