Many of you are already aware that we lost a special member of the ice fishing world when Jim Hudson of Bayfield, Wisconsin passed away on Jan. 26, 2013. Modern ice fishing is gaining followers and momentum, and Hudson’s role in the sport’s recent growth cannot be overstated.
Once in a very great while, someone like Jim Hudson crosses our paths. He loved fishing so much that he wanted to dedicate his career to it. Because he was never out for fame, was always driven by the desire to help others catch fish, and because his personality was so engaging, people were drawn to him. Despite being only 34 years old at the time of his passing, he had long been inspiring many thousands of anglers to follow him.
Because he was such a wonderful friend and teammate, Dave Genz would like to add a few Jim Hudson stories today, rather than talking about fishing tactics.
“Jim would help anyone,” began Genz. “And because he was so good at finding fish on the big water of Lake Superior, all of the TV shows and media people wanted to go with him. From the In-Fisherman to North American Fisherman to John Gillespie to Midwest Outdoors and every other show you can think of, they all came to Bayfield to film with Jim.
“He was just a great teacher, and even though he was much younger than all those people, they had no problem letting him be in charge of their day on the ice.”
In addition to being a natural leader, Genz also points out that Hudson was blessed with the ability and desire to contribute in a group environment. “Whether it’s at the restaurant or the fish cleaning table,” Genz said, “we always end up having those conversations where we try to analyze what happened out there on the ice, why we caught these fish today, or why we struggled. It was fun when Jim was part of those conversations, because he was always willing to add something. I enjoyed those times with him, sitting down and hearing his thoughts at the end of the day.”
Another trait Genz values highly is the desire to “go beyond the end of the plowed road,” rather than plunking down where others are already fishing. “It was especially fun to fish with Jim when we were at a new spot,” Genz said. “He understood what it took to find fish where nobody else was. He could look at the map and instinctively know where to drill the next holes. It was fun for me to watch him be a part of that process.”
Last winter at an event called Ice Shots, Dave wound up searching new water with Hudson in advance of the arrival of media members.
“We needed to have a place where we could catch fish with the outdoor writers when they showed up the next day,” Genz remembers. They were on Leech Lake, near Walker, Minnesota. “We took off into an area neither of us had ever seen before. In a matter of less than an hour, we found fish and felt confident we could return with the writers and do well. It was a pleasure to have Jim as my partner to go look for those fish.”
Yet another reason Hudson commanded Genz’s respect was the way he handled himself as a budding fishing pro. From the time he started in the business, Genz says, “he knew you had to perform first and get paid later. He figured that out right away – that just because you can catch fish doesn’t mean manufacturers are going to pay you. You have to be good at presenting yourself to the public, working sports shows, doing TV shows, working in stores. He understood that if he worked hard, he could earn a living in the fishing world, and he was doing that.”
Jim was Hardcore
To look at Hudson, relates his friend Jason Mitchell, “you saw this puppy-faced kid, but it was amazing what he could do.” Mitchell, who hosts an outdoor TV show, shared many days with Jim, working at industry events and fishing together.
“One time,” remembers Mitchell, “we were talking, and musky fishing came up. We found out that we both liked to do it, and Jim said we should meet up on Mille Lacs and fish muskies.”
The large central Minnesota lake was located between Bayfield and Mitchell’s base in Devils Lake, North Dakota.
“This was back in my guiding days,” said Jason, “so I’m pretty tired when I get there. Jim was probably the same, because he was working as a cop and guiding, too. But we fish all day and all night for three days, sleeping maybe three hours a night. I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I can keep up with this whipper snapper,’ but we were having a great time together.
“It came time to leave, but the engine light came on in my boat. I needed it fixed for guiding, so we took it to a local shop. We drove back down to the lake and just start talking to people. This one guy decided he wanted to take us out fishing and show us around Mille Lacs, but he couldn’t go until later.
“So we head out with this guy, after dark, and we’re going to fish all night. The wind’s blowing hard, and we only get about 150 yards out from the dock and we can’t go any farther. It’s just too shallow for the conditions. The boat is hitting rocks (in the troughs of the waves). Jim and I jump out of the boat (to lighten things up, so the operator could float it and get back to shore).
“Now Jim and I are walking, basically, across the lake, to get back to shore. We’re barefoot, the waves are crashing into us, we’re grimacing and trying not to fall down on the slippery rocks. Finally we get back on shore, we load the boat up, and this guy looks like he wants to go home and sleep. We’re staring at him, drenched from head to toe, and Jim says he thinks we could do it if we went out of Vineland Bay. He starts telling the guy where the next boat ramp is, and you can see that he regrets ever saying he would take us out.
“Jim stayed on him until he agreed to drive us over to the next boat ramp. We launch the boat, and the guy curls up on the floor and sleeps the whole time. We were hell bent on fishing all night, and we did. Jim was hardcore.”
Huge Capacity for Friendship
Steve “Zippy” Dahl, also from Devils Lake, remembers Hudson for his never-ending cheerfulness and genuine interest in other people.
“Fishing is very much a relationship business,” said Zippy, “and everybody from his guide staff to his sponsors to thousands of fishermen all saw the same side of Jim Hudson. Whoever was with him seemed to be having a good time, let’s put it that way. He had the biggest baby face in the world, but he made a lot happen in a very short time.”
Dahl founded and still runs the famous Perch Patrol guide service in the Devils Lake area. As Hudson’s On the Spot Guide Service grew and he began hiring additional guides, he sought Dahl’s advice.
“But really,” says Zippy, “I always enjoyed Jim’s stories about being a cop. You don’t always have to talk about fishing. He had a great way of being your friend. He was always there, and it seemed like he wasn’t with anybody, but he was with everybody. I guess his best friend was his wife, Hannah. He had a huge capacity for friendship.
“He was always happy to see you, and you were always happy to see him. You feel like you knew Jim really well, but there’s a starving side that wishes you got to know him a lot more. Especially now.”
Walleye Slam with Jim
Despite Lake Superior being the closest Great Lake to Genz’s base of operations in central Minnesota, it remains the only one from which Dave has never caught at least one walleye through the ice. Realizing this a few years ago, Genz decided he’d like to complete his lifetime Great Lakes winter walleye Grand Slam.
An ambitious travel schedule on behalf of Clam, Ice Team, and his other sponsors has kept this box unchecked, but that was set to change this February. The phone rang a few months ago, and Dave heard Jim Hudson’s voice on the other end.
“Well,” Hudson said to Genz, “I suppose you’ll have to come up here so we can go out and get you that walleye.”
They looked at their calendars, set the date, but now it can’t happen.
Or, perhaps it can.
Genz’s new plan is to go out on the Lake Superior ice with one of Jim’s fellow guides. They will go to one of Hudson’s favorite walleye spots and try to catch that fish. The event, which started out as a casual quest, has taken on a deeper, more personal significance.
“I have a feeling,” said Genz, “that Jim will have a hand in it after all.”
Note: Dave Genz, known as Mr. Ice Fishing, was the primary driver of the modern ice fishing revolution. He has been enshrined in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport. For more fishing tips and information on the new book, Ice Revolution, go to www.davegenz.com.
Image courtesy Dave Genz