DYI Permanent Fish-House Do's and Don'ts

Permanent Ice-Home DIY Do’s & Don’ts

It’s the time of year when ice heads across northern climates start thinking of their winter plans. Maybe it’s the onward march of the calendar towards fall, or maybe it’s just that ice can be a comforting thought when the mercury is stuck in the 80s and 90s. Whatever the reason, people now are building their own permanent shelters, or remodeling old ones, including myself. A buddy and I are converting an enclosed single axle trailer into a makeshift summer and winter threat that will both haul over tar, and sit on top of ice. This article is aimed at the do-it-yourself (DIY) crowd, so hopefully you can take our mistakes and learn from them!

Photo of the interior of a permanent ice fishing shack
DO take the time to make your door as wind-tight and well-fitted as possible. DON’T forget portable rattle reels.
Two men inside an ice shack, one holding a walleye above a hole
DO invest in quality lighting. Spend the money and buy low-draw LED bulbs or light bars that diffuse light evenly throughout the house. DON’T forget to include all of the simple comforts of home.




The adage “measure twice, cut once” applies here in many ways;

perhaps from a construction perspective, but also from a general ice-fishing planning one as well.  Think long and hard about the way you use a hardside ice-shelter in the winter, and especially how you fish out of one. I prefer to be out on the open ice. However, I also appreciate and enjoy modern comforts afforded by a well-heated space that offers fixed seating and more room.

Still, if you’re like me, knowing that you’re already confined to a small space on the ice, you’re pulling overtime thinking of ways to offer as many fish as many looks as possible.

View of inside a permanent ice fishing shack
DO invest in low-draw fans that keep the heat off the ceilings and moving around the entire house constantly.

To me, that means individual anglers jigging from a direction or area that they’re comfortable in, along with a combination of rattle reels and even tip-ups outside to round out the spread. Livebait vs. deadbait, deadbait motionless vs. deadbait jigged, etc., etc., etc. These are the kinds of fishing experiments you’ll be running inside the house. You should setup the house for maximum flexibility. To me that means portable rattle reels that can be interchanged from hole to hole at the drop of a hat. It also means that depending on how many people you’re fishing with, the amount and configuration of holes used may be drastically different.

If children will be in the house, un-used or lots of holes spells wet legs and early leave times, so consider covers of some sort.

Heat and the direction or power of heat is always an issue in any house.

It always seems like there’s either too much, or not enough heat. Invest in low-draw fans that keep the heat off the ceilings and moving around the entire house constantly. Also be wary of setting lines too close to heat sources. First because of the obvious burn dangers, but also because it’s not very comfortable sitting in front of the furnace on full blast.

Do invest in quality lighting

…as most folks get a few incandescent lights, or rope-lights, then call it “good enough.”   They say, “I can always wear a headlamp after dark.”  Go the extra mile, spend the money and buy low-draw LED bulbs or light bars that diffuse light evenly throughout the house.  My experience is that rarely is there enough good light to tie knots, unhook fish, and find the jig you’re looking for.

Man drilling into the floor of a permanent ice shack
DO Screw down covers with snap-on lids and removable hole sleeves offer far more flexibility, comfort, and ease of use.

Also, take the time to make your door as wind-tight and well-fitting as possible.

The door gets the most abuse in any ice house. It’s kicked, swung against the house, and the handle is banged repeatedly, all while the forces of extreme cold, heat, moisture, and resulting ice make it difficult to work as intended. Good quality insulated doors are now easier to find, so consider spending more on something that will last.

I grew up on a farm. I must regularly resist the urge to unleash my inner wire, bail twine, or duct tape fixes. Perhaps the best advice I could give any DIY’er, is to realize both the limits of your ability, and to recognize a better mousetrap when you see one. I encourage talented carpenters and woodcrafters to design everything from more efficient shelving, to beautiful wood interiors, rod racks, and even cabinets. I strongly discourage using 2X4s and other wood scrap to fashion items such as a door latch. They make effective and time tested versions of these every day, with many options to fit several budgets.

Case in point would be Fishhouse version 1.0 from last winter.

My friend is an HVAC contractor, and has plentiful tin at his immediate disposal. Our first hole sleeves then, were metal. At first, they worked extremely well, and were somewhat disposable with how much ducting he has lying around. That was until they froze or the auger blades would nick the edges and practically shred them.

Enter another alternative, the venerable five gallon bucket. While a great budget option, they offered a sizable “lip” that extended above the floor. This creates trip and toe stubbing hazards at every turn. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you have a house full of ice-holes, and each one of them has this lip, you’re walking real estate becomes far less than you might expect.

Getting the screw down covers with snap-on lids and removable hole sleeves, did not prove to be free like the buckets were, but did offer far more flexibility, comfort, and ease of use. More importantly, it means our ATV can be driven right on top of the hole covers and we can use the fish-house to also haul.

Lastly, don’t forget to include all of the simple comforts of home.

Racks for drying items, hangers for a pliers, ruler, or jaw spreaders, and small shelves up high for putting food or other items away are some of the last things thought of. Ideally, for some, it’s best to just fish the house somewhat bare, and then add things on an as-needed basis.  If you’re like me, you forget the drill and screwdrivers each time, and end up focusing only on the fishing. Not a bad thing, as it’s the primary reason you’re out there. However, the best permanent houses for fishing are not coincidentally the ones that are best thought-out.


By Joel Nelson

Joel Nelson leans over ice fishing hole and holds up fish

About Joel Nelson

Thirty-some years ago, I was lucky to be born into a farm family with a strong work ethic and love for the land. My folks were too busy farming and raising three boys to spend much time hunting and fishing. However, they encouraged my passion for the woods and water that took root in me from a young age. Some of my first memories of the outdoors include chasing squirrels and rabbits up the hill and fishing for chubs in the “crick” below our house.  From there, Grandpa Stanley honed some skills and taught patience while I’m sure exercising plenty of his own. Those first memories were fuel for a fire that burned from the hills of northern Wisconsin to the mountains of Yellowstone. From the small waters of Southern Minnesota, to the big windswept waters of the north, I fished wherever I could.

I learned more than I thought there was to know. I have come to understand that the only true way to preserve knowledge is to share it. Now I find myself trying to follow in their footsteps as I teach my own children the lessons that have been so graciously handed down to me. In the process, I’ve found joy and satisfaction in not only the pursuit, but the partnerships. In not just the acts, but the experience. I feel a strong sense of purpose in sharing those adventures with fellow sportsmen and outdoors-women. Without the people that did so for me, I am confident that my life would somehow be less whole for it.