Anderson: Good ice is good for state businesses

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 4, 2013 - 1:17 PM

Many are prospering from a recent cold snap that spurred anglers to action.


Appearing cold and desolate, portable ice-fishing shelters — this one recently on the St. Croix River — have revolutionized the sport, keeping anglers warm while allowing them to move freely.

Photo: Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Across Minnesota, hard water is producing hot fishing.

And lots of cold cash.

From the St. Croix River, where crappies have been fairly plentiful in recent days through about 7 inches of ice, to Upper Red Lake, where thousands of anglers huddle in fish houses nearly every day seeking limits of walleyes, the bite, generally, is on.

"This is the busiest winter I've ever had," said Spider Johnson, a fishing guide who owns seven rental fishing houses on Upper Red Lake, about an hour north of Bemidji. "Last weekend there had to be more than 5,000 houses on the lake. In the 12 years I've been here, I've never seen anything like it."

Johnson's house-rental gig hasn't been the only beneficiary of a recent cold snap that thickened most of the state's lake and river ice.

Sales of winter fishing equipment -- from fancy electronics to high-tech portable shelters -- have been brisk, despite early December weather that vacillated too much to make good ice.

What's more, bait is being gobbled up by the truckloads, first -- as always -- by anglers, then by bluegills, walleyes and other sport fish. Which points up a major difference between summer and winter angling:

Virtually every trip, cold-weather fishermen buy bait, while many of their summer counterparts -- muskie and bass anglers to name two -- routinely forego purchases of fatheads and shiners, and instead attempt to trick their quarry using plugs, crankbaits and other hardware.

"These are the best ice conditions we've had in about 10 years," said Ron Meuwissen, owner of Ken's Bait Service in Chaska, whose 10 trucks cart fathead minnows, white suckers, shiners and wax worms year-round to retailers in about a 100-mile radius of the Twin Cities.

"When you get good ice, people put their shacks on the lake," Meuwissen said. "That's when bait starts selling. People fish on weekends. But some also will stop on their way home from work to fish for an hour or two."

In the west metro, early winter walleye fishing was good on Minnetonka when ice there was only 4 inches or so thick.

"That first bite is always best," said Dan Iversen, owner of Metro Lakes Fish House Rental. "It's slowed down now, as it always does. But sunnies and crappies are still going on Minnetonka, and some walleyes are being caught."

Iversen just started pulling his rental houses onto Minnetonka, over about a foot of ice.

Minnesota leads all states in sales of ice-fishing gear, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates is a $250 million annual business nationwide.

By some estimates, about 70 percent of winter-fishing transactions occur in the three states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Clam -- builder of portable fishing shelters and other gear -- and electronics maker Vexilar are among Minnesota's leading manufacturers of ice fishing equipment.

"Our sales are way above projections this winter, and good ice is one reason," said Tom Zenanko of Vexilar. "It isn't just in Minnesota. I was talking to a guy near Sidney, Nebraska, the other day and he had 10 inches of ice there, just like they do near Toronto. People in northern Missouri are even fishing through the ice."

Rapala, headquartered in Minnetonka and the world leader in fishing lures, this past year jumped into the ice-fishing game "with both boots," as president Tom Mackin described it, buying big players StrikeMaster of Big Lake, Minn., and Swedish blade maker Mora Ice.

Additionally, Rapala formed marketing and distribution partnerships with Marcum, manufacturer of electronic sonar gear and underwater cameras, and Otter Outdoors, which builds portable ice fishing shelters and sleds.

Rapala will market its new products worldwide, including in Russia. "Ice fishing is huge in Russia," Mackin said.


But the sport is unlikely anytime soon to be as popular there or anyplace else as it is in Minnesota, where even now, someone, somewhere -- perhaps on Mille Lacs, traditionally the state's premier walleye lake -- is pulling dinner through an icy cylinder.

Yes, of course, the usual caveat and warning: Ice is never safe.

So exercise caution.

Then do what Minnesotans have done since statehood in December, January, February and March.

Go fish.

Dennis Anderson •

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


Baltimore 2 FINAL
Detroit 15
NY Yankees 5 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Northeastern 1 FINAL
Boston 2
Miami-Fla 1 FINAL
Miami 7
Pittsburgh 8 FINAL
Toronto 7
San Francisco 4 FINAL
Oakland 9
Cleveland 0 FINAL
Cincinnati 10
Boston College 0 FINAL
Boston 1
Arizona State 0 FINAL
Arizona 4
Boston 79 FINAL
Cleveland 110
LA Lakers 103 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Sacramento 124 FINAL
New York 86
Houston 96 FINAL
Atlanta 104
Utah 93 FINAL
Memphis 82
Washington 92 FINAL
Chicago 97
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
Denver 106
Nashville 1 FINAL
New Jersey 3
Calgary 3 FINAL(OT)
Philadelphia 2
Washington 5 FINAL
Columbus 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Toronto 3 FINAL
Florida 2
Ottawa 2 FINAL(SO)
Minnesota 3
NY Islanders 2 FINAL(OT)
Dallas 3
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Arizona 1
Los Angeles 5 FINAL
Edmonton 2
San Jose 6 3rd Prd 1:51
Vancouver 2
Ole Miss 82 FINAL
Alabama 74
Eastern Mich 67 FINAL
Ball State 60
Kent State 81 FINAL
Bowling Green 80
Ohio 66 FINAL
Buffalo 93
Georgetown 60 FINAL
Butler 54
Toledo 77 FINAL
Central Mich 85
Rhode Island 59 FINAL
Dayton 75
Youngstown St 67 FINAL
Detroit 77
North Carolina 81 FINAL
Georgia Tech 49
Loyola-Maryland 45 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Iowa 77 FINAL
Indiana 63
Akron 63 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 70
Army 52 FINAL
Navy 56
Maryland 60 FINAL
Rutgers 50
Kennesaw St 54 FINAL
USC Upstate 90
Jacksonville 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 81
Lipscomb 76 FINAL
Northern Ky 73
Stetson 67 FINAL
North Florida 81
Wright State 57 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 60
Western Mich 63 FINAL
Northern Ill 65
Nebraska Omaha 80 FINAL
North Dakota 78
Houston Baptist 71 FINAL
Abilene Christian 83
NC State 66 FINAL
Clemson 61
Texas A&M 62 FINAL
Florida 66
Kentucky 72 FINAL
Georgia 64
West Virginia 69 FINAL
Kansas 76
Auburn 61 FINAL
Missouri 63
Michigan 78 FINAL
Northwestern 82
Villanova 76 FINAL
Creighton 72
Longwood 55 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 63
Charleston Southern 39 FINAL
Presbyterian 47
Coastal Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 68
UMass Lowell 60
West Virginia 55 FINAL
Kansas State 59
Texas 79
Fresno State 61 FINAL
Air Force 41
San Jose St 76 FINAL
Boise State 91
Nevada 61 FINAL
Colorado State 68
San Diego State 76
Wyoming 61 FINAL
Utah State 57
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question