New Things: Sleep in a fish house

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try.  Some are easy, some are difficult, some are shockingly mundane.  You can read about past shenanigans here.


As I’ve probably mentioned about a million times on this blog, I’m a third generation Minnesotan of Scandinavian heritage. This means I’m blonde, I know how to layer in cold weather, I can make lots of dishes involving potatoes, and I’m decent at just about any activity involving water/ice/snow.
The state I call home boasts 10,000+ lakes and six months of winter. This means that much of the year those thousands of lakes are covered in ice and enterprising, brave souls drill holes through said ice to catch fish. Growing up on a lake in rural Minnesota means I knew how to set a hook from a young age and I spent many, many Saturdays playing Crazy Eights in my dad’s ice fishing house.
If you don’t know, a fish house is a little shanty that anglers sit in while they catch fish through holes in the ice.  There are removeable sections of floor so the anger can drill a hole through the ice, fish from the comfort of his house, cover the hole back up, and then stride around his house without dunking his/her foot in ice water.  Fish houses can be portable and made from canvas or fully insulated with beds, stoves, tables, and a functioning television. (They’re pretty much adult playhouses/forts but don’t tell my dad I said that.)
I’ve spent plenty of time ice fishing, but I’ve never spent the night in a fish house because, well, we’re not that fancy.  But when my old friend Matt offered to let me spend the night in one of the swanky fish houses he rents to clients, I thought I’d be remiss in my duty as a Minnesotan if I didn’t take him up on it.How swanky was this fish house?
* There were electric lights (powered by a hidden car battery)
* There was a two-burner stove (and cups/plates/silverware)
* There were four comfy beds
* Most importantly, there was a super effective, propane-fueled heater. Which was nice, since it got down to -22 the night we slept on Lake BemidjiSo what, exactly, do you do in a fishhouse for 10 hours?  Well, if you’re me, you
* Catch a fish and then feel really bad about it
* Put it in the ice bucket and then stress out about it

* Decide that the catfish minnow is cuter than all the other minnows
* Go on a gas station run so you can use their bathroom/buy Snyder’s honey mustard pretzels
* Ask your super sweet boyfriend if he’ll take the live minnows off the hooks because now you’re sad about them. Swim free little buddies!  I’m sorry we put hooks in you!
* Read portions of your business book aloud
* Drink creepy pre-packaged, crassly named shots
* Take the fish out of the ice bucket and put it back in the hole. Give it a pep talk. Get nervous it’s dead.
* Dump the live minnows down the hole because you’re now completely consumed with guilt.
* Put on your hat. Take off your boots.  You’re hot. Now you’re not hot enough.
* Take phone calls and text message from concerned parties. No, you’re not going to fall through the ice/freeze to death/asphyxiate.
* After all that fun, fall asleep by 10 pm.We woke up in a comfortably heated ice house to a gorgeous sunrise and shocking temperatures.  We ate some cereal for breakfast (we’d put the milk carton on the floor of the fish house and it stayed appropriately cool), bundled up, and started the long drive home.All in all, an awesome adventure.  I’d totally sleep in the fish house again – but I’ll leave the fishing to someone else.

Have you ever gone ice fishing?  Or slept in a fish house?

Welcome to Yes & Yes!

Want to spend your time, money, and energy on purpose? I'll show you how.

You might also like…

New Thing: Forage For Mushrooms

New Thing: Forage For Mushrooms

What's hard to find, super valuable, and tastes heavenly with scrambled eggs? If you guessed a. the right romantic partner b. a really good pair of leather boots c. morel mushrooms you are correct. Every year, I make a list of new things to try and I've been wanting...

read more
New Thing: Be In My Life

New Thing: Be In My Life

Every year I make a list of new things to try. These New Things are a pretty predictable mix of physical challenges, weird foods, and books/movies that everyone-other-than-me is familiar with. But this year, I’m trying something different. Something that’s, honestly,...

read more
New Thing: Read East of Eden

New Thing: Read East of Eden

I always thought that I hated Steinbeck. His books seemed to be a never-ending parade of men and farms and depression and desperation. I remember dragging myself through Grapes of Wrath in 11th grade English, staring into the middle distance with bone-shaking boredom...

read more


  1. penn

    I apologize for writing a negative comment on your nice goal post, but please never put bait minnows into a lake. Unless you're 100% sure those minnows came from the lake, minnows need to go somewhere else. Putting minnows into the lake can spread invasive species, and some of those species actually do get larger. Some minnows have damaged lakes in Minnesota. I know it's sad, but for lake health, you're better off killing the minnows.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      You're totally right, Penn! I didn't know this till after I dumped the minnows back – I was relating this story to my BFF and she was all "Noooo! Those are invasive species!" 🙁

      Growing up, my dad trapped his own minnows from our lake (the same one we fished in) so I'd never really encountered 'non native species' minnows before!

  2. Creole Wisdom

    I love it! It sounds like a great experience and perfect winter adventure. We Minnesotans are a creative, strange, and sometimes misunderstood people, especially when it comes to our winter hobbies. I had no idea minnows were invasive, so thank you Penn! Fishing is one of my favorite things to do in the summer, but I've never ice fished. Is there a bathroom you can use while you're out on the ice… meaning a bucket or something? I'd hate to always have to go to the gas station!

  3. Metamorphocity

    This is an adorable account! I'm sure I would have had about the same experience. Fish guilt and all. I have yet to try ice fishing, although growing up in Southwestern Ontario afforded me plenty of opportunities. I'm terrified of falling through ice though, I think I was traumatized by a story my parents used to read me based on an Inuit myth about the Qallupilluit, creatures who steal disobedient children and trap them under the ice.

  4. Kim Irish

    How cool! Your adventures inspire me, Sarah!

  5. mrs3084

    I wouldn't be able to fish either… I'd free all of them! It's the vegetarian thing. 🙂

  6. Claire (Eat Well. Party Hard.)

    I empathize so hardcore with this fishing encounter. My first (and only) fishing trip went the exact same way. Except instead of minnows, we had earthworms, so I buried them all in the dirt, leaving my mom no choice but to drive us back home without any catches.

  7. Alliha Jonson

    No, I have never gone for ice fishing and not slept in a fish house. It is totally different for me. After reading your blog I can understand how thrilling and exciting it was for you. My dad is a fond of fishing. He always does this kind of things. Right now he has come from boston to Philadelphia tour and he has made his plan for ice fishing with his friends.

Pin It on Pinterest