Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Call us crazy, but we really do drive vehicles onto lakes in Minnesota February 4, 2013

HOW WOULD YOU REACT if you read this warning on a website:

Winsted Lake closed to motor vehicle traffic

Now, if you are a native of say California or Texas, Hawaii or Florida, you might react with an incredulous expression and/or a follow-up question:

What do you mean, motor vehicle traffic on a lake?

But, if you reside say in Wisconsin, the Dakotas or Minnesota, you’d understand motor vehicles on a lake and the ban issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on January 25:

Winsted Lake in McLeod County has been temporarily closed to motor vehicle traffic due to deteriorating ice conditions…

The DNR urges the public to exercise extreme caution if using the lake, especially in the area near the aeration system. Ice thicknesses in that area may be less predictable than in other parts of the lake.

This is expected to be a temporary closure. Once ice thicknesses have stabilized, the lake will be reopened to motor vehicle traffic.

A recent ice fishing scene from Lake Mazaska west of Faribault in Shieldsville.

A recent ice fishing scene from Lake Mazaska west of Faribault in Shieldsville shows a cluster of fish houses and vehicles on the lake.

Yes, in Minnesota we drive cars, trucks and other vehicles onto frozen lakes to access ice fishing houses or open-air fishing spots. Sounds crazy, I know. But ice fishing, in which a hole is drilled into the ice to fish, is a big sport here. For example, some 5,500 fish houses are set up each winter on Mille Lacs Lake, probably our state’s most popular winter fishing destination. Roads are even plowed, bridges placed, across Mille Lacs to allow easier access to houses outfitted with kitchens, beds and other comfy accommodations.

Decades have passed since I ice fished on Roberds and Cannon lakes near Faribault with my husband, in the days before children. We’d fish, drink a little beer, play cards and, maybe, catch a few fish. That was all good and fun, until the first time I heard the ice crack. Let me tell you, that sharp crack and the sudden realization that ice can give way (duh) unsettled me. Not that I stopped ice fishing. But I thought more about the vast cold lake beneath me and how I couldn’t swim, as if swimming would be of any value anyway in icy water.

Those long forgotten worries crossed my mind the other day when my husband and I drove through Shieldsville, past Mazaska Lake where nomad fishermen (and perhaps some women, too) have set up a temporary village on the ice. Randy asked if I wanted to go onto the lake, as in our car. My answer was an emphatic no.

Simply put, I put faith in the DNR’s warning:

There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice.

A slightly different version of the scene above. "What's that, a penguin walking across the lake?" my husband laughed.

A slightly different version of the scene above. “What’s that, a penguin waddling across the lake?” my husband laughed.

HAVE YOU EVER GONE ice fishing? What are your thoughts on the sport and/or driving onto a frozen lake?

FOR ANOTHER TAKE on ice fishing, check out Gretchen O’Donnell’s blog post, “Ice Fishing is for Real,” at A fine day for an epiphany by clicking here.

Or visit Gary Sankary’s humorous Old and in the Way blog to read about ice fishing in Wisconsin in “Blake Lake Report where I ask–What the hell?’ by clicking here. And then follow-up by clicking here to read his second post, “Ice Fishing–Answering the question “why?”, a persuasive “speech” on the merits of fishing on a frozen lake.

Did you know a production crew was in the Mille Lacs Lake area recently filming for a possible truTV show on ice fishing, according to the St. Cloud Times?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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26 Responses to “Call us crazy, but we really do drive vehicles onto lakes in Minnesota”

  1. Never done it myself but have many friends who are devoted. They do it in NE Minnesota, riding snowmobiles into more isolated lakes, thus finding better fishing, safer fish, more of an adventure, farther from “the softening effects of civilization.”

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      How true. Some of those fish houses are pretty plush. Believe me, I fished years ago in a bare bones basic house.

  2. When I first moved to Michigan from Texas 20+ years ago I was amazed to see trucks on the frozen lake. Shocked. Astonished even. Sadly, the lakes don’t get cold enough for that now, but man, was it cool to see then. :)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I can only imagine your shock at such a sight.

      Thanks for stopping by this a.m. Love the name of your blog, “Life on a Dirt Road.”

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    Lots of folks have fishing shacks on Clear Lake close to us here in Mason City. I don’t like the cold enough to be interested but some of the shacks are pretty fancy! I think it might be a place to escape for some men! :-)

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, yes, an escape place for men likely would be an accurate description.

      I just heard on the news that a man and his grandmother died yesterday when their car went through the ice on a metro lake.

      • Beth Ann Says:

        Oh no! I just would be “scared” to drive on it if I did not have 100% confirmation that it was not safe. I guess I am not a risk taker or a rule breaker at all.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        The way our Minnesota winters have been lately, I think it’s becoming riskier to drive onto the ice.

  4. Truly, it is mind-blowing for those as ignorant as I was when I moved to this neck of the woods! I’d go out if anyone ever invited me… :-) Thanks for the tag, Audrey!

  5. Jackie Says:

    Every winter our family went to Lake Shamineau in Northern MN to a family friends home. Me and my siblings loved to go out on the ice….we really thought we were getting away with something. I never once caught a fish but I watched my dad and our friend Harley catch many. Now my son’s are really into the sport, as a mom I cringe every time I hear they are going, even worse is when I know my oldest son is driving out to the ice house in his car….eep!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Sounds like you have some wonderful ice fishing memories.

      I think when we become moms, we begin to view activities, such a ice fishing, from a different perspective.

  6. westerner54 Says:

    It seems that at least once each winter I read about a pickup falling through the ice around here. So, no, you won’t catch me doing that!

  7. randy Says:

    I think we would have seen an entirely different blog had Audrey gone out on the ice and gotten close-up pics and first-hand accounts on the fishing action. Maybe next time.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You are quite right, Randy. But I won’t go onto the ice in a vehicle. Sorry. And any fish house would need to be close to shore, really close, on ice that I am absolutely certain is “safe.” And there are no absolutes when it comes to safety on ice. Perhaps a zoom lens for my camera would solve the problem.

  8. hotlyspiced Says:

    Unbelievable. I would have thought that quite dangerous. What if a part of the ice was terribly thin? Couldn’t a vehicle quite easily end up under water? Or maybe, because I’m from a more temperate climate, maybe I’m underestimating the thickness of the ice and the freezing temperatures xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, Charlie, many vehicles end up, every year, in the water because they break through the ice. Just this weekend a man and his grandmother died when their vehicle broke through the ice on Lake Minnetonka, which is in the Twin Cities metro area. A baby also died on that same lake when the family vehicle broke through the ice a week or so ago. Fourteen vehicles have gone into Lake Minnetonka in recent weeks. Apparently these drivers are going through channels where the ice is extremely thin. Ice can never be considered 100 percent safe. The last lake ice deaths like this occurred three years ago. Nearly every year also on Mille Lacs, fishermen have to be rescued from ice floes when the wind breaks the ice apart and they become stranded.

  9. treadlemusic Says:

    Ice fishing…….NOT! For me, at least!!!! As for cars on ice—–crazy! Lake Minnetonka has had 14 mishaps, and fatalities involved, with vehicles and thin ice. I prefer to observe some basic laws of physics and stay off such areas! A warm sewing room is much preferred!!! LOL!

  10. M. Hatzel Says:

    Folks ice fish in Saskatchewan, Canada, too. Every year a shack or a truck goes through the ice somewhere.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      These winters get long, don’t they? Thus the need for some sport like ice fishing. For whatever reason, the number of vehicles plunging through ice seems to be higher than usual this year in Minnesota. Thanks for stopping by from Canada.


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