Minnesota anglers scrambling to get their icehouses off lakes by Monday’s midnight deadline faced an unusual problem this year: just getting out to them.
Many had to slog through deep snow and drifts just to get to their houses, only to find them frozen to the lake, encased by an unusually thick buildup of ice and snow from this year’s harsh winter.
In some cases the drifts around the houses are 7 feet high, said Capt. Greg Salo, who works in enforcement for the Department of Natural Resources.
“The wind is probably the biggest problem,” he said.
The DNR allows some flexibility for owners who truly cannot get their houses out but says the deadlines for most are firm. It has even recommended that owners bring friends and equipment out to help. In some areas, icehouse removal businesses are sprouting up.
Dave Kuntz, an ice fisherman on Lake Waconia who removed his icehouse on Monday, agreed that recent snow dumps made it difficult to get to the houses.
While this year has been unseasonably cold, he said the deadlines could help to ensure the safety of icehouse owners while on the lake.
“The weather can turn so fast,” said Kuntz, who was able to remove his house without difficulty. “It can make a big mess. Fish houses could start falling in the lake.”
The deadline set by the DNR for icehouses to be off the lakes is a minute to midnight Monday for anglers on the state’s southern inland lakes; for northern anglers the last call is March 17.
Even as the deadlines remain firm, the DNR will work with icehouse owners in light of the unseasonable cold, according to Maj. Phil Meier with the DNR’s Division of Enforcement. This year, he said, houses off the beaten path will receive special consideration.
But owners were cautioned to take the deadlines seriously and not use the weather as an excuse.
“This isn’t a free pass to wait and see what happens,” said Salo. Icehouse owners should keep in contact with their local conservation officer if they are unable to remove their houses in time but are making honest efforts to get them out, he advised.
After the deadline, owners of houses left on the lake could be fined $125. If the case is prosecuted, they could be on the hook for court costs. Meier said the DNR has been encouraging owners to remove the structures weeks in advance of the deadline and said that bringing along a few friends to help is a good idea.
The situation has also opened up opportunities to make a little money as people are offering their icehouse removal services for a fee.
“We’re seeing signs up quite frequently all over the area,” Meier said.
The DNR has been keeping tabs since December on which houses may be at issue under the law. Icehouses with trash piled up or without the required licensing markings are big indicators, Salo said.
The DNR encourages icehouse owners having trouble getting off the lake to contact their local conservation officers. To find yours, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/officerpatrolareas/index.html.
Danielle Dullinger and Liz Hustad are University of Minnesota student reporters on assignment for the Star Tribune.