Anderson: Removing fish houses an adventure this winter

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 3, 2014 - 3:42 PM

New best friends are easy to make on the river this harsh winter. They’re whoever can help you get to your fish house or get you unstuck.

Friday afternoon on the St. Croix River, tension rumbled across the ice. Steve Woodbeck certainly felt it: His SUV was stuck halfway between Minnesota and Wisconsin, buried in snow. And his transmission was kaput.

“He’s an unlucky guy,” Woodbeck’s pal, Brent Delougherty said. “He’s gone through the ice on Mille Lacs, too.”

“Gone through the ice” is about the only dire circumstance that hasn’t reared its ugly head in recent days on the St. Croix as anglers have attempted to free fish houses from ice and deep snow in advance of looming deadlines for the shanties’ removal.

Similar dilemmas are affecting, or have affected, shanty owners on lakes and rivers statewide, during this, one of the worst winters in memory for fish house management.

Until a few days ago, I was as nervous as a fish-house owner can be. The shack owned by my son, Cole, and to a lesser degree by me (I’m the chief financial officer) was stuck on the St. Croix far from the madding crowd.

The plowed path we used as recently as 10 days ago to reach the shack was buried beneath hard-packed snowdrifts. And despite my best efforts to find a plow man willing to tackle the job — to smash a new road through a half-mile of deep snow — I got no takers.

One guy with a Chevy dually and a V plow summed things up for all of his plowing brethren when he said, “I don’t go on the river, no way.”

Cole and I weren’t alone in our predicament. From Upper Red Lake in the far north, where some anglers were stranded in their shacks for two days following a big storm a couple weeks back, and where entire pickups were buried in drifts, to Mille Lacs, where shanties never were pulled onto the flats this winter due to deep slush, fish house ownership rarely has seemed so much like work.

A week ago Saturday, with few other options, Cole and I descended on the St. Croix to mill around with other flummoxed shack owners.

“Perhaps,” I said, “something good will happen.”

Instead we found only stuck trucks, bent shovels and a guy in a four-wheel-drive pickup racing backward across the river, towing a Chrysler minivan.

Reaching the Wisconsin side, and emerging from the minivan, a dad and his son plodded north, mimicking as they did the fabled “final hikes” of aging natives into the Arctic oblivion.

“Our shack is up there,” the guy motioned, “about a mile.”

“Good luck with that,” I said.

Time passed, and Cole and I were left to contemplate the country crooners who warbled from our truck’s speakers their fascination with tight jeans, beer and dropped tailgates. Less frequently mentioned were cheatin’ hearts, honky tonks and prison, the rightful home turf of Hag, Old Hank and David Allen Coe. Then again, nowadays it’s all-hat radio. No cattle. No mama gettin’ run over by a train. You want pain, I thought, sing about snow.

Then, as if by divine intervention, a V plow materialized from across the river, tossing snow like confetti. Spinning big rubber and taking no prisoners, a 1-ton Ford Excursion was bolted to the steel dagger, the whole rig a real moon walker.

“It’s a miracle!” I shouted, and leaped from our truck, waving my arms.

Skidding his rig to a stop, Dean Welk rolled down his window.

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  • Saved by a big plow truck: The ice fishing house owned by Dennis Anderson and his son, Cole, was reached, finally, on the St. Croix River after Dean Welk of North St. Paul blasted through about a half-mile of drifted, hard-packed snow with a 1-ton Ford rigged with a V plow. Fish houses were due off the river at midnight Saturday. Doubtless, given snow conditions on the river, some are still there.

  • Sufficient ice has formed on most Minnesota and Wisconsin lakes to support vehicle travel. But deep, hard-packed snow is widespread, and often must be cleared by plows.

  • Many fish houses are built on skids that are designed to allow the shanty to be pulled across the ice. But the skids often don't work well in deep snow, requiring trailers for house removal

  • Plows have been required statewide in recent days to remove fish houses. On Upper Red Lake in northwest Minnesota, houses freed from the ice sometimes were pulled through as much as 2 feet of slush to reach land

  • Kyle Thompson of Cottage Grove shoveled his way through slush Friday on the St. Croix.

  • Anderson became stuck on the river in his four-wheeler and welcomed help from anglers.

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