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Ice fishing in style in Okoboji

OKOBOJI, Iowa -- The fish weren't biting -- not so much as a nibble -- for Shawn Johnson, 13, and Tyler Brigham, 12, both of Spencer, Iowa. But the boys were hopeful their luck would change.

"We saw a bluegill, and that's it," reported Johnson, as he jiggled his minnow on the end of the line.

Despite the lack of fish, the youngsters were enjoying their day off from school, with veteran Johnson showing novice Brigham the finer points of ice fishing. And the conditions were favorable for such teaching efforts. They were taking advantage of the comforts provided by the Okoboji Boat Works Ice Fishing Shack on Smiths Bay, West Lake Okoboji.

The 30- by 40-foot floating building features a 10- by 24-foot hole, sort of like a gigantic aquarium.

"We haven't seen anything for a while," reported Scott Hunter, a Okoboji Boat Works employee from Laurens, Iowa, as he searched the water's depths for signs of movement. "We had some muskies come through this morning. I've seen some that just take your breath away. It's kind of spooky when they come through."

Earlier in the week, Hunter helped net a large Northern -- "probably 22 to 24 inches," he reported. He'd also witnessed people catching perch, bluegills and walleyes at the fishing shack.

The lads from Spencer were determined to stay at the shack until closing time -- 5 p.m. -- and they weren't alone in their vigil. Marvin Rassel and Lisa Haahr, both of Spirit Lake, Iowa, and Luke Olson of Storm Lake, Iowa, had dropped lines in the water. The trio snacked on tortilla chips and salsa as they waited for fish to make an appearance. It was their first ice-fishing foray, a trial effort.

"It's one of those hurry-up-and-wait things," said Rassel.

All of the anglers were impressed with the comforts offered by the ice shack, which has a wooden floor, several TVs for viewing, tables and chairs for playing cards and even overhead fans for circulation. When the sun goes down, lights are dropped into the water to facilitate the viewing.

"On the weekends, it's usually pretty packed," said Hunter. "People expect it to have an ice floor and maybe five or six holes drilled in the ice. They don't expect this. We keep it between 65 and 67 degrees, so no one's freezing."

Hunter generally works four or five days a week at the ice fishing shack, and he admitted it was an easy duty.

"I've got a pole in right now," he said, pointing to a fishing pole posted along the railing. "I can fish, watch TV and get paid for it."

This is the inaugural season for the ice-fishing shack, which dominates Smiths Bay and is surrounded by dozens of smaller, private ice-fishing shacks. It was the brainchild of marina owner Butch Parks and constructed by Brady Parks and Buck Harriman. The structure will have an alternate use once the ice has departed the lake.

"In the summer, the sides will come off," explained employee Peter Redmond of Spirit Lake, Iowa. "In the spring, we'll float it back toward the bar, and it will become a floating deck for the summer customers."

Redmond said the public had responded favorably to this new concept in ice fishing.

"Families love it," he said. "It's great if people have never been ice-fishing before. It gives them a chance to try it out in a conducive environment. We also have an ice rink out here, and people can rent ice skates."

Ice fishing costs $5 for the entire day and the fee includes use of a fishing pole. People can purchase the required fishing licenses -- both in state and out-of-state -- at the nearby convenience store.

"The shack is also available for rental for private parties," Redmond added.

On a recent afternoon, Redmond said that more than 20 people could be found trying their luck in the ice shack.

"One gentleman who was here had just gotten back from serving with the military in Iraq," shared Redmond. "While he was over there, he'd been in contact with his dad, and his dad had told him the only thing he wanted was for his son to come back safe and sound and take him ice fishing. So the two of them sat in here, fished and talked. The dad said it was one of the best days of his life, being able to sit next to his son and ice fish."

The Okoboji Boat Works Ice Fishing Shack is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Extended hours are available for private party rentals. For more information, phone (712) 332-9904.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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