Ice shelter owners look to summer as ice fishing season draws to a close


As ice fishing’s popularity continues to grow across the province, more fishers are building and buying shelters with plans to use them for camping or hunting during the summer months.

When Manitoban lakes and rivers freeze for the winter, it’s common to see ice fishing shelters—either pre-made structures or portable tents—clustered together, forming shack cities on the ice. 

Noah Doornbos, an environmental studies student at the University of Manitoba, said the time and money it took him and his friend to build their shelter made it a no-brainer to use it all year. 

Before Doornbos’ shelter ever made it onto the ice, Doornbos took it for a trial run to Dauphin’s Countryfest.

“It’s not a luxurious camper,” he said. “But it easily gets the job done.”

Between him and his friend, Doornbos estimated that it took 72 hours and around $1,000 to build the shelter, which sits on a flat deck trailer. Compared to some other ice shelters in Manitoba, those numbers are a drop in the bucket.

Ice Castle, a Minnesota-based ice fishing shelter manufacturer, has sold over 32,000 fish houses, including a few in Manitoba. Fish houses are trailers that can include TVs, a washroom, and seating areas out on the ice. Depending on their size and features, these trailers can fetch prices in the tens of thousands.

“People are drawn to the luxury of Ice Castles for fishing,” said Brittany Isfeld, owner of Gettem’ Greenbacks, an ice fishing shelter rental company in Gimli. “There’s a lot of potential there in the summer too.”

Ice fishing shelters sit on the shore of Lake Winnipeg in Gimli after being pulled off the ice before the province’s Mar. 31 deadline./ERIC STEINBART

Isfeld said she would like to see more ice fishing shelters repurposed to campers or hunting cabins in the summer.

Doornbos isn’t surprised by the recent turn to complex and luxurious ice fishing shelters.

“I like to fish, but we’ve got a lot of crazy, psychotic fishers in Manitoba,” he said. “If you’re gonna be out on the ice every weekend for eight hours a day, I guess you may as well do it in style.”

The large, all-purpose shelters also have their drawbacks.

Doornbos made the decision to keep his shelter off the ice this winter because of the frequent snowstorms.

“Having a permanent shelter like that really locks you into one spot,” he said. “With the snow we’ve had this year, access would’ve been really tough. I’ll get some use out of it in the summer.”

According to the 2021 Manitoba Angler’s Guide, ice fishing shelters were required to be off the Red River by Mar. 13. Shelters in the rest of the Southwest Division needed to be off the ice by Mar 31. The Northwest, North Central, and Northeast Divisions all have until Apr. 15.