Wheelhouse Angling – Family Style
By Joel Nelson
The popularity of wheelhouses has grown in recent years for good reason. It is a comfortable way to enjoy fishing for the whole family. Though, at least for my crew, the camping-on-ice part has been as much fun for them as the fishing. That part has been hard for me, as I’ve traditionally been the kind of guy who would much rather forgo niceties, comfort, and conveniences, in favor of more and better fishing. While the two sides aren’t mutually exclusive, I’m slowly learning that to get the most out of any family trip, it’s important to weigh considerations of fun and family as much as you do the fishing.
As a kid, I could not get enough of fishing. Any day, and any kind. I was, I’m sure, a pest to my grandpa who would take out all of his grandkids over the days of vacation we spent together, and I dreaded the word “too.” “It’s ‘too’ windy, cold, or full for you to come this time,” grandpa would say when he knew it would be a challenging day out for someone younger. The tie-in to modern wheelhouse fishing is that kids can now come along without parents having to constantly tend to needs. Everyone is warm, there’s usually quite a bit of room, and there’s plenty of fun for the entire family to be had – fishing or not.
For my family, I expect everyone to pitch in to make things that much easier on dad. Many hands make for a light work kind of idea. My family helps drill holes, set-up lines, and generally prepare for the act of fishing. That includes adding hole sleeves, scooping out slush, and preparing the electronics. It’s not too much to ask, and I’ve learned that if they’re not helping, they’re typically in the way when we’re getting ready to fish anyway. That and they’re proud to be able to do everything needed and generally be helpful. My oldest son on our last trip even added some banking snow to the house all the way around, just perfectly.
Over time, my kids have learned that we try to run a tight ship for a multitude of reasons. Everything needs a place, and the sooner we get organized, the earlier we can get down to fishing, watching movies, making meals, and generally just enjoying our time on the ice. The floor is kept completely clear of bags, boots, or any other items, as walking around gets tricky with everyone’s items scattered about. Each person has a place for their personal items, clothes, etc. already picked out ahead of time, and the boys store their phones out of the way to avoid the possibility of dropping them down the hole.
The same goes for the fishing side of things. We have tool holders where pliers and forceps go, specific drawers for tackle, and a place the bait bucket hangs out. Each person gets a portion of the house to jig from if they want, with rods being stowed out of the way when not in use, and in rod holders when taking a short break. The electronics are broken out by-person too, and if we’re using an underwater camera, that’s got a spot too. It keeps expensive items from being broken or lost down a hole, and while it may seem a bit rigid, actually makes it easier to relax once everything is in place.
Rattle reels are used quite often in favor of jigging, especially when the bite is slow. It’s a way to fish without actively fishing, and once lines are set and everything is set up, it’s now time to have some fun. Of course, with kids, that changes from moment to moment, and for my boys, depends on the fishing. I really like getting everything set up, then turning them loose. My wife likes to read, I like to tend lines and make sure we’re always in the game, and my kids are total wild-cards.
For that reason, it’s nice to have a bunch of things ready for them. Inside, that involves having food and snacks at the ready. Fish-house time is a special time, and maybe that means they get more treats than they normally would, which I’m just fine with. Sometimes they like fishing while watching TV, so we’ve always got a good stock of movies at the ready if signal prevents over-the-air TV-watching. At night we usually play a few card games while we wait for rattle reels to go off. At any time, the clock stops and fishing ensues fast and furious. It’s amazing how excited my kids can get by seeing a single fish come topside, and they’ll jig for up to an hour if they feel like the bite might be on.
I’ve learned it’s important to get them outside the wheelhouse too, a thought not lost on a good buddy of mine who on the last trip, cleared off a big portion of snow to have his kids ice skate on. My boys have gone on ice hikes, played “boot hockey” (boots, sticks, and pucks, no skates), and even built snow forts in pushed up piles from lake plows. Of course, they’ve also explored fishing outside of the house. That includes drilling out new areas to move to, fishing in a portable to have their own experience, and setting up tip-ups to cover more ice.
One favorite activity is to give them an ice auger and underwater camera and tell them to go find some fish! More often than not, they’ll come running back into the house to have us see a cool boulder they found or some big pike they saw swim through. In some respects, it’s about fishing, but in many, it’s not. Balancing the wish to fish needs to be met with indulging their sense of wonderment. It’s important to note that for them, so many of the experiences are new. While it can be hard to miss the night bite because we’re entranced with small baitfish herding up along a weedline, it’s fun to see them light up when they see something they’ve never encountered before.
All of which might be the secret to having a good time on the ice with your family. I’ve been guilty of making it too much about fishing before, and there’s usually some recoil when that’s been the case. My family is happiest when it’s a home away from home, and they can carry on with whatever suits them at the moment, with just a bit of fishing mixed in. That way, they can dive in and fish as hard as they want, when they want, and relax the rest of the time.
Check out Joel Nelson’s other articles here: Joel Nelson’s Blog
Photo Credit – Matt Addington Photography