Ice Shanty’s Take the Trophy: Clayton fishing derby reels in fish and family fun

PHOTO PROVIDED BY Horizon Aerial Media Services

BY: Nicole Caldwell
The ice shanty is known by many names—a bobhouse, darkhouse, fish coop, fish house, fishing shanty, ice house, ice hut, or ice shack—but each suggests a respite and sense of luxury against the often harsh elements endured by outdoorsmen while spending a day out on a body of frozen water, ice fishing. These shanties can be as simple as a tarp over a frame or as luxe as a modern cabin with every amenity (including heat, surround sound, bedding, and electric). But never are they boring.

How a person goes fishing through the ice is as personal as the shanty they bring along (or not) for protection. Some ice fishermen spend their day bopping from fishing hole to fishing hole by foot, sled, or four-wheeler; while others prefer to watch the tip-ups they’ve set from the relative warmth and safety of a nearby camp (if they’re fortunate enough to have one or know someone who does). Still others opt to place an ice shack over one of the holes (or nearby). The shanties can be tiny—just big enough for a stool and bucket of bait—or run tens of thousands of dollars and include bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms.

Shanties gained popularity in the 1980s, offering a stark alternative to the options for the first fishermen in the Great Lakes area as early as 700 B.C. Fishermen in Native American communities throughout regions like the Thousand Islands used to lie flat on the ice or sit with spear in hand, sheltered by a tent as a decoy floated in the water below a small hole chopped in the ice by the fisherman.

In the North Country today, ice fishermen often tote portable shanties that can be moved between bodies of water and pulled to shore (or collapsed like a camping tent) after a day out on the ice. And as is the case with many northern communities built around waterways that freeze during winter months, folks in the Tri-County area of New York State like to have fun with their hobbies. Ice shanties are no exception—and people go to great lengths to modify their ice shanties so they stand out, from bright colors and cooktops to surround sound and central heat.

To celebrate the uniqueness and rich history of these fishing shacks, the Clayton Chamber of Commerce sponsors an annual contest for area ice fishermen to display their ice shanties. This year’s Ice Shanty Contest is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 23, at French Bay in Clayton. The event is being held during the Clayton Volunteer Fire Department’s Mid-Winter Fishing Derby. Awards for this year’s Ice Shanty Contest will go to “Best Party Shack,” “Time-Honored River Rat,” “Dining-Out on the Ice,” “Most Creative,” and “Judges Choice.”

In years past, the public has been treated to a vast and diverse pool of contestants. The shacks all have names, from “Tip-a-Phew II Crew” to “The Bogg Hopper Bistro.” And these shanties have brought their A-game, from those decorated in American flags and red, white and blue paint to a hot-pink “She Shack” bearing signs like, “I know I fish like a girl, try to keep up!” Some shanties house just a single, portable toilet, while others boast grills, seating, and music. Others have featured the fish from Finding Nemo, showing that the ice shanties every year cater to all age groups and styles.

“We have around 10 people compete each year,” said Tricia Bannister, executive director of the Clayton Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the event. “All of the shanties are really fun, and really unique. The ‘Party Shack’ is always fun, with food all over and drinks. [In the past,] Steve Turcotte won Time Honored Shanty Award for a shanty built in 1972, and Dale MacLaughlin has won the Weekend Getaway Shanty Award.”

The ice shanty contest is free to enter. Judging kicks off in French Bay at 12 p.m. Feb. 23.

Winners will be announced at 4 p.m. Feb. 23 along with winners of the Clayton Fire Department’s Mid-Winter Fishing Derby. Chairpersons of that event are Alex Buduson, Terry Fox, and P.J. Schleher. Prizes for shanty winners are made possible through generous donations from The chamber’s fellow sponsors: Clayton American Legion Post 821, Mil’s Motel & Cottages, New Century Electric, LP Builders, Karla’s Christmas Shoppe, Reinman’s Department Store, Land of Lakes, Wood Boat Brewery, Michael Fox Construction and Masonry, North Country Express, Antique & Classic Boat Society, and Gotta Have It Charters.

To register, call the Clayton Chamber of Commerce at (315) 686-3771 or visit All registrants are required to have a name for their ice shanties and a description of what makes the shanty special.