You can take some fresh-baked cookies out of the oven, watch your favorite football team on satellite TV, win a few dollars from your friends during a friendly card game and, if you really wish to, even catch a few fish without getting off the couch.
That's right. You can have the remote in one hand and the fishing rod in the other. It's all possible, if you spend time in one of the increasingly fancy ice houses so much in demand by today's ice fishing fanatics.
The appeal of ice fishing is difficult to explain. Most ice fishermen just reply with an icy stare when asked why they are so eager to put on all the warm clothing they own in preparation for venturing out on a lake that may or may not be frozen enough to support a single man, not to mention a vehicle or $10,000 ice house.
Jason Foss, general manager of Minot’s North Country Marine, checks out the dinette in an Ice Castle fish house.
However, once the ice house is set, the holes are drilled and the furnace is spewing out heat, the ice fisherman becomes the king of the castle. And in today's ice fishing kingdom, the castles appear to be without limit.
When the North Dakota Game and Fish Department eased regulations on the maximum size of ice houses, it plowed the way for ice fishermen to be more inventive than ever. More and more of the old 4x8 plywood fishing shacks are being replaced by towable, manufactured fish houses. Today's ice houses reach up to 26 feet in length and even have slide-out living areas much like pricey fifth-wheelers and motor homes. They are not just ice houses anymore - many are "multi-purpose" units complete with air conditioning for year-round use.
"People are getting to want more comfort and ice fishing is getting to be more of a family event, even a social event," said Jason Foss, general manager of North Country Marine of Minot. "When people are spending $10,000, $15,000 or more on an ice house they kind of have to justify it. We've used one for deer hunting. It was real nice. In the summertime you can take them to the lake or use them for storage for garden tractors and the like."
Leo Zachmeier of Mandan stumbled into the ice house manufacturing business by accident. He had made a few garden sheds and was showing them off at a sport show in 1999 when several potential buyers said the sheds would made good ice houses if they had wheels.
"After that we developed the ice house, our Zach Shack, and started selling a few," said Zachmeier. "They are a multi-use type of trailer, not fancy, but the most practical on the market. They're easy to pull and one guy can set them up with one hand in 30 seconds or less."
Zach Shacks come in several designs and pricing options. They are sized to house a four-wheeler so that ice fishermen can unhook from their tow vehicle, unload the four-wheeler and use it to pull the Zach Shack onto the ice.
"Guys use them to pull Harley's, haul goose decoys and have even shot deer out of it," said Zachmeier. "When it comes to ice fishing, they can set them to match the way they want to fish."
Foss sells Ice Castles, custom-made ice houses manufactured in Montivideo, Minn., one of the nation's leading ice fishing participation states. Since Ice Castles have hit the market, ice fishermen have found more and more features they want built into them. Comfort is paramount. Fishing might be secondary.
Want a satellite dish on top of your ice house? No problem.
How about deluxe bunks with overhead lighting? No problem.
Care for AM/FM/CD stereo with plenty of speakers? Just put it on the order.
Wouldn't those plain white walls look better in rustic pine? Now we're talking.
Still wondering why ice fishermen can't wait to head out into the frigid cold for hours and days at a time?
When you've got a castle, you need to stand on the parapet and rule your domain. Where else can you catch a fish, clean it and toss it into the frying pan while never moving more than a few feet? Maybe those ice fishermen have got it all figured out after all.
When it gets time to lay down and sleep a bit, today's ice fisherman just flips on a built-in light to illuminate his fishing hole and relies on built-in rattle reel to awaken him if a fish should strike while he is slumbering. That's no dream. It's reality.
The price of a Zach Shack ranges from less than $6,000 to nearly $9,000 for a deluxe version of their 6x12 ice house. An 8x14 bare bones Ice Castle starts at just over $6,000. From there, a customer has to decide on which of over 90 options he'd like to include in his ice house.
"There's even an adjustment for each wheel for leveling," said Foss. "With this company, nothing is too much to ask."