Find a frozen lake where the ice is thicker than 4 inches, and ideally thicker than 12 inches to drive a pickup truck onto it. Use a saw or ice auger to cut a hole in the ice –– the hole should be about 8 inches in diameter. Attach bait or a lure to the end of a fishing line and drop the line into the hole. Set up a camp chair next to the hole and, while wearing proper clothing for winter temperatures that can reach well below zero, wait.

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Ice fishing in Japan. Photograph by Josepf Hoeflehner

Ice fishing is found all over the world, from Finland to South Korea to Quebec, but nowhere else has it been elevated to such a venerated cultural institution as it is in the lakes of Northern Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesotans spend a total of 5.5 million hours ice fishing at the state’s top three lakes alone. In the land of 10,000 lakes, the snow-covered woods of Northern Minnesota frequently open up onto scenes that can look like anything from a post-apocalyptic ice world colony to a college football tailgate without the stadium.

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The Largest Ice Fishing Event in Minnesota.

At the biggest lakes, cars, trucks, ATVs, and snowmobiles ferry anglers to a makeshift village of shelters, shanties and portable cabins, each built without floors so the inhabitants can keep watch on the fishing holes below.

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Shuttle that takes fishers to and from thier fishing holes in Brainerd, Minnesota.

According to legend, in 1888, an early Minnesotan named Sven Stevenson was living in a cabin on a bluff above Lake Minnewaska. A sudden landslide brought Sven’s house down the slope and onto the frozen lake. The slide had also opened a small hole on the ice and Sven saw fish swimming below, so he dropped in a line, a few other people came over to watch the hole with him, and the tradition was born.

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Ice Fishing Shanty on Lake Winnipeg. Manitoba, Canada. Photograph by Sandra Herber

While ice fishing accommodations today can range from an overturned pickle bucket to a plywood shack with a cooler of cold beers to a well-heated small home with a live high definition underwater feed to watch the lures, the draw of ice fishing remains not so different than it was in 1888. It’s a way to hang out, pass the time, maybe make a little community in a remote place during the most inhospitable time of year, and hopefully catch a string or two of crappies.