It's Time to Hit the Ice

Explore the joys and community of winter fishing

Bob houses spring up in Meredith Bay for the Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby on Lake Winnipesaukee. Photo courtesy of NHDTTD William Hemmel

When winter comes within reach, fishermen head outside to the ice and inside their bob houses. A New Hampshire tradition, they can look as basic as an outhouse constructed with leftover home improvement supplies with staples inside like a heating source, a hole and a window to see if your tip-ups have announced a fish, or they can be ornate man caves with electricity and more.

Temporary tent-like shelters are rising in popularity. The key is to provide shelter from powerful winds. And be easy to transport. So light is good. 

Larger lakes such as Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam and Newfound with easy shoreline access with public beaches and boat launches tend to attract anglers in bob houses, according to Ben Nugent, a NH Fish and Game fisheries biologist. 

Often, communities spring up for a taste of a lakefront living.

“A kinship based on a love for the outdoors and fishing can develop every winter,” says Nugent. “These communities keep an eye out for each other and are quick to assist those who have run out of bait, an ice auger that won’t start or a bob house that needs attention. I’ve heard stories of back in the day that mail was actually delivered to some of these areas with large congregations of ice anglers.”

Anglers can get creative with their ice shanties.

“Some folks can take it to extremes — solar panels, televisions,” Nugent says. “I’ve even seen one with an adjacent hot tub.”


Bob houses have to be off the ice in New Hampshire by April 1.

Gear Box

Sometimes a hardware store, pickup truck and plan are all you need for a do-it-yourself bob house.

Portable shelters are an option like the two-person Nanook Thermal Shelter made by Clam ($499.99).

Propane Buddy Heaters by Mr. Heater get toasty marks. The Little Buddy heats up to 100 square feet with the push of a button ($81.99). 

Keep your ice hole from freezing up with a D-Ice’r Chipper Dipper from Jiffy ($15.99).

Expert Q&A: Ben Nugent

Ben Nugent is a New Hampshire Fish and Game fisheries biologist. From Belmont, the lifelong angler studies at-risk fish populations and helps decide how to protect them, meaning he’s spent time jigging in a bob house.

What are bob houses usually made of? Typically, they consist of a frame constructed with 2 x 4s and some form of common lightweight siding or roofing material built on top of some form of skis. Emphasis is always placed on stability and weight of a structure. The structure needs to be able to withstand strong winds as well as the strain of being loaded on and off a trailer and transported to its destination. State law requires bob houses to have the owner’s name and address on the outside as well as reflective material on all sides.

What’s inside? At a minimum, it will have seats, a heat source and a hole in the floor to fish through. You quickly learn not to miss several of the creature comforts of home when you have a good, warm bob house as your temporary but tax-free lake house. It seems like the majority of bob houses were once heated by small woodstoves, but now most people have switched to propane heaters. A radio and calendar to record fishing success are some other common staples. 

How do people get them on the ice and stay in place? Bob houses are typically brought to a water body on a trailer or, if designed accordingly, in the back of a pickup truck. They are then towed out to their destination by a snow machine or ATV. Securing the structure is essential. Normally, anchor lines from each corner of the house are secured into or under the ice. This helps to ensure the bob house will be waiting for you the next time you head out to the lake. 

How does a person know when the ice is safe enough to put up a house and how do they monitor the ice over the winter? Safety should be a priority when anyone ventures on the ice. Ice thickness can vary from one location to another. Areas with current, particularly near narrow spots between islands, lake outlets and dock bubblers, can be iced over but thickness can be drastically less than just a few feet away. Pressure ridges on our bigger lakes can expand and contrast, leaving uneven ice layers with a stretch of open water. At a minimum, anglers should always carry an ice chisel to verify the ice is strong enough to support themselves and all their gear. Ice picks that help someone get out of the water in the event that one falls through the ice should be an essential piece of equipment. Ice conditions can change rapidly, requiring routine maintenance of a bob house. As snow melts and refreezes the position of the bob house may need to be adjusted. This requires lifting and inserting blocking under the house to prevent the shelter from being frozen into the ice. It is also important to remove the blocking after the bob house is removed; otherwise it can become a boating hazard after ice out.

How do you know the right place to put one for maximizing fishing opportunities? Selecting a location is clearly a matter of preference. The location can dictate what species are caught as well as overall catch rates. The best locations are typically identified by years of experience. Once you’ve spent countless hours narrowing down where not to fish, you’re bound to find a good location. Depending on the fish species you’re trying to catch, there are certain characteristics of a water body’s bathymetry you can hone in on. Newer fish finders with lake mapping software can be a great help with this. Highly detailed maps show water depths with very high accuracy. With some fish finders, you can point to a desired location and be directed there just like a GPS unit in a car.

Categories: Outsider, Winter Sports