Dave Genz, known to hard-water anglers everywhere as “Mr. Ice Fishing,” has contributed more to the modernization of winter fishing than anyone else on the planet. He was the first to design a truly portable fishing shelter; he helped pioneer fish-finding electronics; and he developed tackle, lures and techniques that have made ice anglers much more efficient and successful.
But by far the most valuable message he’s brought to ice fishing is that hard-water anglers should maintain their summertime mindset and go in search of active fish—especially during the daylight hours. Many times in seminars, in print and in videos, he’s described his bewilderment over the number of anglers who are content to set up alongside dozens of other fishermen over known hotspots and simply bide time as they wait for the often-too-brief “evening bite.”
It’s always better to strike off in search of active biters and catch fish—right now, he says, and the key is to plan light, pack light and travel light. Bring what you need and no more.
If you take the time to analyze the terminal tackle you use during an average day on the ice, you’ll probably realize that all your go-to jigs, hooks, sinkers and floats would fit in a single pocket-size tackle tray. Likewise, look for other ways to pare down what you tote and you’ll be more apt to stay on the hunt for a hot bite.
You may own a hard case full of ice rods, for example, but you’ll likely need just two of them on any given day—perhaps one for jigging and one for float fishing, or one for panfish and the other for predators such as walleyes or trout.
When making that choice, there’s something to be said for the benefit a longer rod brings to stand-up fishing. A compact ice rod, however, is simply easier to transport, which works in favor of making the decision to explore new water.
The True Blue Series combos (below) from Clam Outdoors are fine examples. They’re available in varying lengths and actions, and their shortened handles are not only comfortable in the hand, but they reduce total weight and make the overall package readily portable. And they don’t sacrifice fishability because the EVA foam grips and solid-graphite blanks provide the sensitivity and strength anglers require.
No doubt the primary reason ice anglers are often loathe to search for more productive territory is the need to drill a fresh set of holes. Whether you use a hand drill or power auger, razor-sharp cutting blades minimize the chore. Too often fishermen neglect this simple maintenance step and suffer for it all winter. The small cost it takes to have them sharpened, or replaced if necessary, is well worth it considering the number of holes you will, or would like to, bore during an entire season.
If your drilling device is gas-powered, make sure the powerhead is tuned and ready as well. Otherwise you can spend more time yanking the starter cord than actually drilling holes. That may be one reason that the new-generation lithium battery-powered augers are gaining popularity. The 1- or 2-pound weight advantage they offer is negligible, but their instant-on feature and minimal vibration certainly reduces the fatigue factor.
Electric drills also eliminate the need to carry extra fuel. The 50-volt battery that powers StrikeMaster’s Lithium Lazer Auger (below), for instance, will bore through better than 1,300 inches of ice per charge. That’s close to 70 holes if you’re standing on 20 inches of ice! It’s something to consider if you’re planning to replace or upgrade your drilling equipment.
When it comes to shelters, any of the excellent flip-over models are perfect for anglers on the move, particularly where wintertime fishing is a walk-on-only affair. But if the ice where you fish gets thick enough to support a snowmobile, ATV or pickup, there’s a strong case to be made for hub-style pop-up shelters, especially if your group commonly consists of three or more friends or family members.
When you think about it, after striking a pod of active fish—or perhaps winding up back at the communal hole just in time for the evening bite—the one- or two-angler flip-overs often sit wall-to-wall, and the comradeship fishermen like to enjoy is lost.
An ideal option for a party of anglers might be something like Clam’s 1660 Six Pack Mag Shelter. Hub-style shelters collapse in seconds and easily stow in a pickup bed or ATV trailer, and with this particular model (below) the 94 square-feet of floor space is enough for a handful of fishermen. What’s more, the whole group can be served by a single portable heater, and after dark one or two strategically placed lanterns, further decreasing the equipment load.
According to the Gospel of Genz, making the most of your time on the ice requires an open-water mindset, and the right equipment simply serves to maintain that attitude. Take stock of your approach, so the next time the bite slows you’re more apt to go in pursuit of more cooperative fish.
This article was produced in cooperation with Cabela’s.