Far greater number of people would be enthusiastic about cold weather sports if they could put aside their dread and distaste of the discomforts which low temperatures bring. That is a simple matter, if the potential sportsman will but cast off prejudice and listen with an open mind.
Consider the Eskimo. He lives the year around in cold weather without fear or fret simply because he knows how, by dressing properly, to get along with it. Thus, if you are new at icefishing, the very first questions which should, and will, occur to you are:
"What should I wear?" and "How will I keep warm ?"
The very first thing to remember is that icefishing is quite different from the general run of winter sports such as skating, skiing, etc. These are sports which call for continuous activity, and, obviously, the participant has therefore a good chance of keeping reasonably warm even though lightly dressed.
Icefishing, on the other hand, is a waiting game. The walk to the chosen fishing spot may warm you to the perspiring point, especially if you tote much gear. Setting up your equipment, spudding holes through the ice, etc., will also keep you warm. But, once the bait is down, there will be at least a certain amount of standing or sitting around, no matter how cooperative the fish happen to be. In addition, an expanse of ice is wide open to every uncongenial whim of the elements.
Plenty of clothes are always in order for icefishing. It is far less uncomfortable to carry too many on your back, and remove a layer or two, than to be freezing all day. That does not mean, of course, that you should wear so much clothing, of such great weight per layer, that you are unable to move. In fact, you may even feel the cold more by over-dressing for it, especially with tight or binding garments which interfere with ease of movement and circulation.
Your body generates heat, which warms the air next to your skin. You must cover yourself with materials which will hold enough air to retain a maximum amount of body heat. These materials must allow air to escape very slowly, yet steadily, so that the cooled air may be continuously replaced with body-heated air.
The research done on cold-weather clothing during the war, and its results as evidenced in new kinds of cold-weather garments, boots, etc. changes the present-day situation quite radically from what it used to be. A very great many kinds of jackets, Arctic over-all suits, sheep-lined boots, leather garments, etc. are slowly becoming available which previous to the war were never even heard of. Most of these items are very definite improvements over what we once thought of as proper cold-weather clothing.
However, such items are not available to everyone, and so I propose to go over standard garments known and available to everyone, and to add suggestions for only one or two war-popularized items. The suggestions and cautions should allow you to make up an entirely satisfactory outfit.
Down-filled outer garments are without question the lightest and warmest of all. The best down comes from far-northern birds, and thus, obviously, manufacturing materials of this sort are somewhat limited, as compared to wool, etc. If everyone switched immediately to down, the few manufacturers would undoubtedly be unable to supply the demand. However, it is unlikely that everyone will, for the simple reason that down-lined clothing always carries a pretty stiff price tag. But such items are worth every penny they cost.
A few firms continue to supply top quality jackets, pants, vests, long coats, and parkas lined with quilted satin and filled with 100% pure Arctic down. These are light in weight, extremely light, and when the weather gets too warm for very heavy clothing they "breathe" so well that you don't feel uncomfortably warm in them, as you would in heavy layers of other materials, yet the temperature could be 40 below and you'd still stay warm. In addition, these fine down garments, because they are expensive and designed for and by Alaskan out-fitters, have to be built to stand tough wear, which they do.
I can't get enthused about garments filled with, say, 40% down and 60% crushed feathers. What you have to look for in all outdoor clothing materials is that item the manufacturers call comparative "loft." That is, the volume of measurement of elevation of the fibers before and after they have been used. If you use down to represent 100% loft, all other materials fall well below it, both in original loft, and in loss of loft after use. This means that highly resilient down fibers will always have the greatest volume of air spaces among them, and will thus form the perfect insulation.
Mixtures of down and crushed feathers suffer a rather high loss in loft, and, while down which has been somewhat matted will quickly fluff up again with airing and shaking, the mixtures will not. Low absorption is also vitally important, and here down fills the bill perfectly.
Thus, if you feel you can afford them, by all means outfit yourself with down-filled breeches, vest, parka, coat, or jacket. You'll never regret the expenditure.
The next best material is wool, thick wool, closely woven. A loosely woven wool garment lets air penetrate, and body heat escape, too fast. But closely woven virgin wool, which remains pliable and soft no matter how thick, performs both the necessary functions perfectly. Wool has excellent wearing qualities; it is warm; it repels moisture very satisfactorily. Snow will brush from it in cold weather without soaking in, as it would with cotton.
Leather, though it will obviously keep out wind, is inclined to be stiff when cold, and to feel cold to the touch. There are some good leather garments, made soft and pliable, but they are heavy, and always as expensive as down without giving the all-around satisfaction of down.
Late years, some of the fellows on the ice have been wearing cover-all suits, pulled on over their regular outer clothing, made of high-count, tough poplin. These are not particularly warm, but they are good wind breakers. The many wind and water repellent materials are good in some ways, bad in others, and should be chosen carefully, if at all. "Water repellent" means lightly rubberized, and treated. Thus, though no drafts get in, no perspiration gets out.
This brings up another advantage of wool. The woven fabric, though it may be a quarter-inch thick, is made up of many tiny, greatly resilient fibers which refuse to mat down, as would cotton. A gust of wind cannot go through them, yet the tiny air spaces among them allow the fabric to "breathe." Body moisture is taken up, and released, in a slow, methodical fashion. You can always tell good virgin wool by pulling apart and untwisting a bit of the yarn. The fibers where broken will look very fine, and crinkly.
There is one other important item to consider when acquiring clothing for winter sports. You cannot buy perfection in warmth and comfort at the very lowest prices. Choose garments of the very best quality materials, and be willing to pay a good price. Buy standard, well-known, and tested brands. Such clothing will last for years, will find many uses other than icefishing, will be equipment to be proud of, and will do the job its makers claim.
Several layers of underwear made of light material keep one warmer than a single heavy garment, for the simple reason that air spaces are left between the layers. It is an excellent idea to wear two suits of long underwear. These, however, should be carefully chosen.
If you can't wear wool next to your skin, get a pair of very light cottons for a "base." Then pull on a good suit of reasonably heavy fleece-lined woolens. Long underwear should definitely not fit too snug. If it does, circulation is impeded around ankles, wrists, even across the back of the neck and shoulders. You'll find two-piece suits (pants and shirt) better than the oldtime singles with the bi-swing seat.
A two-piece suit of longies doesn't bind across the neck, the legs don't stretch the top down off your neck and shoulders, as singles sometimes do, there's greater freedom of movement, no trap-door drafts around your backside, and the overlap around your middle gives you an extra bonus of warmth.
A suit of comfortably snug extra-light silk and wool, fleece-lined next to your skin, then a rather baggy (but not so much so that it'll wind up in knobs and bunches) suit of good old red heavies, will lay a real ground work for your barricade against the cold. See that the shirt necks aren't cut skimpily. Around your collar bone is a bad place to have cold seeping in.
Sweatshirts are the worst items of clothing ever invented. They're always stretched out around the neck. They either bind under the arms, or hang so loosely they feel hideous. In addition, they don't "cling" as will light wool. For their weight and thickness, they merely take up a lot of room without giving much warmth in return. And they hold the least bit of moisture forever, matting down so they feel worse than ice when damp or wet.
It should be obvious that a sweater, which is a loosely woven garment, is little or no protection against wind and cold when exposed directly to it. Any kind of light wool sweater worn underneath a closely-woven wool shirt is of course an excellent idea. It builds up another layer of tiny air pockets, breathes well, and holds warmth. There's one type of sweater, however, which in my notion beats all others. That's the light wool turtle-neck sweater, of which regulation Navy issue is the very best example.
The close-fitting turtle neck seals you in, the wool keeps you warm, the cut of the sweater gives you freedom, the material is soft. This sweater should be large, remember, for it'll have to go over your longies. If the wool around your neck bothers you, as it does some tender-skinned persons, fold a large cotton handkerchief, don't knot it, inside the turtle neck, so that it overlaps all around. The snug fit of the neck will hold the handkerchief in place.
Since you are to be walking and standing on ice, footwear is one of the most important parts of your wardrobe. Silk and cotton socks are worthless, unless you happen to be one of those who can't abide wool next to your skin. If so, put on your pair of light cotton or silk socks first, then add as many layers of wool as you can stand.
My own method is as follows. A pair of short (ankle-length) wool socks, a pair of fairly snug knee-length wool socks, a pair of large knee-length wool socks. Your socks shouldn't fit so tightly that they inhibit movement of your toes. That kind will feel warm when first put on, but when your toes begin to get cold, they'll cut down circulation. On the other hand, socks should not be so loose that they'll get balled up around the toe, heel, or under the arch of your foot.
Shirts should be of wool, of course, and of the very best quality, closely woven. Be sure your shirts are cut full in sleeves and shoulders, with a tail that isn't one of those skimpy, middle-of-the back affairs. Some of the big, heavy plaids you can get are actually thick enough to be worn as outside garments on sunny days when the breeze is down. But remember, one very heavy shirt doesn't give you a chance to take off or add clothing, as two lighter ones will. If you have a fishing shanty, it is a good idea to leave one or two in the shanty.
You have probably seen dozens of outdoor workmen and sportsmen wearing pants or overalls outside their boots, the bottoms rolled up, or simply scuffing around at boot-heel. The outside-the-boot idea is a very poor one. Drafts go up the legs, and cuffs are forever sloshing around in wet snow. For the ice-fisherman, breeches of one kind or another are the only practical answer. Not breeches with tight knees, however.
The full-cut pants-type breeches with a knitted cuff at the bottom are excellent. These, worn Maine lumberjack style, with the close-fitting cuff pulled up midway of the lower calf and tucked into short boots, give roomy comfort, and lots of air space. They should not be of canvas, or of any water repellent fabric. Very heavy wool is best, the heaviest you can buy. It will shed snow and moisture better in cold weather than any other material.
If you don't like this cut, one equally as good is what we in Michigan call "Soo Wools," a name which originated from Sault Ste. Marie, the port of entry through which many Canadian woolens come into Michigan. Such woolens are not necessarily of Canadian manufacture. The term as colloquially used means a very heavy wool fabric. These breeches are cut more snugly at the knee, so that they may be worn with high boots. The calf of the leg is usually fitted with a lace.
Before you choose boots, be sure they're going to be able to keep you both warm and dry. If one cold weather garment can be said to be more important than another, boots take top place for the ice-fisherman. There are dozens of kinds to choose from.
Tight-laced, knee-high leather boots are useless. When it's warm they stifle your legs. When it's cold they freeze you. No matter how much tallow you rub into them, they still get damp inside. Hip-length rubber boots, though they keep out the wet, are cold, and don't allow release of body warmth. Ordinary four-buckle overshoes aren't bad, when you have the proper stuff inside. But if you will discard all footwear ideas except the following, you can't go wrong: air force-type boots; Maine pacs; felts-&-rubbers. The first mentioned can be purchased surplus, or in any good sporting goods store.
Maine pacs can be purchased in any cold-country store that handles footwear. Surely everyone is familiar with them, the shoe portion of rubber, with a lacing leather top of varying height sewed on just about even with the ankle joint. Good ones are made so that they don't leak around the seam between rubber and leather. The rubber keeps your foot dry, the leather top avoids the disadvantages of a rubber boot. Lace 'em loosely.
Socks-&-rubbers, or, more correctly, felts-&-rubbers, are a combination: a heavy, knee-length felt sock shaped to the foot; a pair of ankle-high, single-buckle rubber over-shoes. Without doubt, there is no better footwear for icefishing. They keep you dry, provide excellent insulation between your foot and the ice, and are very warm.
And here's a footwear tip. Whatever type boots you decide on, get them large enough so you can wear a sheepskin slipper inside. Such soft, pliable slippers, not those with a stiff sole, but simply a hunk of sheep hide sewed into foot shape, fleece inside, pulled on over your various layers of socks and worn inside the boots give you a top-notch cushion against that cold stuff you stand on.
Your coat should be long enough to come well down over your hips, and preferably to your knees. Some of the jacket-type coats, such as sheep-lined leather jackets, etc. though warm enough, don't cover enough surface. Also, a double-breasted coat is far better than a single breasted one, for it eliminates a few more spots where drafts can get in.
I have an old sheepskin-lined corduroy coat, knee-length, which has been around for so many years I'm ashamed to count them. It has a huge sheep collar, which can be fastened under the chin after it's turned up. This coat is not only tough as to wearing qualities, but is also extremely warm.
In the coat category, we may also consider the various types of cold-proof vests, the best of which, undoubtedly, is the ordinary sheepskin vest, fleece side in. Such a vest is a good gadget to have around for that extra-cold day.
The most popular all 'round icefishing coat is the heavy weight mackinaw. Here again, heavy wool proves to be an excellent material. These coats wear for years, give freedom and ease of movement, don't get wet easily, and are warm as they come. And most of them have slash pockets, which are handy for hand warming.
Your parka should also be extra long, well down toward your knees. It should have deep slash pockets. The outer material should be soft, yet tough. The lining should be of wool, alpaca, sheepskin, or fur.
I have not mentioned down linings again for pants, vests, coats or parkas, for I feel that my meaning should be obvious. Get down by all means, if you can. All other materials suggested for any items of clothing as "best" mean simply best if you don't have a chance to get down.
For headwear a cap with long visor, when you don't wear a parka, is best, for it helps protect the eyes from sun glare on snow and ice. Wool is a good material, with long ear-flaps that are heavy and warm. A muskrat hat with turndown earflaps is also a very good idea, but I like a visor. For dark, windy days, a sheep-lined leather helmet that fastens under the chin is a good idea.
Gloves, if worn at all, should be tough, and of course fleece- or wool-lined, the outside preferably of leather. Knitted gloves or mittens are pointless. Thick blanket-wool is fair. The best all-round covering for your hands will be a pair of tough leather mittens, fleece-lined. And the leather should have a frequent going-over with some kind of waterproofing.
You should always have an extra pair of mittens in your duffle. You should also have a couple of pairs of cheap work gloves. These are handy to wear when you're spudding ice holes, setting tip-ups, etc. For the waiting, you can change back to your mittens. And, if the work gloves get wet, which they probably will, they can be quickly dried over a fire, or atop your lantern.
Here are a few more tips on keeping your hands warm. Fleece-lined breeches pockets are a wonderful idea. If you can't buy breeches with such pockets, buy the sheepskin and have it sewed in. The slash pockets in your coat or parka also assist greatly, and it's handy to have the type of pocket which opens from both inside and out, which will allow you to run your cold hands clear through and warm them against your wool shirt, or under your arms.
Always carry a towel in your duffle. When you handle bait, or find it necessary to unsnarl a line, etc., do so with bare hands. It'll only take a few seconds. Afterward, dry your wet hands thoroughly on the towel. Meanwhile, keep your mittens in your pockets, where they'll stay warm. All these moves take a bit more time, but easy does it in the long run.
Undoubtedly there are a hundred other items of clothing which could be piled on here and there over one's anatomy. Many kinds of light jackets have their places. Vests of blanket material often come in handy, as do sleeveless sweaters also. Even a good wool scarf has its place, and is valuable for handy reference in the duffle bag. By and large, however, if you'll follow the advice given herewith, you'll stay comfortably warm on the coldest day.
Kinks and gadgets for keeping warm
Although proper clothing is the basic answer to comfort on the ice, there are numerous ways in which you may assist your garb in its job of battling the cold. Every small addition to general comfort makes the sport more enjoyable by eliminating some small share of what would otherwise be a distracting annoyance. It's only the would-be he-man who gets pneumonia from icefishing. The sensible fellow takes a little ribbing for carrying the comforts of home onto the ice with him, but he feels better during and after, and he has twice as much fun!
The ice-fisherman can take along as much or as little gear as he chooses, according to his situation and his choice. By discussing many conveniences here, each individual can then choose what will be best for him, in relation to his toting power and ambition, and how well-equipped he wants to be.
I have a friend who owns a fine, winterized log cabin on the very shore of a large lake in northern Michigan. Facing the lake there is a huge window. This fellow has a wonderful set-up for winter fishing, particularly as it happens that the best spots for pike fishing through the ice are in a direct line across the lake as he looks out that window. His method is simple, interesting, and even comical, since his dog, a big, laughing-eyed Springer plays an important role.
Jim and the dog go out of a morning, chop the legal number of holes, and set the tip-ups. This doesn't take long, and the walk is but a hundred yards from the cabin door. A rather large flag is used on each tip-up, and the dog, who knows this game from start to finish, is just as much aware of what those flags are for as Jim is.
After the brief spell of work is done, they come back, Jim reads or putters about, while the dog sits tensely on the window seat, watching the flags. The minute one flies up, he goes wild, barking, racing back and forth between window and door. Jim grabs his coat, the two of them race out to the dancing flag, and haul in the pike!
That's doing it the easy way, of course. But there are hundreds of cottage owners who, though they may not have a fishing dog to watch the lines for them, still have locations advantageous to this sort of icefishing.
In case you've never considered putting your summer cottage to such use, keep it in mind.
The fellow with a fishing shanty is in a class by himself. We'll talk about shanties later on, but for now, here are a few suggestions for the shantyless fisherman, which means the majority of us.
The novice at this game may hesitate to build a fire on the ice. However, ice thick enough to be safe for you is certainly not going to melt from under you when you build a campfire on it. You do get a certain amount of melting underneath, and at times the water may inhibit your fire. A good plan is to cut some green sticks to make a fire bed, then lay your fire atop these. And keep it compact. That way you'll get more usable heat, and eventually a good bed of embers.
This presupposes, of course, that you are fishing on a stream, a small lake, or bayou, where you are close enough to a wooded shore to make wood gathering no problem, and it also presupposes that an axe will be a part of your equipment. On the Great Lakes, or the larger lakes, where you may be a mile or more from a wood supply, a campfire isn't very practical. For such fishing, if you purchase one of those small, folding grills made especially to burn charcoal, or oil briquettes, and take along a little sack of fodder for it, you'll have a fine fire all day, a place to warm your hands, dry your gloves, make a pot of coffee, etc.
Nowadays, the shantyless fisherman may also take along a stove. The pocket-type gasoline stove developed for Army use will burn steadily for about two hours for each filling of gasoline, and a small can of gasoline doesn't take up much space. Never, under any circumstances, however, should one be burned inside a shanty or a closed space for any length of time.
Several firms now make perfect little stoves for the ice-fisherman. The best way to get hold of one is to search the hardware stores, the sporting goods stores, and, if that fails, keep watch of the ads in the outdoor magazines. Many of these stoves can be used either for shanty, or open-ice, fishing. One, I recall, is very small and compact, burns bits of shavings, paper, etc., and is so built that it utilizes minimum amounts of such scrap fuel in a manner to get the maximum amount of heat.
Another is a miniature of the little sheet metal wood stoves found so often in overnight cabins. There are also miniature fuel-oil stoves. In many ways, a small stove beats an open fire. It takes less fuel, holds the heat without so much dissipation, and gives you a place to dry gloves, etc. without burning them.
You can make a very satisfactory stove out of a metal can, size anywhere from one gallon to ten. Cut the head off it, cut a couple of half-inch to inch (diameter) holes in either side, a couple of inches from the bottom. Now put a screen in the bottom, supported in whatever way you choose. You can burn coal, wood, charcoal, etc. in such a makeshift stove, and, when the fire gets roaring, slip on the lid. This stove really gets hot, and holds heat where you can use it to best advantage, with a minimum of effort in searching for fuel.
A lantern, set in a wooden equipment box, gives off a reasonable amount of warmth. You can dry your gloves or towel over the top, warm your hands, or sit on the box with the lighted lantern under you. An oil lantern will do, and is cheap and easy to operate. A good gasoline lantern is much better. It will burn for hours without refilling, takes little pumping, gives off many times more heat, and makes a nice friendly sound as it hisses along. Don't leave wet gloves atop it without watching them. These babies really get HOT.
For further comfort, if you're going to be out for any length of time, try the following, which requires lantern, campstool, and blanket. Set up your stool, place the lantern directly under it, fold the blanket over the stool so that it hangs down to the ice on all four sides. You can now warm your chilly rear, your legs will get some warmth, and you can thrust your hands under the blanket flap when they need a shot of heat!
If you are going to be still fishing, you'll sit still a lot more than you will when tending several tip-ups. A good waterproof tarpaulin can add a lot to your comfort, as follows. After the hole is spudded and the rig ready, clear away any ice chips from beside the hole. Now fold your tarp, six by eight is a good size, to a size which will accommodate your stool-blanket-lantern gadget, or your lantern-in-box warmer, or your briquette grill. Place this atop the tarp, and sit so your feet are on the tarp, too. If you don't have stool or box, sit on an upturned pail, or your minnow bucket. You're dry, and you have several thicknesses of tarpaulin as insulation between you and the ice.
Wind on the ice doesn't need to travel very fast to make itself felt bitterly. If you're going to be out long, you certainly should have a windbreak.
Get a piece of light, tough canvas. Its size will be purely a matter of your own choice. However, keep in mind that a windbreak put up, for example, like a tarp staked beside a tent, won't be satisfactory, since gusts or shifts of the breeze will have drafts forever whistling around the corners. What you want is a circular style windbreak. Half a circle is all right, but three-quarters is better.
Thus, figure on a piece of canvas that's, say, six feet wide (this will be height, when it's put up, and will shield your head when you're standing) and fifteen feet long. Make some stakes a few inches longer than the canvas is wide, and sharpened at one end, or with steel nail-type pegs projecting from the bottom. As you'll be running the windbreak in a circular section, it will have to have several stakes to hold it.
Simply lay the stakes down, parallel to each other and spaced at intervals of several feet. Now lay the canvas over them, the top edge even with the tops of the stakes, and attach the stakes to the canvas by means of square-topped, wide wire staples. Put several in each stake. When you're through, it takes but a few minutes and practically no ingenuity on the part of the builder, you can simply roll the whole works up into a small bundle.
Out on the ice, once you have located, and ascertained the general wind direction, spud out small holes part way through the ice, laying them out in the circle you desire, spacing them as your stakes are spaced on the canvas. Set the stakes in, stamp snow or ice chips around each and your scene of operations is cut off from the wind completely. If you have trouble keeping the stakes in the holes, dip a little water out of your fishing hole and pour it around the base of each stake. One whack with the spud will break them loose again when you're ready to leave.
Several firms manufacture temporary shelters, and for that reason it would be a good idea to ask about them at your local sporting goods store. I recall that a firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan, built one at one time, perhaps still does, made of waterproof duck, with a steel and wood frame, and requiring neither center pole nor stakes. That one was made in several sizes, with full headroom, and folded into a compact bundle. It could be set up and collapsed in a few seconds. For the shantyless fisherman, such a structure is a good idea, especially comfortable when you use one of the warming devices previously described, in conjunction with it.
A very excellent, and commonly used, shelter for the lone fisherman may be fixed up as an added feature on a sled. Simply attach a couple of brackets to the side of the box on your sled, into which poles about three or four feet high can be stuck. A piece of canvas as long as the sled, and as wide as the brace poles are high, is tacked to the poles.
When this windbreak is in place, and the sled drawn up beside the fishing hole, you can sit on the sled box, place your heating stove on the box beside you. The windbreak, of head height, is at your back, with the sled turned so that the canvas cuts off the wind. Such an outfit lacks little for comfort except a servant to chop the fishing hole, and a pet pike who'll bite whenever he's asked!
To people outside the icefishing fraternity, probably no other single item of comfort equipment for the sport has identified participants for so long as the tiny shanties, or bobhouses, scattered without pattern over the ice. But all signs point nowadays toward a decline in shanty popularity among the great mass of fishermen, except for specific purposes. New war-tested clothing, new ideas in temporary shelters, have recently so aided in blunting Jack Frost's attacks that more and more fishermen are foregoing shanties and taking to the open ice.
These influences toward putting the shanty somewhat into the background were only the reasons behind the big reason. A few years ago, it was the custom to choose a spot on a lake, set up the shanty, bank it with snow, and leave it spotted right there for the winter. But as more and more became known about the winter habits of fish, a lot of the hit and miss was taken out of the sport by aggressive fishermen who weren't satisfied to wait for the fish to come to them, because all too often the fish didn't.
At first these fellows began moving their shanties to new positions. However, no matter how cleverly the shanty had been built, in order that it might be easily moved, if it was one of a size large enough to be worthy of the name, and well frozen in to boot, the moving work was nothing to snicker at. And so, the more restive anglers left their shanties and started hitting and missing all over the lake, on the open ice, with the result that they hit more often than they missed. They ran the fish down, so to speak. Success began to make them more easily satisfied with a temporary shelter, and the interest in shanties began to wane.
Of course there are still thousands of fishermen who use a shanty, and no doubt there always will be. But it is doubtful if ever again the little house on the ice will be as appealing to every angler, or so firmly stuck in the ice-fisherman's mind as a must item of equipment. In such sports as smelt fishing, where one location will do for long periods, or for various kinds of stream fishing where a further choice makes little difference, or for spearing, etc., the shanty is still a fine idea.
For the fellow who chooses to make a real vacation, or numerous weekend vacations-out of icefishing, it can't be beat. It's like having a cottage for a couple of weeks, and surely all the comforts of home may be had, if one patiently sets the house up with proper thought to each item of comfort and usefulness.
I have no intention of trying to tell anyone how to build the best shanty, or any shanty, for that matter. And for several reasons. If you are the kind of carpenter I am, you couldn't build it after I got through, and wouldn't if you could. If you are a good carpenter, or at least fairly handy at building, you will know how to go about it anyway, or will figure out something to fit your needs a lot better than I could tell you. In addition, there are so many different types that it would be impossible to choose one which would fit every need, occasion, or, for that matter, terrain.
Thus, I propose that if you would like to build, or have built, an icefishing house, you go to some lake where they may be seen in abundance, do some looking around, and pick a design which, when improved upon by yourself, will exactly suit you, weighing carefully its advantages and disadvantages, inside and out. Meanwhile, I would like to offer a few suggestions, which I hope will be helpful.
First of all, decide on whether you want merely a windproof shelter, which is to say a house so small it may be cramped, or a real bobhouse. Personally, I see little point in the shelter type. They're too uncomfortable while you're in them to be worth the bother of moving them into place.
Next, decide before you build the house where you are going to use it, and how you are going to get it not only to the lake but onto the lake. Surrounding terrain will be a consideration. I recall one fisherman who built his bobhouse on runners, a very excellent idea, and had the runners far enough apart so that a stripped-down trailer frame would slip between them when the shanty was hoisted. Thus, he had only to jack up the front end of the shanty, let down the back end of the hauling frame, and, with a man or two to assist, shove the house up onto the frame, where it was chained down. When the trailer was attached to his car, he was under way in no time.
If a house is not too large, and the snow doesn't get too deep, runners are fine when you wish to move from place to place. You simply collect a few helpers, and push and pull. The runners need not be so very high, for that brings the floor up too much off the ice. But they should be well made, and well braced, so they don't splay outward and let your house down.
Some shanties are built with only half a floor, so that the floorless half will come over the hole in the ice. This is all right, but a floor with a couple of small trap doors is better, and warmer, and also helps to keep the holes open because they are thus covered when you are not in the shanty. These trap doors should be well made, and so arranged that they will open back against the wall, out of the way, rather than back onto the rest of the floor, where they would be stumbled over. They do not need to be unreasonably large.
A foot to eighteen inches square does very nicely in most instances. The floor of the shanty should be made of fairly thick boards, rather than made so lightly to save weight that it soon cracks or warps.
Material for the walls can be plywood, or other thin wood, perhaps covered snugly with tar paper. Keep in mind that you might as well not have a bobhouse as to have one ill-made and drafty. The roof should either be a gable type, or slanted, never flat, oh yes, indeed, some fellows foolishly build them that way!, which would get stacked high with snow.
The number of square feet of floor space is, of course, a matter to be settled by the builder, depending on his purposes, how many persons will be using the house at one time, etc. Six by eight is a fine size, and certainly gives room enough for comfort for two, or more. Roof height should be of standing-up dimensions, and there should be room enough to swing a spud or a spear, if at all possible.
The door should be wind proof when closed, and of reasonable height, although it isn't too bothersome to have to stoop a little. There should always be a high "step-over" sill, to keep out floor drafts, snow, and water. In a six by eight shanty, a good arrangement is to place the door in one end, and, directly at the back, at the other end, the stove. In this size house, a fair-sized stove of the potbelly or sheet-iron type can be used, with a square of tin beneath it. You can then either have your trap doors on either side of the stove, at the back of the shanty, or one on either of the eight-foot sides, placed about in the center, with the trap doors tilting back against the walls.
If this last layout is used, four seats can be built, two on each of the eight-foot sides, so that a fishing hole will be between each pair of seats. If the holes are at the back, beside the stove, then full-length wall seats can be built along the eight-foot sides. These seats should be well made, and comfortably padded.
A shanty is for comfort, and if you have one at all, you may as well have real comfort. Long seats, if built wide enough, can be utilized as bunks, if you do any staying overnight out on the ice. They will also make good places to catch cat-naps in the afternoon when things get slow.
These wall seats may be built to fold up, or down, against the wall, to get them out of the way when you wish, and more trap doors for extra ice holes can be built beneath them. If the shanty is large enough, double bunks can be built, to serve overnight guests, double-deckers. At the back of the shanty, or in the gable roof, a shelf and cupboard can be easily fashioned, to give you a place to store gear, extra clothing, blankets, tools, and also a cooking outfit of camping proportions.
A shanty stocked with a supply of canned goods, coffee, etc. is a very cozy place indeed for a week-end session of fishing. Several bags of coal, or a pile of wood and kindling, can be stacked outside the door. Keep the fire pokered up, and you're snug as can be.
A very important point in planning a shanty is to figure on having windows. These do not need to be large, no more than eight inches square. But they will come in handy lots of times. For example, when you are fishing inside the shanty, you may also, if it is legal to use more lines, wish to place tip-ups outside. On a warm day, with the wind not blowing toward the door, you could have the door open and watch the tip-ups through it.
But on a raw, windy day, you'd want the door closed, and the tip-ups would necessitate constant running to have a look. A small window centered in the door eliminates this. A small window on each of the three other sides makes it possible to see in any direction, so that the tip-ups may be scattered wherever they'll do the best service.
These windows should be set in at a comfortable height over the seats, so that you can see through them while sitting down. And each window should be stripped and calked so that it is draft proof. It is a must to build either trap-door type or slide-type covers for the windows, on the inside of the shack.
With such covers, the windows can be made tighter at night, they won't easily be broken in transit, and, most important of all, the shanty may be completely darkened. With the inside dark, you can see every movement down in the fishing hole, without a fish ever being aware that you are watching him. It is a good plan, when placing the shanty, to attempt to get the holes to the south side of it, in order to take advantage of as much winter light through the ice as possible.
Plan to set your stove in such a position that the stovepipe won't run any distance inside the house. It only takes up room, and gets in the way. And make certain, too, that you not only have the stovepipe outlet airtight, but well insulated so that you won't burn down your house.
This is but a very rough outline, of course, of the shanty problem. No instructions will be as valuable to you as a day or two spent nosing around to see what the other fellows in your territory use. Be sure, whatever type of house you settle on, large or small, to bank it well with snow after you get it set. With care in the building and the placing, you can be as comfortable inside as you would be at home.