Looking for a new ice auger - electric, gas, propane or battery - but still have some questions? The sixth annual Arrowhead Ice Fishing and Winter Show should have the answers.
The show runs Friday through Sunday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center with more than 150 exhibitors, panel discussions, special guests, prizes and more.
As ice fishing continues to grow in popularity across the Upper Midwest, the ice show keeps growing, too, with 12,000 people attending last year and even more expected this year.
"We expect to set another attendance record,'' said Chris Navratil, vice president of Twin Cities-based President Shamrock Productions, Inc., which produces the show.
Many of those people come in family groups, she noted, as ice fishing becomes more and more a family-focused event. Once relegated to old geezers who could withstand the cold conditions and drudgery of not catching fish, ice fishing has exploded in popularity in recent years with the advent of high-end ice fishing "wheel house'' RVs that double as summer campers. Portable shelters are warmer, lighter and easier to set up than ever before, with better clothing and reliable, fume-free heaters adding to the comfort level. New ice fishing electronics enable anglers to find fish, and even watch them on video, making winter catching much easier than before.
"I don't see ice fishing slowing down at all,'' said Russ Francisco, owner of Marine General sporting goods in Duluth. "And this (ice fishing show) is just a fun, family event even if you aren't buying anything. There's so much for kids to do. With Bentleyville across the street, that little corner of Duluth is the top destination in the Midwest for that weekend."
Fueled largely by ice fishing product sales, Marine General "had a record Black Friday, both online and in the store,'' Francisco said. "We can't keep pop-ups (portable ice fishing shelters) in stock. We've had a record year already for flip-overs."
Not only can you buy virtually everything related to ice fishing (including many show-special deals) but you can kick tires and ask questions to boot among multiple manufacturers for each product. Looking for an electric, battery, gas or propane-powered auger? Eskimo, Ion and Strikemaster factory reps will be there. How about a new portable shelter? Eskimo, Clam, Otter and Frabill will all be there.
"The (manufacturers) aren't there to sell you anything. They're there to answer your questions, whether you already have one of their products or are thinking about buying,'' Navratil said.
The Frozen Basin trout tank is back with live rainbow trout with free fishing through 8-inch holes in the plastic "ice." Catch a tagged trout and you win a gift certificate ranging from $10 to $50 redeemable at any participating vendor in the show.
The show's giant Snow Globe will be back as a backdrop for family holiday photos.
"We've had proposals happen in the snow globe. Some people come back every year to have their Christmas photo taken in there,'' Navratil said.
Also back this year is Mad Dog & Merrill, noted TV "grillologists'' with TV cooking shows that specialize in outdoor grilling. The "Feed the Wild-Live Animal Exhibit" will once again feature a variety of animals.
Ice fishing off and running
This is one of the earliest safe ice seasons for ice fishing in recent memory, with popular fishing spots like Lake of the Woods and Red Lake already giving up fish to eager anglers.
Minnesota conservation officers and local bait shops report anglers out on Boulder, Fish and Rice lakes near Duluth, with even a few ice shelters seen on back bays of Island Lake, often one of the last to offer safe ice because of deep holes and currents.
The Minnesota DNR warns anglers and others to check with local resort and bait shops before venturing onto ice and to keep checking ice thickness as you move across ice because early ice varies so much.
Farther north, Red Lake resorts tried to start before Thanksgiving, although at least one rescue was needed when ice broke off into open water. But after Thanksgiving the lake seemed to solidify, with anglers walking out to catch walleyes. Lots of them.
Sportsman's Lodge on Lake of the Woods was set to open Saturday (Dec. 1) with full services using small vehicles to get angers out. Joe Henry, who issues a weekly lake of the Woods fishing report, said resorts were staking ice trails with at least 5-7 inches of safe ice, enough for ATVs, with up to 10 inches of ice in some spots on the lake. The Rainy River, while iced-over, has an unusually strong current for this time of year and is considered unsafe for most travel, he said.
If you go
What: Arrowhead Ice Fishing and Winter Show. The event features activities, panel discussions, TV stars, giveaways plus more than 150 exhibitors including resort destinations, manufacturers, retail stores and more. Snow globe photo shoot booth. Frozen basin "ice fishing" activity with $10,000 in prices. Special guest is Shawn Pomrenke, one of the stars of the TV show "Bering Sea Gold."
When: Noon to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Duluth Entertainment Convention Center
Admission: $10 for age 13 and up; Free for ages 12 and under.