Ice Shanty Culture Exemplifies Social Winter Angling

By Ken Schultz

Mar 08, 2024

Anglers who fish through the ice are a social bunch and in thick-ice country the ice shanty culture showcases comfort and fishing productivity

Sportfishing is far more nuanced and complex than most non-anglers realize. From freshwater to saltwater the species, habitats, waterbodies, equipment, and techniques differ greatly. And within this varied world are many fascinating and diverse subelements, or subcultures.

The small and very specialized world of bowfishing comes immediately to mind. So does the coterie of passionate and devoted muskie anglers. None is more fascinating and unique, however, than the community of ice anglers and particularly ice shanty culture, or, more broadly, the world of ice shanty traditions and culture.


Ice shanties (aka shacks, huts, and bobhouses) are small semi-permanent structures placed on the ice for a short period of time and used to protect anglers from the elements while fishing through a hole or holes in the ice.

Fishing through the ice is a traditional activity in northern locations where there’s enough ice for people to safely venture onto frozen lakes and ponds. In places where ice gets thick enough, a winter community develops, and shanties dot the surface. Ice fishing shanties were more prominent decades ago when winters were colder and the ice was reliably thick for a long part of the winter ice fishing season.


Of course, the roots of fishing through the ice extend back to the era before modern reels and line. North American natives speared fish through holes chopped in the ice. They attracted fish to the area beneath the holes with decoys, or simply waited for them to pass underneath. Laying over the holes in skins and blankets kept them warm and allowed them to see into the water by keeping light out. Shanties do a similar thing by making it easier to see into the water, which can increase productivity, as well as being comfortable.

The proliferation of shanties on lakes that could support numbers of them resulted in a sort of village effect in some places, or a veritable ice fishing community, and thus an ice shanty culture. This is especially evident on large lakes where many people gather, particularly on weekends, and when there are competitions.


As a rule, ice anglers are hardy folks and social, which helps foster the ice shanty culture, as well as group fishing in places where there no shanties or where the ice doesn’t get thick enough to support ice shanties or snowmobiles and atvs to move or access them. In addition to focusing on fishing effort, those who are in these community environs interact with many others, much like tailgating at a football game, and a convivial time is usually had by all - especially if the weather and or the fish cooperate.

Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is