Past winters have been warm, and this not-so-new vehicle is perfect for iffy ice-fishing conditions.
By Jim Edlund
With warmer than average weather over recent winters, many anglers have begun to re-think how they travel on ice, even in the Ice Belt's northern tier.
More anglers are parking trucks on shore, and using ATVs, UTVs, snowmobiles, or vehicles designed specifically for ice-fishing.
One such example is an amphibious ice-fishing vehicle called Wilcraft — a unique machine with humble origins in a North St. Paul, Minnesota, workshop.
The Wilcraft allows anglers to cross sketchy ice (even water) to reach ice suitable for fishing on foot — or remain under the vehicle's insulated enclosure and safely fish through holes that open up in a hull that is lowered or raised by 12-volt linear actuators.
"Wilcraft began in 1998 to make ice-fishing easier, more mobile, and safer," said avid ice-angler and Wilcraft inventor Tom Roering. "We saw ice conditions changing, and now, 20 years later, the ice season is undoubtedly shorter. There's less good ice early and late season and there are longer mid-winter thaws. The use of permanent houses and full-size vehicles is more difficult. The sport has moved towards more mobility. Our goal was to build a machine that addressed all these issues."
More on Ice-Fishing Gear
After countless prototypes and hundreds of hours of real-world testing, Roering came to market with the Wilcraft (Water-Ice-Land-Craft) in 2006 — a machine that ice-anglers can easily and safely operate on minimal ice, water, or a combination of both.
Wilcraft vehicles feature an open floor plan; quick-set insulated enclosure; fishing holes through the floor; electrically retractable wheels; thick aluminum construction; insulated floor; EFI engine; hydrostatic drive; and super high flotation tires.
"Its flotation characteristics and minimal weight are very valuable given shorter ice-fishing seasons. Given its weight distribution, the Wilcraft has a lighter footprint than an average angler walking on the ice," said Roering.
The first Wilcraft machines were belt-drive, but Roering more recently switched to a hydrostatic drive design.
"The new hydrostatic design is a sealed system that's very reliable and intuitive to operate by moving the flow control lever. It also allowed us to introduce a 4-wheel-drive option."
By customer request, Roering also increased the Wilcraft length from 12 to 14 feet. The new Wilcraft EXT allows more fishable square space at 14 feet long with 57 inches of width and over 6 feet of headroom with the enclosure up.
Water displacement has increased considerably and there is a larger, fishable footprint on the ice. There has been some weight increase with the length and 26.5 horse EFI engine, but the machine can still operate on ice barely suitable for fishing on foot. Expect to pay $15,600 for an EXT.
Angler Matt Zeadow purchased a Wilcraft EXT for double-duty ice-fishing and duck hunting. But the main reason was a terrible tragedy that changed his perspective on everything.
"I lost a close friend who put his truck through a weak spot with 2-and-a-half feet of ice everywhere else. I was knee-deep in the search and recovery and actually found him with my underwater camera. After that, I said, 'That's not going to be me.' With the Wilcraft, I can fish on minimal ice, in big winds, extreme cold€¦. I put the cover on, turn on the heater. It's awesome. I'm warm, I'm comfortable, I'm safe."
Roering takes pride in helping anglers like Zeadow reach fish safely no matter the ice conditions. "Ice is never predictable. Unfortunately, there is some loss of property and life each winter. With the Wilcraft, anglers can reach fish, safely."
Catch 'Em If You Can
You've probably heard the adage that 90 percent of the fish live in 10 percent of the water. The same applies when lakes freeze, but ice, snow, and weather conditions dictate what spots can be reached safely.
The bottom line?
It's pretty hard to catch fish if you can't get to them. Ice thickness is the biggest factor. As a general rule of thumb:
- 4 inches of ice is required for fishing on foot
- 5 to 7 inches for ATVs and snowmobiles
- 8 to 12 inches for a small vehicle
- 12 to 15 inches (or more) for a full-size truck.
Ice-anglers must also pay close attention to the reality of pressure ridges, ice heaves, cracks, and other anomalies.
Fact is, there is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice. Experienced ice-anglers constantly drill test holes to determine ice thickness on travel routes, whatever mode of transportation they use.