There’s No Shack Like Mine

The Snake Chaser is 16 feet of lean, green ice-fishing machine

There’s No Shack Like Mine

This story is part of a larger series on ice-fishing culture. To read all series posts, click here



Our ice shack isn’t pretty and it didn’t cost much, but there are few places in this world I enjoy more.

The Snake Chaser began its life of recreational pleasure as a 1971 Trailblazer Tenderfoot. As originally outfitted, the 16-foot camper trailer weighed 3,600 pounds. That’s largely how it came to us. But after a series of crude (yet effective) modifications, it now weighs in at approximately 3,200 pounds. This includes gear and life-sustaining supplies — corn meal, gun powder, ham hocks and guitar strings. It is an ideal ice fishing machine.

Original equipment included a three-burner stove and oven, furnace, sink, deluxe cabinetry, three beds, a dining room table and ample closet space. We tore out the beds and most of the closet walls and ran a bench all the way around three sides. We also replaced the table, reducing the size and raising it up slightly to make it easier to maneuver around.

This is our seventh year fishing out of her. She spent the first couple years nameless and then, very organically, became the Snake Chaser. We mostly fish for northern pike, and the little ones are commonly referred to as snakes because they’re long, skinny and mean. At least for their diminutive size. We catch a lot of them in the 16- to 20-inch range. That’s basically where the name came from. It’s also a little bit of a play on the guys who call themselves musky hunters.

It’s not as if we lack the ability to catch bigger fish, at least not entirely. It has more to do with our chosen body of water. A 30-inch northern on Boom Lake is a rarity. A treasure. And you have to sift through some snakes to get one. I’m still sifting.

Beginnings

Our first shack was built in December 2003. I had just moved back to town that summer to take care of my mom after she was diagnosed with cancer, and my friend Steve suggested we build an ice shack. Another friend Tom — we all grew up playing hockey together — gave us a rusted out tandem-axle trailer to build it on.

The structure was simple. We framed it mostly with 2x2s to keep the weight low, skinned it with quarter-inch plywood, insulated with the cheapest Styrofoam we could and find cut in two little pieces of Plexiglas for a view of the outside. We threw an old carpet remnant from my basement on the floor, and brought in a card table and a few folding chairs, a hook for a lantern, a little single-speaker radio and a propane heater. That was about it. We had a hell of a lot of fun in it, played a ton of cribbage, caught a few fish.

Our tradition of writing on the walls began in that old shack. I wish we still had the foam sheets that told the stories of those early days. But time moves on, and that shack wasn’t built for the long run. We weren’t actively looking for a new shack, but one day my friend Turk called from the local gun and pawn shop and said he just took in an old camper in amazing condition. We got the camper for $300 and gave the old shack to Turk’s dad, after leaving it alongside an unsuspecting friend’s pole barn for a year.

The Snake Chaser’s maiden voyage was on January 7, 2012. It’s written on the cabinet door, above the oven. We keep a supply of fresh Sharpies in the shack, and her walls are covered with tales of days past: fish caught, fish missed and quotes noteworthy either for hilarity or stupidity. Usually both. A day in the shack is like living a hundred other great days all at once. You’re among friends even if you’re here alone.

We also use Sharpies on the outside, once a year. Ice shacks in Wisconsin are required to have the owner’s name and contact info clearly displayed on the outside. We put the name next to the door but, over the course of the year, it always wears off. We have four owners, and no one ever volunteers to use their name. So whoever isn’t there the day it gets hauled onto the ice gets their name put on it. I think we’ve had a couple non-owners’ names on it as well.

My Girl

If you’ve never spent a day in the shack, you might look at it and think it’s just a ratty old camper. But if you’ve spent some time, and you’re the kind of person who can appreciate the simplest and best things, you might just love her as much as I do.

She don’t know she’s beautiful (never crossed her mind)
She don’t know she’s beautiful (no she’s not that kind)
She don’t know she’s beautiful
Though time and time I've told her so


Next in the Series 

Two Weeks on the Ice: Daily Log 1

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