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An ice fishing chat with a pro named ‘Bro’ – guide and fishing promoter Brian ‘Bro’ Brosdahl

Brosdahl talked with Herald outdoors writer Brad Dokken about a wide range of ice fishing-related topics, as he does every couple of years about this time.

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Brian "Bro" Brosdahl of Max, Minnesota, is a longtime fishing guide and promoter. When it comes to ice fishing, he says, affordability is driving the trend behind the sport's growing popularity.
Contributed/Brian Brosdahl


GRAND FORKS – Brian “Bro” Brosdahl is one of the most recognizable faces in the winter fishing industry, a pied piper, of sorts, who draws a crowd wherever he goes.

A congenial sort with a gift for gab, Bro – as he’s known to most – and his wife, Heather, live in Max, Minn., in northern Itasca County. Besides working as a fishing guide for perch and walleyes both summer and winter, Bro spends a fair bit of time on the road promoting products for a long list of sponsors including Otter, Northland Fishing Tackle, Aqua-Vu, Humminbird and Minn Kota, to name just a few.

He will be at the Arrowhead Ice Fishing and Winter Show in Duluth on Friday and Saturday and at the Cabela’s store in Rogers, Minn., on Sunday.

Earlier this week, fresh from a stint at the St. Paul Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Show, Bro talked with Herald outdoors writer Brad Dokken about a wide range of ice fishing-related topics, as he does every couple of years about this time. Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.

BD: The popularity of ice fishing has just exploded in recent years. What do you think is driving that trend?

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Bro: It’s the affordability for everybody. If you can’t afford a boat in the summertime, you can walk out to the nearest shoreline break, drill a few holes and start fishing. You could take a four-wheeler – and a four-wheeler doesn’t have to be fancy as long as it starts – or a snowmobile and even an electric bike or a pedal bike.

I think the attraction is the versatility for people of all economic classes.

BD: What’s the excitement level for ice fishing, based on what you saw at last weekend’s St. Paul Ice Fishing and Winter Sports Show?

Bro: On the first day, I was a little nervous because it seemed a little bit slack, and the second day you could hardly move in the place. The excitement was huge – a lot of the same faces but a lot of new ones, too – and I think people are really excited to get out on the ice.

BD: The recent incident on Upper Red Lake, in which 200 anglers were rescued when a sheet of ice broke loose in strong winds, was all over the news. What needs to change to keep that from happening? It seems like it happens almost every year.

Bro: The resorts keep a fairly good eye, but the ice can spread in a matter of seconds. It wasn’t like the ice was disintegrating, there was no real terror, it was just an inconvenience.

Those resorts that make a huge amount of money just by having a simple access, I think that they’re going to have to keep an even closer eye – and I’ve got to say the one resort that got the bridge out there, they reacted super fast.

Ice rescue.jpg
A temporary land bridge is pictured between a chunk of ice that detached from the mainland Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, on Upper Red Lake, forcing the rescue of about 200 anglers stranded on the wrong side of the open water.
Contributed/Beltrami County Sheriff's Office

If you get an offshore wind, and you own the resort where it’s coming from, if there’s less than a foot of ice, consider maybe just settling down and just take the stack of money another day or another weekend.

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It’s happening a lot on Red because everybody wants to go there. All you’ve got to do is drop a line down a hole sometimes, and you catch fish.

MN DNR ice thickness guidelines 2022.jpg
Contributed/Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

BD: A lot of that seems like it’s maybe driven by social media. What impact do you think social media has had on ice fishing?

Bro: Social media has directed huge amounts of people to small bodies of water. Some people have to bleed their guts out on the internet, and they just can’t help themselves. Then they go back and they complain about the traffic.

BD: Any thoughts on the growing problem of trash being left on the ice? 

Bro: Last year, when I walked out on Red Lake, there were three fresh walleyes laying on the ice. Beer cans, cigarettes, fishing line, a guy left his rod and reel, a boot and then, of course, feces all over the place. It was near a spot where I was going to fish, and we stopped and cleaned up the mess and kept those walleyes as part of our limit. We were shocked all day at what we found there.

It has become a huge problem. If you don’t want more regulation, clean up after yourself.

BD: Today, anglers have access to whiz-bang electronics and technology such as side imaging and forward sonar. Obviously, you work in the fishing industry, but do you worry about the impact of this technology, at times?

Bro: All of us in the industry have been worried for a long time about how efficient we’ve all become. The fish don’t always bite, but now people can stay until they do. Because now, they’ve got their whole RV on the ice, and they always have a line down.

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I’ve been preaching conservation for a long time. When I said years ago that we need to start releasing big bluegills, people thought I was nuts. But now they’re starting to see that, “Wait a minute, these things are really disappearing.”

I think we just need to let people know how old these fish are, that they’re not going to just be replaced the next day. There once was such a thing as fish being able to hide so they could rest and grow. I don’t want to be “Mr. Ruin Everybody’s Parade,” but we should all be conscious of tomorrow and the future.

That being said, there’s a whole bunch of people that just hope to catch something or their kids get to see something on the (underwater) camera. But that small percentage of people catching most of the fish is growing.

BD: In terms of tackle, what’s new on the market this winter?

Bro: I think there’s a really cool spoon, in that Northland Tackle rethought a way of presenting the Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon, a legendary piece of tackle that’s been out there forever and everybody’s got them in their box.

They made one with a glass rattle (the Glass Buck-Shot Spoon, with a lead frame, composite body and a translucent paint job) and the thing has a high-pitch rattle.

It’s one thing to have a lure come out and you promote it. It’s another thing when people are clamoring to grab it because their buddies caught fish on it – on Red Lake or other lakes that are already freezing up.

BD: What are you hearing about the availability of tackle and product this winter? I know for a couple of years there, it was hard to get some things.

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Bro: I think (product) is starting to show up at retailers and in a big way. Because of how hard it was to get stuff, I think the retailers tried to order more. Now, it’s there, and now, we just need some good ice so they can sell it.

There are still things that are very, very tough to get and you have to think way ahead if there’s a certain thing you want. New technology is on a conveyor belt, but the conveyor belt has stopped. You cannot get everything you need for every aspect of technology. There are still some hiccups in the availability.

BD: What kinds of trends are you seeing?

Bro: Kind of a newer thing is (fish) houses on aluminum skids with hy-fax (a replaceable strip of plastic that attaches to the skids). This new skid-house trend is kind of a “Bro-style” way. I have nothing against wheelhouses, but where I go, I can’t drag wheels. So, skid houses that are tricked out with the heat and bunks and with real refinements and look like an RV – that’s kind of a trend now.

And hub houses (pop-up style shelters), they haven’t just exploded – they’ve gone into the stratosphere. Now, there’s heavy insulation, there’s straps so they don’t shake as much, there’s screw downs (anchors) for the ice and people are starting to camp in them.

Now, you’ve got this huge trend of ice camping, where anglers pick up (a hub house), and they go out with a bed, a heater and fish and camp, and they realize, “I don’t have to spend $50,000 to $100,000.”

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The popularity of pop-up style hub houses hasn't just exploded – it’s gone into the stratosphere, says longtime northern Minnesota ice fishing guide and promoter Brian "Bro" Brosdahl. An Otter-brand hub house can be seen in the background.
Contributed/Brian Brosdahl

It’s like getting back to nature, but it’s a trend that kind of came out of left field. You’re not dealing with 70-degree summer heat; you’re dealing with below-freezing temperatures and even multi-digits below zero, and people are ice camping more and more.

BD: Any parting thoughts?

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Bro: I love ice fishing, and I love the fact that it’s a growing sport. When we talk about conservation, I’m not pointing fingers. I just want people to realize we don’t have a choice. We’re just (so good at ice fishing) now and anglers have to think about it.

We didn’t have to think about that 20-30 years ago, even 10 years ago. It’s a different world, and it’s not like that now. Just be conscientious, especially on small lakes.

I shouldn’t (just focus) on the don’ts. I just want everyone to have fun and enjoy ice fishing and get out – that’s about it.

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Heather Brosdahl (right), Brian "Bro" Brosdahl's wife and fishing companion, has been known to outfish her husband, he admits.
Contributed/Brian Brosdahl

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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