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Crappie Boom Towns hold firm on the ice

Ice anglers are far more mobile these days, with one exception. Annual count of fish houses on area lakes continues to show that anglers stay put when the crappies are biting.

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Anglers try their luck in a wheelhouse on Point Lake earlier this month.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
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SPICER — A lot may have changed from the days when ice anglers pulled their homemade fish houses of canvas or wood out on the lake, but it doesn’t really matter if you’re towing an Ice Castle wheelhouse or popping open a portable, hub fish house.

You want to be on top of the fish.

In that respect, the annual fish house count conducted by the fisheries department with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Spicer continues to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This year’s count shows that some of the more popular lakes are once again, the lakes that hold the Crappie Boom Towns.

Foot Lake, Diamond Lake and Rice Lake had some of the higher fish house counts when this year’s count took place, January 11, 12 and 13.

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An ice fishing house sits on Foot Lake
A lone ice fishing house sits away from a larger grouping of houses on Foot Lake on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Ice anglers are much more mobile these days, and the number of houses to be found on area lakes when the count takes place during the mid-week versus the weekend can vary quite a bit, according to Brad Carlson, assistant fisheries supervisor with the DNR in Spicer. But the one exception is the Crappie Boom Towns. People tend to keep their spot on those hot spots and leave their houses.

The fisheries staff has been conducting the fish house count since 1979. The count expanded to a total of 44 lakes in the area managed by the Spicer crew in 1991. Lakes including Foot and Ringo are popular fishing spots today, but weren’t even in the count at first because they were not aerated, and consequently offered very little fishing opportunity.

Thanks to aeration systems, they are among the more popular destinations today.

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Anglers erect their portable fish house on Foot Lake in this Tribune file photo from December, 2020. Ice anglers are far more mobile today due to portable shelters and wheelhouses than when the annual fish house on area lakes began in 1979.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune file photo

Overall, this year’s count found the highest numbers of houses on Rice (131), Diamond (107), Big Kandiyohi (92), Koronis (93), Long Lake by Willmar (68), and Green (64). As the list suggests, it’s not all about crappies.

A good, early walleye bite and perch brought many of the anglers to Big Kandiyohi. Crappies and spearing for northern pike attracted many to Rice. A good early walleye bite as well as nice-sized crappies lured the anglers to Diamond.

Green Lake didn’t hold as many houses as usual, but it might just be that its anglers stayed tight-lipped. The lake produced a good, early walleye bite and anglers were finding nice-sized bluegills when the count took place, according to Carlson.

Through the years, Carlson said the fish house count has shown a downward trend, though not dramatic. This year’s count found a total of 1.041 fish houses. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, counts were in the range of 1,578 to 1,894.

Many factors are at play, said Carlson. In the '70s and '80s, anglers were more apt to leave their fish houses in place for much of the season.

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Today, it’s all about mobility. With the exception of those Crappie Boom Towns, anglers are on the move more today, taking advantage of tips from social media and friends. The ease of using modern, portable shelters helps make that possible.

And of course, the development and adoption of wheelhouses is the other big factor. Many people don’t like to leave them on the lakes when not occupied for fear they will get broken into, and consequently their numbers are down on the weekdays when the count takes place, Carlson explained.

The trend that shows most when looking at the 1979 to 2022 counts is the ebb and flow of crappie fishing on local lakes. The years with the biggest counts are the years when crappie fishing was at its best. This really shows up through the years on lakes including Games, Andrew, Diamond and Rice, he said. Rice is probably the area’s most consistent in producing crappies year in and year out, although Foot Lake is proving itself to be a consistent crappie producer as well.

Every year, the fish house count identifies a few “sleeper” lakes that catch on due to a hot bite. This year’s top honor belongs to Lady Slipper lake in the southernmost portion of the area managed by the crew. Lady Slipper had a very hot, early walleye bite. It was very likely the result of walleye fry stocked in 2019 that grew rapidly in the fertile waters of the shallow, prairie lake.

A look at the top destinations as revealed by this year’s count. Numbers include both angling and spearing houses.

Rice 131

Diamond 107

Koronis 93

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Big Kandiyohi 92

Long (Willmar) 68

Green 64

Norway 63

Foot 56

Lady Slipper 45

Andrew 39

Nest 36

Long (Hawick) 36

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Portable fish houses popped up seemingly overnight once ice conditions allowed it on Foot Lake at the start of the 2020-21 season.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune file photo

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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