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Small Minnesota company makes big catch in state's fish house biz

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While the economic downturn had outdoor enthusiasts cutting back on nonessentials like boats, snowmobiles and other recreational "toys," a small west-central Minnesota manufacturer of wheeled ice-fishing houses hasn't slowed down.

"We didn't know it was going to be this big. It's huge," Jeff Drexler, owner of Ice Castle fish houses, told the Pioneer Press.

The Montevideo-based company of just over 100 employees accounts for 56 percent market share of ice houses in Minnesota and is the state's top-selling travel trailer recreational vehicle, the Pioneer Press reports.

Ice Castle staff is kicking out as many as 10 fish house trailers per day to meet the growing demand. Drexler expects to produce more than 2,000 houses this year, but is still about 500 units behind as the ice fishing season kicks into high gear.

"We're trying to increase our production and trying to get everyone happy here before the second week of January," Drexler said.

The wheeled fish houses that double as a trailer, hunting shed, camper or toy hauler comes in 33 models. The smallest, the 6-1/2-by-8-foot Scout, sells for just under $5,000 and the largest, the 8-by-30-foot King's Castle, goes for $36,250, according to the newspaper.

Ice fishing has come a long way since chiseled holes and sitting on buckets in the open air. The tradition has become Minnesota's most popular winter sport and has been a significant player in the state's $2.8 billion fishing industry.

The ice may not be thick enough yet this season to drive on. Many vehicles have fallen through the ice on Minnesota lakes this month. On Friday afternoon, a man escaped his pickup after it broke through the ice while he was plowing snow on Lake Irving near Bemidji.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends that ice be 12 to 15 inches thick to accommodate the weight of a medium-sized truck.

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