Celebrating One of Mille Lac’s True Ice Fishing Legends

There was a time when $20.00 got you a night’s stay in a heated ice fishing house, along with a shower in the morning, along with hospitality no longer seen today. That time wasn’t so long ago. At the famous Karpen’s Sunset Bay Mille Lacs Resort, as recent as the early 2000s, $20 still bought you days worth of good fishing and along with a lifetime of great memories.

Joe Karpen’s Legacy and Contributions to Mille Lacs Ice Fishing

Joe did many things, too many to list in one article, that changed to course of ice fishing Mille Lacs forever. Whether it was his time spent campaigning for PERM or the never-ending battle as the voice of the Mille Lacs resort owner, Joe’s passion for Mille Lacs will never be matched. Joe was as blue-colored as it could get. A longtime concrete worker, Joe was known for his dedication and hard work.

Joe and Marty Karpen purchased Karpen’s Sunset Bay Resort in 1979. To very little credit, outside local recognition, Joe built one of the best resorts on Mille Lacs for ice fishing. He did it by revolutionizing the way how ice fishing house rental was done. Joe didn’t invent an iconic jig or presentation. He didn’t perfect the early adoptions of the electronic fish locator. What Joe did was simple but extremely effective. He offered excellent customer service along with modernized permanent ice fishing houses.

In today’s world, where Airbnb features a dedicated Mille Lacs category for ice fishing houses, it’s hard to fathom that long ago, ice fishing was considered a sport only for the hard-core outdoors sportsman. Back then, a 4’x8′ permanent ice fishing house was deemed significant, an 8’x12′ permanent ice fishing house was considered over the top, and a sleeper style house was the talk of insanity. Joe did not think this way.

Joe Karpen Revolutionizes Ice Fishing on Lake Mille Lacs

Joe Karpen Owner of Karpen's Sunset Bay Resort

Joe Karpen, Owner of Karpen’s Sunset Bay Resort, Featured on the right.

When Joe Karpen started to add Mille Lacs ice fishing rental houses back in the early 1980s, one of the first things he did was add amenities like gas heaters, gas lamps, gas cooking stoves, improved insulation, and modern windows. The second thing he did was increase their overall size. Joe said, “There was no rule a four-hole ice fishing house had to be a certain size, but everyone made them the same to save money.” Joe increased the overall size of his four-hole ice fishing houses, allowing more room for modern amenities. Then he started to make his eight hole houses even larger. Karpen’s started a trend which continues on Mille Lacs to this.

Joe’s business decisions to add modern features and amenities, along with increasing the overall size of his rental ice houses, quickly gained Karpen’s recognition. Karpen’s Sunset Bay Resort promptly become known for having “deluxe” style rental houses. Not only did this gain the attention of the visiting Mille Lacs ice fisherman, but more importantly, it won the recognition of the Mille Lacs ice fisherman’s wife. Word quickly spread about Karpen’s deluxe houses, and the wife joining her husband era on Mille lacs began.

Sadly, Joe passed away in 2008. His legacy lives on through the efforts of Chuck and Marilyn Appeldoorn, current owners of Karpen’s resort. Joe would be proud if he could see what the Appeldoorn’s Sunset Bay Resort has accomplished since purchasing the resort back in 2004.