Anglers create ice-fishing shelter that integrates with trailer.
ON HALF MOON LAKE NEAR EVELETH, Minn. -- You can imagine how this idea was born. Three ice anglers. A slow night on Upper Red Lake last winter. They know they should move their portable shelters to a better spot, but it seems like such a hassle.
That's when one of them, Hibbing tavern owner Tim Checco, had an idea.
"He said, 'If I had my trailer, we could just throw everything on it and move,"" his partner Gary Conda of Hibbing recalled. "That was the inception of the whole idea there."
The idea evolved into the Conda-Minium, a cavernous canvas ice-fishing shelter integrated with a snowmobile trailer and engineered for maximum mobility. Conda, 49, along with Checco, 44, and Steve Perunovich, 51, have started a business building the shelters. Conda and Perunovich are both firefighters with the Hibbing Fire Department.
They had one set up on Half Moon Lake near Eveleth on Tuesday, where perch were nibbling Perunovich's minnows. From the outside, the shelter looks like a split-level house made from black canvas. Its upper level rises from the snowmobile trailer to which it's secured. The lower level encompasses 85 square feet on ice level, easily enough to accommodate six fishing holes.
But it's only when you step inside that the size of the shelter becomes fully apparent. With more than 8 feet to the peak of the roof, and a 10-foot by 14-plus-foot floor plan (including the trailer), the shelter feels more like a gymnasium than a fishing tent. Different models adapt to different sizes of trailers.
At $2,650, including trailer and all the extras, the Conda-Minium isn't cheap. But the men are planning a shelter-only model that will attach to an angler's own snowmobile trailer.
"We're trying to get those under $1,000," Conda said.
Minnesota hasn't had deep snow since the Conda-Minium was invented, but to adapt the trailer to snowier conditions, the men plan to offer Teflon skis that attach to the trailer's body and wheels. The Conda-Minium continues to evolve.
Checco likes the size of the Conda-Minium, which allows four or more anglers to fish together.
"It's on the same order as an Otter (a popular ice-fishing sled/shelter), but it's bigger. You can fish four people comfortably," Checco said. "You can take one rig, and you're all together."
The Itasca County Sheriff's Department bought a Conda-Minium to use with ice rescues and diving operations. The department used it once this winter in a training exercise with divers.
"We're very pleased with it," said Pat Medure, Itasca County Sheriff. "The ease of putting it up and down, the compactibility of it. And it still gives us room to store other equipment. The weather was cold and windy. It gave us good shelter. It was very stable. Very sturdy."
Stability a concern
The Conda-Minium's stability in the wind is a concern of some who see it, Conda said. Though it is perhaps more vulnerable to wind than some smaller shelters, it withstood 40 mph winds earlier this winter without damage, he said. Others wonder if it's difficult to heat because it's so large. On Tuesday, a propane heater set at low kept the shelter T-shirt comfortable in 10-degree temperatures with a moderate wind.
The shelter is affixed to the trailer and accordions out to its full size on a framework of galvanized steel. Anglers' gear can be stored on the trailer for easy access. When it's time to move, the tent folds down and around the edges of the trailer. Fishing gear, a four-wheeler or a snowmobile can be stored on the trailer as well.
"The trailer stays hooked to the vehicle. Everything is inside the house. We're gone in three to five minutes," Checco said.