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Securing Shelter

Blog by: Matt Snider , Colorado 1/22/2018
Last weekend I found myself with my left foot dug into the ice, right shoulder pressed into the west side of my ice fishing shelter, left hand jigging my rod, staring at my electronics trying to scare up some lake trout.  Icy fine snow coated almost everything inside the hut.  Wind pummeled the wall I held, nearly knocking me over at times.

Across from me, Tom sat in his chair, left arm braced stiffly against the south facing wall hinge, jigging with his right hand.  For brief moments, there were lulls… but beside shifting our weight we didn’t move - we wouldn’t dare take our hands off the walls because we knew the next gust would come without warning. This went on for 90 minutes.

This ice shelter, my primary ice fishing investment a couple years ago, turns out to be a day saver and a much-applauded purchase.  My wife first encouraged me to get one (it’s a simple Eskimo 3-man hut) so we could do trips and be afforded some sort of comfort if the sun wasn’t toasting our skin and the stillness of shorts-in-winter days was replaced with a slight breeze.  However, huts I find out can turn into umbrellas quickly in the mountains.

Looking out the windows during this fierce wind storm was like looking into a movie from gold rush days where a blizzard meant grave danger and possibly ended with someone eating someone (I told Tom that if I went first he could eat me and I’d be fine with that.)  

Seasoned ice anglers have been here before, but I have not.  There are many others who have not had the wolves blowing on their house quite like this, and there are yet others who may be thinking about getting a hut who need to know what lesson I learned.  What I learned this past weekend was that securing a shelter is pretty darned important.  That is, if you care about your shelter and comfort.

I should’ve taken all my shelter ice screws with me on this trip, and any others.  I left a couple home (since the pouch only holds 6,) and it turns out 8 would’ve been wise to have.  I was also missing some guylines. 

When we first set up the shelter, we screwed in all four corners and set up a guyline in the direction of the prevailing wind, and that seemed to be all good.   For a while.  It wasn’t good enough.  And in the mountains near the continental divide, it turns out that winds and storms very unpredictably come from every which way.  What was supposed to be a relatively calm day according to any report I could find, turned into a riot of whipping winds and blowing snow, along with dangerous wind-chills that come with it.  Reports later showed gusts at 35mph that day, but they seemed (and I am quite sure were) heavier.  It felt like we had screwed the hut to a flatbed trailer and were hustling down I-25.  

The winds shifted mostly out of the west and we didn’t have the guyline set on that particular wall.  So I assumed the position, locking my elbow into the hinge, and for an hour and a half tried figuring out a way to fix the problem.  I had one more screw and one more line, but if we let go of the two walls we were supporting, there was good chance the structure would collapse an we’d be in deeper doo-doo.  

When we got a few longer breaks in between gusts Tom experimented with holding both sides of the hut that were being hit hardest.  With him at guard I could run out and set up the last guyline. So I did, and I lasted all of 30 seconds, gloves off for tying knots, shoveling two feet of snow to place an ice screw, and tightening up the guyline.  But it was slipping.  I couldn’t take it any longer, my hands and face soaked from blowing snow and aching, I was back in the hut.  Tom went next, using a bungee in place of the line to offer some wall support while I warmed up.  I went back out and tied a slip knot in the guyline, and that did the trick.  

The winds eventually died down (luckily before dark,) and we finally had a calm period to take the shelter down in one piece, unscathed. The heater did a decent job of drying up our gear previously coated with under-hut leaked snow.  We packed everything up and headed out on the trail for the 30-minute hike back to the car.

Back at home the next day, in 50 degrees with sun, I set the hut up in the yard to thaw it out.  I tied new guylines to each wall and set up solid slipknots on each.  I grabbed my two extra ice screws and packed them into their pouch - I won’t be caught without them again.  I also bought an attachment for my drill specifically designed for the ice screws.  Even though those ice screws go in fairly easy, they do take time and effort, so this will speed things up.  If it is easier to do, I’ll be more apt to do it.

One of the things that helped out with the blowing snow that was sneaking in under the hut, was to bury the flaps on the outside with heavy snow.  Assuming you have snow to use, I recommend doing something like this, so you don’t end up with soaked gloves, hats, and jackets which are fairly key to survival in this kind of situation.   And a new pack-shovel I brought with me came in handy for this (as well as digging down to clear ice for the shelter footprint, which beats sitting in a foot of snow in the hut.)

So l learned some more this trip, and my evolution of ice angling continues on its merry path.  I continue to learn from others, but some lessons just have to be learned on my own.  Enjoy the winter – go out ice fishing.  Don't forget to fully secure your shelter.  And be careful, no matter how seasoned you are.  As nice is it may seem to be sitting on a solid slab in the middle of a lake in the middle of nowhere catching fish through a hole, at some point you have to remember that you are sitting on ice over cold water in the middle of nowhere, and that’s kind of crazy!

Tom pulling our gear in, because he`s good like that. We didn`t have much of a clue that the winds would kick up soon after we reached the lake
Somedays the mountains look like this
Blog content © Matt Snider
Blog Comments
Anteroman, CO   1/22/2018 9:26:09 AM
Matt, I admire you guys who find this type of "Fishing" fun, I believe this is why I always wait until the waters soft to fish. Not saying all of the softwater days are pleasant and wind free but it's usually not cold and read, thank you. Bill
Hawaiian Punch, CO   1/22/2018 9:58:02 AM
I know this will not be popular with some,but . .I have had ice screws pull out. I use a dead fall to hold my ice hut. I drill a hole up wind from where I'm going to set the hut,then I put a piece of wood with para cord down the hole and cross the bottom of hole with the wood . . .I use a piece of 1X2 with three holes in it as a tensioner . . .you can dead fall as many sides as you like and unless the para cord fails,your good up to the tensil strength of the cord.
Matt Snider (Matt), CO   1/22/2018 10:04:57 AM
Bill, it's not the same as warm summer days, but I do really enjoy it. HP - that sounds interesting - you should draw it up and write about it. I didn't have issues with the screws coming out this time, all were solid and screwed all the way in. Good ice. My main fault besides not having all my screws was assuming the wind would continue from the same direction.
Hawaiian Punch, CO   1/22/2018 10:23:32 AM
Matt . . .I'm a product of the old saying "nessisty the mother of invention" I'm PC challenged. I could draw this idea up,but getting it off my drawing pad and on here is where I get stuck.
myanke2000, CO   1/22/2018 9:28:36 PM
What a great idea Hawaiian Punch. Thanks for sharing.
moose67, CO   1/23/2018 7:16:03 AM
I have also had problems with my ice screws pulling out on extremely windy days. I switched to ice climbing screws, they are a little expensive but they go in quickly and hold really well. I can usually get all 4 of mine in before any of my buddies even have 1 ice screw started.
KAK, CO   1/23/2018 5:07:07 PM
Very good read. Thanks for sharing. A couple of thoughts: - A slip knot might be replaced with a taut line hitch. This knot is similar to a double half hitch but a slight modification that makes it taut under pressure but will slide with no pressure. Check out or better yet go to YouTube to see the knot tied. - I use a tie down intended for car topping a canoe. It also works great on your tie downs for your ice shelter. Use a dowel with two holes for the rope as the cinch/tensioner part or make a larger cinch using a broom handle. Put s hooks at ends. Adjust the length of the rope as needed.
D-Zilla, CO   1/23/2018 5:43:42 PM
Go redneck....ratchet straps are cheap, and easy to use, and more durable than para cord in most cases. Can get a set of 4 for 20 bucks. I'm NOT joking. I carry 2 in my truck plus the para cord and extra spikes for JUST that situation. If you've NEVER been hit in the head by a collapsing hub, you aren't ice fishing!
Hawaiian Punch, CO   1/23/2018 7:21:09 PM
Matt . . .here is another trick for you. If there's no snow on top of the ice to weigh down your huts flaps,Clam sells a tub you fill with sand . . .kind of like the door snakes filled with beans. I saw a guy with them the other day . . . .I might have to break out the sewing machine and make me some.
D-Zilla, CO   1/24/2018 5:00:31 PM
HP you always have the neatest ideas....I might have to think about that myself. So little snow on some of these lakes this year.
Hawaiian Punch, CO   1/24/2018 5:28:44 PM
D-Zilla . . .I got the sewing machine . . .and the design skills,go buy some fabric and lets create . . .