Wilcraft vehicle built with ice fishing in mind
Most Midwesterners wouldn't mind if the most brutal winter since 1979 came to a screeching halt tomorrow. Several hundred rabid ice anglers around the world who are proud owners of the Wilcraft will chase after winter at 20 mph until the last floe is gone.
The Wilcraft evolved from the wind-chilled mind of Tom Roering, who sought a way to get his kids and aging grandfather out to experience spectacular late ice fishing action in comfort and safety.
“We all know that the best fishing of the year comes after the DNR requires all permanent ice shelters be removed from the ice,” Roering said. “It took me more than seven years to resolve this torturous dilemma and bring the Wilcraft into full production.”
The W-I-L in Wilcraft is an acronym for water-ice-land. Many states recognize this 800-pound vehicle as a UTV. It is the only vehicle currently on the market designed specifically for ice fishing.
“You can get out there with an airboat, hovercraft or even an Argo,” Roering said, “but all these means of transport require leaving the vehicle to traverse what can be dangerous ice to set up. With the Wilcraft, holes can be tapped from inside the vehicle with the shelter in place in the time it takes to pull up a hood on a sweatshirt.”
The Wilcraft has three pre-drilled holes amidships along one side, which are several inches above the foam-filled deck to prevent water from entering the vehicle. Further floatation is provided by massive rear tires, which also provide traction and propulsion should the Wilcraft break through the ice.
These tires and rims have a factory cost of more than $1,300. When combined with a transaxle with locking differential and hydrostatic drive, they give the Wilcraft the mobility of a tank—with the footprint of a seagull.
“The footsteps of a man walking on the ice translate into 5 to 7 pounds of pressure per square inch,” Roering said. When the Wilcraft is moving across the ice on its tires, the PSI is about two pounds. When the frame is lowered to the ice once you arrive at the place you want to fish, the PSI is less than a half-pound.
Two inches of ice is generally considered the safe threshold for foot travel. Roering says The Wilcraft can maneuver safely on one inch of ice without breaking through.
“Should the ice suddenly give way, it's no big deal,” he said. “You can either sit there and fish or use the hydrostatic drive to crawl back up on thicker ice.”
This 12-foot-long ice house on wheels is designed with a carrying capacity of 600 pounds, enabling two adults to fish in extreme comfort and safety. The Wilcraft comes with three plush bass-boat style seats, with stick steering allowing maximum use of space.
“With one of those small propane heaters, you can be fishing in a 70-degree environment less than 10 minutes after the holes are drilled, Roering said. “If there is still a chill in the air, you can navigate safely with the shelter still deployed. Visibility is excellent through several large windows.” Although the Wilcraft was designed for ice fishing, Roering now markets models for hunting and ice rescue.
“Under late ice conditions you can go from a happy angler to victim status in a single step,” Roering said. “The Wilcraft has already been used in several successful ice rescues.”
The unit also gives disabled anglers the freedom of a safe and effective platform to enjoy both fishing and shooting sports, according to Roering.
“I'm in this venture more for passion about the outdoors than to make money,” Roering said. “The irony is, now I spend all of my time building the Wilcraft. I haven't been able to get out ice fishing all year.”
Roering assembles his brainchild with the help of four employees in a small shop in North St. Paul, Minn. To date he has sold about 300 units world wide. But word travels quickly in the ice fishing community.
“I had a man from Latvia purchase one last year,” Roering grins. “He now wants to be exclusive distributor of the Wilcraft in Eastern Europe and Russia."
Retail price on the Wilcraft is almost as much as a new car. This factor might require some negotiation for those compelled to report such a purchase to a spouse or significant other.
Recently my wife has floated some trial balloons regarding a new vehicle, knowing our income is derived from fishing. I plan on offering her an option: I will get her a new car if I can take it out on the ice whenever I want—or we can purchase the Wilcraft, and in a couple of years she can get some new wheels that never have to leave the shore.
Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.