Offcuts: Ice-Fishing Shack By: Don Heisz

An old friend of mine wanted to build an ice-fishing shack a few years ago. He owns a nice piece of property on a lake north of here. He spends most weekend during the summer there with his family, enjoying the peace and quiet, the fresh air, the lack of cell-phone reception, the Sunday-afternoon-return-home traffic…
Actually, the cell-phone situation has been fixed. This hasn’t done him much good, though, since his phone never stops ringing, buzzing, whistling, or beeping. Communication is great if it doesn’t eternally tether you to your job.
Anyhow, he decided he wasn’t getting enough winter use out of the cabin and decided to start spending a couple of weekends there in January and February. He’s always been an avid fisher, has all the hooks in his hat to prove it, but he never spent much time ice-fishing.

I, on the other hand, have clear memories of ice fishing from when I was a child. My uncle used to drag me (and my brother) to a pond near where we lived, where he would chop six or eight holes in the ice with a hatchet. He would bait hooks dangling from sticks he would place across the holes and we would wait. And we would wait more. And we would fairly quickly begin to freeze. So most of the time ice fishing was spent discovering more and more foolish and ineffective ways to keep warm.
There are some days in your life you just can’t replace.

My friend, rather uncharacteristically, did no research before he tried fishing on the frozen lake and discovered that the wind can turn a regular cold day into something that feels much like swimming in a vat of liquid nitrogen. A full year passed before he decided to give it a second try, but this time he was armed with the magic of internet search engine results and, of course, me.
Why build something yourself when you can get someone to do it for you?
I, however, am not a fan of working in cold weather, so I suggested we build his shack in his garage and he could then drive it to his lake on his trailer. An ice fishing shack doesn’t need to be big. In fact, it should be small enough to move easily onto and off the ice.
He, of course, wanted it bigger than it should be. Sensibly, he thought it should be big enough for both him and me to sit in and fish. I said, yes, it is a good idea to make it big enough for someone who wants to go with you.
We made it out of ripped 2x4s and 3/8th inch plywood. The door was also plywood on ripped 2x4s, hung from two butt hinges and latched with a gate latch. I wanted to paint it fire-engine red but he thought green was a better colour.
In other words, it was a box. It had two benches in it, opposite one another. The door was between the benches. One window, opposite the door, made from 1/8th inch acrylic, provided a window. We put it on its side on the trailer and drove it the 2 hours north to his property.
Of course, he was excited. The weather had been exceptionally cold for a couple of weeks, so he was certain the ice was thick enough. And that day was also very sunny and cold, one of those winter days that makes everything glisten and shine. We arrived without incident (which is unusual for me, in itself – I fully expected the load to come unstrapped and for the shack to possibly fly off and land on a witch somewhere). We unloaded and moved the shack to the lake, where we left it on the shore.

The lake was there, undoubtedly, but it wasn’t a glassy smooth shining ice-rink of a lake. It was more of a dune-landscaped, impassable, desolate, and rather frightening snow-field. So, there was no fishing that day.
Winter projects are always fun, if you can stay warm while doing them. I’m a special case, perhaps. I’m uncomfortable working with gloves on, so my hands end up very cold. Injuries and age seem to have reduced the circulation in my fingers, so they quickly become useless and numb. I also don’t like white very much, and there’s an awful lot of white around in winter.

The ice fishing shack stayed beside the lake all that winter and suffered no ill fate. the following year, my friend did successfully use it with a couple of his other friends. A bit of drinking made them a little lazy on the last night, and they ended up leaving the shack out on the ice while they slept in the cottage. A friendly breeze carried the shack away in the dark. Or perhaps a bear has adopted it as a good way to catch fish in winter, instead of sleeping in a cave.
He’d probably be able to find it if it was fire-engine red….

Originally publish January 4, 2014