Long a sport for the winter-hearty, ice fishing -- which just now is beginning for the season in far northern Minnesota -- might soon also attract those who insist on warmth and (relative) luxury with their cold-weather walleyes, crappies and sunnies.
That's the impression a visitor takes from the St. Paul Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Show, which concludes its three-day run Sunday at RiverCentre in the Capitol City.
What began not many years ago as an experiment in mobile fishing houses built on retractable wheels has blossomed into a business with many competing manufacturers, each seeking to upgrade winter anglers to amenities unknown to previous generations.
Sarah Coates Lange, general manager of Coates RV Center near Forest Lake, which sells Salem Ice Cabins, says winter anglers have provided a big boost to her recreational vehicle trade, which typically slows in winter.
"The Ice Cabins have been very, very popular,'' Lange said. "They're made to RV specifications, and we outfit about half the units we sell with air conditioners, so they can be used in summer as travel trailers.''
Manufactured by Indiana RV builder Forest River and owned by investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Co., Salem Ice Cabins range from 14 to 20 feet, with show prices from about $11,000 to $16,500.
Other mobile winter-fishing house builders also are at the show, including Ice Castle (www.icecastlefh.com) of Montevideo, Minn., the largest manufacturer of ice "homes,'' with sizes ranging to 24 feet. Custom Cottages (www.customcottagesinc.com), which builds "hunting, fishing, camping mobile shelters'' of aluminum alloy frames and shells, is there, too.
Lighter, less expensive and more portable fabric fishing shelters manufactured by Clam, Eskimo and Frabill (plenty of each are at the show) offer winter anglers more flexibility in their hunts for fish through the ice.
And Canvas Craft (www. canvascraftinc.com), headquartered in the northwest suburbs, is exhibiting fabric fishing shelters whose walls and ceiling include Thinsulate insulation. Noteworthy is its Northlander All Terrain Trailer ($2,795), which converts from ATV hauler to ice fishing shelter, hunting blind or utility trailer.
Other neat stuff at the show:
• Prices continue to fall on underwater cameras, with low-end models in the $275 range. In not too many years, these are likely to be used as commonly as sonar units are now.
• The Wilcraft Amphibious Sportsmen's Vehicle (www.wilcraftrep.com) -- a wheeled, motorized ice fishing machine that floats -- offers a measure of safety many ice anglers will appreciate.
• Catch Cover products (www.catchcover.com) of Brainerd are cool, from the original hole covers used in wheeled ice fishing houses to the multi-flex rod holders that can be employed either in hard-sided houses or fabric portables (they clamp on aluminum support poles).
• Kolpin of Fox Lake, Wis. (www.kolpin.com), manufacturer of innovative ATV accessories, also is at the show, with ATV holders for ice augers, plastic buckets, compact gas tanks and other winter necessities.