If I can describe this winter in two words, it’s fish bliss. For the last month, the weekends have been packed with ice fishing adventures in the Lil Hotdish. Location: Mille Lacs Lake
Mille Lacs is known for the state’s official fish, the walleye, as well as bass.
If you’ve never ice fished before, I understand why the concept seems farfetched. You’re literally fishing out of holes on a frozen lake. It’s not a luxurious experience for most people either. A fish house or shanty is usually a collapsable tent with a propane heater to keep you warm. Your chair is also your minnow bucket. It’s a bit of a gamble too. There’s no guarantee you’ll be eating Shore Lunch fish fry for dinner.
On Mille Lacs, it gets even trickier because walleye have to be within a certain slot, which is the length the fish must be in order to keep it. That window is between 20″ and 22″ or 28″+. You can only keep one walleye per day. The walleye pictured above happens to be in the trophy slot at 30″. We ended up letting it go anyway.
This is the first winter Kiwi the yorkie, Nick, and I took the Lil Hotdish out on the ice. With the camper hitched on our SUV, we’ve rolled onto the ice roads nearly every wintry weekend now. The ice is around 27″ thick, which is more than enough for driving an SUV and towing a camper.
Once the camper is unhitched, it’s a process that I now know like the back of my hand: lower the crank down mechanism, hook up the propane to get the heater going, grab the auger and drill holes in the camper, setup the rattle reels with bait and put the line in the water, and transform the Lil Hotdish from travel-mode to hygge-mode. In case you haven’t heard of a rattle reel, it’s a fishing reel that’s attached to the wall of the camper right above the ice fishing hole. Place a minnow on the hook and lower the line down into the water until it’s hovering a foot or two from the bottom (that’s where the walleyes are). It allows me to fish while sleeping since the rattle of the reel will wake me up when a fish is hooked. It’s the best kind of alarm clock to wake up to.
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Most people have heard of farm-to-table, but lake-to-table is on a whole other level. The freshest Friday Fish Fry anyone can ask for. Shore Lunch or homemade beer batter combined with fresh walleye make for excellent fish tacos. Crack open a cold one and you have yourself a memorable meal.
My favorite part of the Lil Hotdish, besides being able to ice fish, is the camaraderie it provides. It’s a comfortable little space for sharing a meal together, drinking wine, playing card games, listening to tunes, and simply catching up on life while surrounded by a beautiful winter wonderland.
We get a lot of looks from other anglers who drive past the Lil Hotdish on the lake. We’ve even had people knock on the door randomly out of curiosity. There are fish houses scattered all across the lake, called “shanty towns.” But most fish houses are either home built or super modern. Our Lil Hotdish is definitely unique. It has vintage charm with the comforts of home. Scroll through below for more photos.
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