Anyone who loves ice fishing has thought about getting their own shelter for the winter because it is much easier than, and usually more cost effective (depending on how much you fish) then renting one each time you go. I have collected data from all over the web and put it into a single place to give you as much information as possible on helping you make a decision on buying a new, or used ice fishing shelter, as well as what you might typically spend on building one of your own. Ice fishing has gained some very serious popularity over the years, and even with the warmer weather, is here to stay for a lot of the world.
For us hardcore ice fishing enthusiasts out there, taking a weekend trip with your friends and family to the lake is a perfect getaway to relax and just have fun. There are even models of ice shelters that come with all of the amenities of home in case your friends or kids get bored and want to relax with the television set and even video games. The days of sitting out in the cold waiting for a fish to bite is in the past, and ice fishing is being taken very seriously, and to the next level for anglers all over the world.
Types Of Ice Shelters
There are several different types of shelters that you can buy or rent so we have detailed them for you below:
- Small Shelters: These shelters normally look like tents and are extremely mobile and easy to set up. These are normally big enough for you and a friend to put a chair or stool in and the ice hole. There may be room for a few tackle boxes, but that is about it. These are designed to cut the wind down and are normally not big enough, or have enough ventilation for a heater, so warm clothes are a must. These are normally the least expensive of the different types of shelters and looks like a taller version of a tent. This is a great way to get out into ice fishing when you are only going to go a few times a year, or if where you live does not have extreme weather conditions that come up all the time.
- Built Shelters: These shelters are built by you, or a contractor and look more like cabins. They can be on a skid so they can be pulled off the water when the weather starts to warm up. They can be customized to any size dimension you want but will need to be stored somewhere close, or small enough to fit in the back of a truck or flatbed trailer so they can be transported to your home. They are normally built out of a wood frame and will have a roof to keep the snow and rain off, and can be equipped with a heater or wood stove depending on size. These are great if you are full-time ice angler, and want the cabin like feeling for an ice shelter. Most of them are a little bit larger than an outhouse and will have bench seating for people where multiple holes can be drilled if you want.
- RV Type Shelters: An RV shelter looks like an actual travel trailer, but built for one purpose, ice fishing. These are normally built in the midwest or back east where it gets cold and stays cold for months with lots of snow. These are like normal trailers and can be hooked to the back of a truck and pulled out onto the lake with no problem, and have wheels so they can be pulled down the road. They will typically have gas tanks attached the front and will also have stuff like a sink, stove, and all the other amenities of a travel trailer. These are a very good option for people that have a truck and a nice place to store the trailer for the winter, and a completely self-contained with heat and even a bathroom. The perfect weekend getaway option for people that live in the snow and ice fishing is very popular.
- No Shelter: The old fashioned way of taking your gear, drill, shovel, and other tackle out to the frozen lake and setting up camp with nothing around you. This is perfect for anyone that has cold weather, but not extreme weather conditions which would make it difficult to sit out in the open. This is perfect for anyone like me that lives in California, and anyone that does not ice fish a lot, or is going out for their first few times. Having no shelter can be extremely dangerous though, so caution should always be used to avoid things like frostbite and hypothermia.
As you can see, there are a bunch of different options for people when it comes to staying out of the cold, but there is always the option of not having a fishing shelter at all depending on the weather conditions and the lake. I do not suggest anyone goes ice fishing without a shelter in any type of snow storm or severe weather. Winds tend to pick up much worse on a frozen lake, so please be careful.
Access To The Water
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when heading out to go ice fishing is the road to get there, and access to the lake. Most roads out to high traffic lakes that are popular to ice fishing will be plowed, but anything that is not county maintained might not be so four-wheel drive is always a good idea. Getting stuck in the snow can be very dangerous and also costly if you have to get pulled out. Popular fishing lakes will also have lots of access to the lake so you can get your shelter out onto it, and will normally not be a problem. Smaller lakes that are not well known might still have lots of snow on it and you might not even know you are on a lake if there has been no plowed recently. Always know where you are going and how to get on the lake before you even head out, or you could end up having your vehicle stuck or sunk under water and have to wait for spring to get it out.
Here are the top five most popular ice fishing lakes in America:
- Lake of the Woods, Minnesota
- Devil’s Lake, North Dakota
- Lake Michigan
- Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin
- Leech Lake, Minnesota
As you can see, places in the Midwest and East are the most popular because it stays colder there longer, and the ice is much thicker, making it safer to be out on for a longer season.
When it comes to ice fishing popularity, there are a few states that really get into it, and are the most popular. If you live in any of these states, you are in luck for the winter season of fishing:
- Michigan: From November to March, the ice fishing is a huge hit and stays cold enough to enjoy the ice. It has tons of inland lakes as well as a Great Lake, so you are in for a treat living or visiting there.
- Minnesota: This place gets downright cold in the winter, falling well below negative numbers when it comes to freezing, so it is a great place to ice fish. It’s a good idea to take some sort of shelter to any of their beautiful lakes. You can ice fish from December to February.
- Wisconsin: This lake has access to a Great lake, so Chequamegon Bay, off Lake Superior, is the best spot they have. There is also another bay along Lake Michigan that is great for walleye and pike. This state is by far one of the most popular to visit, so if you are planning a winter getaway to fish, check this place out!
There are tons of great ice fishing places to visit other than the U.S. with beautiful lakes and great winter conditions like Canada, so if you have the time to travel, get out of the country and check out their local fishing hot spots!
When you think of building a new ice fishing shelter, PRICE will always play a huge part. I am not made of money, and neither are all the people reading this article right now, so I do understand that a budget is a must.
If you decide to buy a shelter, especially the mobile one that looks like a trailer, you can expect to spend around $25,000 dollars for a new top of the line ice house, and the only ones I have been able to find are coming from the Midwest. A used mobile ice house can run you anywhere from $5000 to $20000 depending on the age and model of it, so finding one used for your first shelter might be the best option.
Building a small ice house can run you anywhere from $1000 dollars to $5000 dollars for the lumber and accessories if you are doing it yourself and depending on size. If you have a contractor build you one, it will most likely be more. If you do hire a contractor, make sure you check their past work and find a reliable person to build your ice shelter.
Smaller And Mobile Shelters
For tent style ice shelters, you can find them online starting at around $100 dollars and going up to $500 dollars or more. You can check out a great example of a Popsport ice shelter HERE that is rather inexpensive.
When you are talking about taking a shelter out on a lake, especially on ice, it is important that you know what to do in case of an emergency. Most of the time, you will only need insurance if one of two things happens. The first is that something happens to you while taking the shelter to and from the lake, so something like it falls off your truck, or you get in an accident pulling it. In the event that this happens to you (which we hope it never does), you can typically make a claim to your auto insurance if it is the tow behind camper type of shelter, and they will come out and do an inspection and make a claim for you. If it falls under something that is covered, you can get it fixed or replaced by them.
The second thing is that you do not get your shelter off the ice when it starts to get warm, or you tow it out to a place where the ice is thin, and it falls through and sinks to the bottom. The first thing to do is make sure that everyone around it is safe and away from danger and not in any harms way. The second is that it can sometimes be covered under your homeowner’s insurance, so you could make a claim to them and pay your deductible, and get it replaced. You will want to carefully read the policy you have and make sure everything is covered.
It is really important that you make calls and tell the insurance companies what exactly you plan to do with the ice shelter so that there is no issues with coverage in the event that something bad does happen. There is nothing worse than spending your money and finding out that your insurance does not cover the damage that has happened to your ice shelter. I have even heard that some policies cover bear attacks, depending on the form you use. The most important thing to remember is that you ALWAYS need insurance on something like this because mother nature is NOT predictable at all.
When starting out ice fishing, and wanting to get your own shelter, the first question you have to ask and be honest about is how much you are really going to use the thing. If you know that you are going to go out every weekend in the winter, or take special trips with your friends and family, then owning your own ice shack is probably going to be a great investment for you and you will get your moneys worth. If you like ice fishing but have kids that play sports, or other weekend commitments that will keep you off the lake for weeks at a time, then it might not be a great investment for you, and renting will become the better option. Another route is to go into the purchase of a shelter with another person or group of people like a time share, where you can setup weekends to use it, and the cost is going to be much, much less. Never fool yourself into thinking if you buy one you will use it more because that usually does not happen. Ice shelters are a huge investment, and it does take money to keep them up and since they are surrounded by ice, water and snow, mold and mildew will be a fight that you will have to deal with, even if you weatherproof it as much as you possibly can, so be careful when making this big decision.
Like everything, even an ice fishing shelter depreciates over time, so you will most likely never get what you put into it, back when you are done with it and want to sell it. If you build or have an shelter built out of wood and other material, you can spend whatever you want, and try to ask whatever you want in return, so at that point it will be a supply and demand type of thing. The shelters are going to be more popular in the winter, so selling it in the spring and summer is most likely not going to be a good idea. If you buy a small two to four person ice tent, you can probably get up to 75% of your investment back depending on how you store it and if you keep it clean before resale. If you want to go buy one of the ice fishing trailers, you are going to lose money right after you drive it off the lot like any recreational vehicle. As long as you keep it clean and do all the regular maintenance on it and store it in a nice environment where the paint does not fade and it looks good, you can get back a lot of what you have put into it. If you leave it out behind your house all summer and it is fading and has cracks, you are going to get pennies on the dollar for it, and will be out money, especially if you still owe money on it.
Since you can only have the shelter on the lake for a few months at a time, that means you have to store it some place when are not using it. Depending on what type of shelter you are wanting will depend on what type of storage you are going to need. The easiest of course is going to be the tent style shelter becasue you can clean it off and it will fold up nicely and can be stored some place safe like your garage or shed. This makes it easy to keep the shelter clean and protected so it not only holds its value, but will be usable for many years. If you have a home made, or constructed shelter made from wood, storage is going to be the hardest because you will need to find a place either at the lake, or at your home to store it for the summer. It is best to store it some place where the elements like sun and wind will not beat down on it, and in a place where you can make repairs if needed to the roof or siding. The last and most easy to maintain is the travel trailer type of ice shelter because it is on wheels and can be towed and stored much easier than any other type of shelter you will come across. These types of shelters can be stored in a garage, the side of your house, and even RV storage places where they will not be messed with at all. If you do not have the room for a trailer on your property, you can call around to storage yards, and usually pay 100 – 250 dollars a month depending on the length and services that are offered. You can even get covered storage so the sun does not beat down on your roof and deteriorate it over time.
Is This For Me?
Owning an ice shelter is not for everyone, especially in states where the ice fishing season is only a couple of months, or sometimes does not happen at all depending on the weather patterns. In California where I live, we have had years where it did not really snow at all and the ice fishing season was terrible, so I would never have bothered with even thinking about buying a shelter for myself. If you live in the midwest or back east where you are sure to get snow and ice, this might be a better scenario for you to buy your own. Owning an ice shelter is also a cost that some people do not want to shell out for a few months out of the year, and buying a travel trailer brand new can be extremely costly, and a monthly payment that most people just do not want to deal with. My suggestion is that you go out at least two seasons and see if you are a true fan of ice fishing, after all, it is cold and wet and can often result in no fish. Owning your own shelter is a huge responsibility for maintenance, so think about it thoroughly before you take the plunge into buying or building one of your own.
When it comes to owning an ice shelter, there is a few “gotcha’s” that people do not really think about when going to buy or build one. Here is a break down on a couple of things that you should keep in mind before owning one:
- Tires: If you buy a camper or mobile shelter, at some point you will need to put tires on it. Some tires can be cheaper than others, but you could potentially spend over $1000 dollars for a set, and if you store it some place the sun will sit and bake them, they will wear out much faster.
- Roof: If you do not have a covered spot to put your shelter, the sun will tear your roof up and you will have to get it repaired or painted before taking it out, or it will leak and that can ruin a trailer.
- Rust: Since you are going to be keeping this shelter near ice, water and snow for months at a time you are going to run into rust at some point. Checking your shelter constantly will ensure that you can get rust issues fixed quickly and much cheaper than letting it go and having something metal snap while you are using or towing it.
- appliances: Appliances like heaters and stoves will break if not maintained. Refrigerators are also very costly costing upwards of $3000 dollars to replace, so scheduled maintenance will help the life of them.
- Dry Rot: if you are storing your built shelter at the lake or by your house, you will want to use treated wood that will not get dry rot and will save you costly repairs with wood, especially on the frame of the structure.
- Mold And Mildew: With sitting on ice, snow, and rain during the winter, you will run into things like mold and mildew. It stinks, and is very unhealthy to be around, so always check for these signs and treat them asap, or they could cost you a lot of money to be treated, if it can even be treated.
- Roofing: Most built shelters will have a shingle roof with tar paper, and it is important to fix any issues with leaks or missing shingles from wind right away before the water gets in, and you have to replace the whole roof. Do not be scared with replacing your roof depending on the size because it is not as big of a job like doing your house, and will run you a lot less money to do.
- Termites and other insects / rodents: Depending on where you store your shelter, you may have problems with things like termites, ants, mice, rats, and even bears getting in, so make sure you lock your shelter up tight, and plug any holes that you might see in it. Mice and rat droppings are not go for your health, and things like termites can destroy your shelter quickly if not taken care of.
As you can see, there are some things that might not even have thought of before starting a Google search to find your new ice shelter. Some of these items can be very costly depending on how saavy you are at DIY, and how you treat your shelter in the off season. Research is always key when buying anything, and it does not always have to do with price, but more of what you might run into after buying it.
Whether this is your first season, or twentieth season ice fishing, buying an ice shelter is a a huge responsibility, and should not be taken lightly. Ice fishing is a fun sport for friends, family, or even going by yourself, so I highly recommend having some sort of shelter against the elements. If you are a good handy person and love to build stuff, I would highly suggest building an ice shack because it is more cost effective in the long run. If you have the money and you know that ice fishing is going to be a staple thing in you, your family and your friends lives, then I would look at a nicer trailer type ice shelter as they have a lot of the ammenities of camping, and will be a lot of fun. My final thoughts are that you should at least do your homework, and research all the different options available in your area before you go out and buy one. If you have a friend or family member that owns one, ask them as many questions as you can before making your decision. Lastly, HAVE FUN! Ice fishing is a ton of fun, and is a whole different ball game than your normal cast fishing.