Cabin Country: Healing powers of a portable fish house

  • Updated: February 27, 2014 - 2:42 PM

R. Struck, of Grand Marais, stands outside the portable fishing shelter he built this winter.

On August 6, 2012, our oldest son, Robert, died at the age of 50 of advanced prostate cancer. On top of this stunning loss I was diagnosed in July 2012 with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. These experiences left our entire family to rethink our goals and the lives ahead of us.

As I thought of our son’s death and my cancer, I realized there might be things I should do soon, special projects perhaps, that would be a good distraction from our grief and challenges. While I did not have a terminal diagnosis, I knew that life can change each day, and that time is always precious. With this in mind, and with a strong interest in woodworking, I remembered a project I always intended to pursue: building a portable ice fishing shelter.

This plan appeared in the January 1995 issue of Field & Stream magazine. I found it back then while waiting for my haircut at a Great Clips salon. General building instructions were included in the article along with a list of materials for both the shelter and the sled underneath. I kept the article and put it away for safe keeping.

Then, 18 years later, in January 2013, and with most of the materials gathered in my garage workshop, I began a monthlong process of constructing the shelter. I spent almost every day working on this project. Late each afternoon I’d come into the house tired and cold (there’s no heat in my shop), but pleased that I was finally on my way with the shelter and all it promised for the future. I knew our son would be pleased to see this project take shape.

Along the way I made several changes to the original plan: I used a pair of 10-by-20-inch hinged doors for the floor. I installed carpet, air vents and S-hooks, which double as coat racks. I inserted 8-inch round porthole windows on two walls. I attached skis (purchased at an antique shop) to the floor bracing underneath.

A small propane heater provides the shelter with heat. With two small folding chairs, food, minnows and gear, there is enough room for two adults to fish comfortably in any weather. My friend Jim of Chaska and I spent a good day recently on Elbow Lake off the Gunflint Trail with an air temperature of 6 below and windchill of 20 below. Even with all our gear piled on top of the collapsed shelter, we could still pull it nicely over the snow. Because I used half-inch exterior plywood and not the 3/8-inch stock noted in the original plan, my shelter is indeed heavier, but very sturdy. And the outfit slides easily into the bed of our pickup truck.

I found a great deal of satisfaction in building this shelter. I know Bob loved the outdoors as well, and his spirit is with us. Soon our youngest son, Matt, and my wife, Peg, will join me in ice fishing and hopefully grandkids, too. It will be good therapy for all of us.


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