Saturday’s fishing opener in Albert Lea gave the Governor, media and the rest of the state a little taste of fishing in southern Minnesota.
Albert Lea sits smack dab on the intersection of Interstates 90 and 35, is the headwaters location of the Shell Rock River and is completely surrounded by shallow lakes, some of which provide some excellent fishing opportunities.
It is also the headquarters to a young fishing company seeing steady growth and development, Cold Snap Outdoors.
Cold Snap Outdoors Owner and Vice President Dan Houg is living the American dream: Small town guy heads out into the world, finds a career, and entrepreneurship strikes.
Growing up in Glenville, Minnesota (population 643), Houg graduated high school and then studied at the University of Minnesota-Waseca and South Dakota State, gathering a variety of business education credits before graduating with a business degree from SDSU and moving on to a job with Northwestern Mutual. South Dakota became his permanent home in 1994 when he moved to Sioux Falls.
Throughout life, Houg has had a passion for fishing. And, as it turns out, fishing is where the gears in his mind are always turning.
“My cousin Mark Houg and I were out ice fishing, and one of us said to the other, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to work for a living and could just fish all the time?’” Houg said. “Mark turned to me and said, ‘Well, I was thinking about an ice fishing cover that would just snap on your auger and how nice it would be to not have to put a cord across it.’
“Mark didn’t have any idea what it would look like and just kind of mentioned it. Well, time went on, and it just kept pecking away at me in the back of my mind.
“Over the next couple weeks, I went out and bought some covers, used duct tape and cardboard, trying to create different prototypes. I kept at it, and when Mark came around a couple months later, I pulled it all out and showed him what I’d been working on. We both liked the idea, so I phoned around and talked to some patent attorneys. They hooked us up with South Dakota State University and a program there that helps entrepreneurs bring their inventions to market called the Enterprise Institute. They laid out the road map for how to bring it to market, and that’s how we got it all got started.”
The invention, the Cold Snap auger cover, was the genesis for Cold Snap Outdoors, founded in 2002. Today, Houg says, Cold Snap Outdoors has around 40 stock keeping units (SKUs) and will introduce another five or six new products this season. The company also plans to develop a series of ice fishing rods.
Glenville and the family connection have made Cold Snap Outdoors what it is today. Because Houg lives in Sioux Falls, he turned to his parents to help fulfill and ship orders.
“Cold Snap Outdoors was basically born out of my parents’ garage and basement,” Houg chuckled.
As time progressed and the business grew, they added employees. Eventually Houg’s parents’ house and a 40- by 40-foot building were stuffed to the walls. Houg’s father died and his mother’s health has slowed her role in the company, but he credits his sister-in-law, Katie Houg, with stepping up and keeping the business running day to day.
The family component helped the company get off the ground, and local support from employees like Bruce and Normal Paulsen and Jill Delger has kept the compny going and growing. A couple of years ago, a building became available in Glenville and Houg jumped at the chance to buy it.
“The city of Glenville was instrumental about helping us out,” he said. “They provided a grant to help us get started last year to improve the building, and they gave us the vacant lot next door as a parking lot. The city of Glenville, the mayor, everyone has been awesome in helping us develop our business.
“We’re kind of the Cinderella story for the Albert Lea area. Cold Snap Outdoors is a fishing company in the area that’s hosting the Governor’s Fishing Opener.”
So where was Houg fishing Saturday?
“We’re going to hit Pickerel Lake,” he said prior to the opener. “A lot of my local area family and friends have good things to say about the lake. It might be a sleeper lake to the rest of Minnesota, but to locals it’s been a steady producer. I’ve seen lots of nice perch and big pike. It gets a little weedy when the water warms up but it’s manageable. It’s had clear water and good fishing since it was chemically treated and reclaimed 10 years ago.”
Houg has good advice when it comes to fishing back home:
“If you want to find fishing opportunities in Albert Lea, they are available. Like anything, if you search out the right opportunities, you can find good fishing. I see photos of big crappies, perch, walleyes. Fish are where you find them. It doesn’t have to be Mille Lacs or Red Lake. It can be your own back yard. You just have to put in the time and find them.”