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