By Joel Nelson
The hot months of July and August really make us Midwesterners forget about that season called winter. Camping, fishing, and all other kinds of outdoor activities are so far removed from our frigid fishing activities that it’s difficult to think ice in the middle of it all.
Yet, in most parts of the north country, ice is really only a few months away. And if you’re one of the many folks looking at getting into the wheelhouse game, the time to shop and determine what you want is really right now.
Wheelhouse camping is in full swing, and if your experience is anything like mine, you may get into it for fishing but actually use the fish house more during the fair-weather season.
I anticipated my use being about 75% ice fishing and 25% camping, but instead it’s been the other way around: I camp and hunt from it more than I fish from it.
I fish seriously out of it, too, and use it a great deal, but there are just more months on the calendar that don’t involve ice (especially the kind that supports wheelhouses) than ones that do.
However, the best reason to do your looking and buying now has less to do with camping and more to do with prepping. The simple fact of the matter is that figuring out all the bells and whistles on your new toy is much easier at 70 degrees than it is sub-zero. Thermostats, water tanks, electronics, and fridges all have less urgency when your fingers aren’t freezing. But that’s just the start.
Manual crank and hydraulic systems are much easier to practice using and maintaining in summer when you’re not dropping pins in the snow.
Filling propane, figuring out a generator option, and sizing the right charging plugs and connections are easier now, too.
Towing on the open road is better practiced now as well, in case you need sway bar control, an upgraded hitch or drop, or other brake controls for your tow vehicle.
Stocking your fish house for fishing purposes is more easily done in the summer, with all of the interior fishing accessory items available and often even on sale. Catch covers, hole sleeves, rattle reels, and simple shelving are more easily placed now than in the fall or winter. I can tell you from experience that the run on slush buckets and wall-mounted rod holders happens around December every year.
This season however, with COVID-19 slowdown, the fishing products industry is facing a problem of stocking, making planning even more important. Shutdowns in manufacturing have folks that make everything from fish houses to accessory items backlogged and short on inventory.
Most are catching up or keeping up, but given last year’s tough ice season, I’m seeing lesser supply than usual from most major fish house manufacturers. If you’re in the market, that means the longer you wait to do your shopping, the fewer options you’ll have at the retail setting. If you want a custom-built version or something that’s not already on the lot, it means you’ll likely be waiting longer and into the ice season before it can be built and delivered.
Of course, summer camping out of your wheelhouse is a great practice run for the ice, even though there are things special to each that have to be performed in-season. Remember, if you do use anything water-related that you’ll have to winterize your unit before freeze-up to ensure the health of the plumbing system.
Getting your wheelhouse now makes that process easier, because you get a chance to familiarize yourself with the system and have the most time possible to perform the winterization.
Perhaps the last and best reason to make your purchase now rather than later is to take advantage of a buyer’s market that exists on in-stock units. Many of them have been carried over from the previous year, and dealers are looking to part ways with them. The later we get into the sales season, the more picked over and valuable those units become.
If you were already in the market and looking to pull the trigger, take the time to put in the research and make a decision soon. You’ll end up with a wheelhouse that better fits your needs, with time to hit the ice prepared come winter.