This is the year we are documenting a story that gets glossed over but never told in great detail, the upheaval known as the modern ice fishing revolution. Close followers of the sport know that Dave Genz was the principal driver of this movement, but until now, the whole story was not written down, illustrated with images, and packaged together.

A new book, Ice Revolution, gives readers a first-hand account of what it was like when the sport of ice fishing moved out of the “stone age” as Genz calls it. What follows is a sampling from a chapter that chronicles the revolution in list form. There are more elements than what we have space for here, but hopefully you will enjoy reading about the most amazing period in the history of ice fishing…

As we look at the list of things that drastically changed about ice fishing over the last 40 years, virtually every one of them is tied to Dave Genz. In most cases, he was the one who came up with the idea, invented the breakthrough piece of equipment, or modified existing gear for ice fishing use.

You might wonder how that could be – and Dave is the first one to credit his friends and associates for having a big hand in it – but the story of the revolution clearly bears this out. Most things happened one at a time, and the march took place at a measured pace, but when viewed from an historical perspective it can appear to have happened overnight.

It certainly helps when somebody lives in interesting times, and over the period of his adult life, Dave was able to put emerging technologies to good use. In this case, it’s also one of those chicken and egg deals, because by coming up with ideas for things that didn’t exist and pushing the rapid revolution of the sport, he literally forced most of the advancements to take place.

Judging by the state of Genz’s several garages, the revolution, in his mind, is still going on. It’s common to pull into his driveway in the middle of summer and find him sweating in his work shop, cutting and bolting things together in various configurations, new ideas for ice-fishing setups for the coming winter. Fish Traps strewn across the floor, pieces of gutter and angle iron and bags of hardware, and though he denies it, you get the idea that this part might be as much fun for him as the actual fishing.

We all know about the Fish Trap, the shelter that sets up with a flip of the wrists and becomes a mobile sled with another flip of the wrists, helping you remain on the move until you catch fish. But to fully appreciate the impact Genz has had on ice fishing, a list of the revolutionary pieces of gear, adaptations of existing gear, and methods that he brought to the sport, or chiefly influenced, places things in perspective.

Adapted flashers (and other sonar) for use on the ice. His first ‘Ice Box’ was a homemade creation of wood and hinges. One day, while tinkering with an early flasher fitted into the wooden box, he watched as the signal representing his small ice jig came on the display. As he saw the jig lower in real time, “I knew right away that this was a big deal,” Genz said. “I knew that I wanted that all the time.”

This development changed ice fishing forever.

After realizing that lures show up much better when the transducer is pointed straight down, Dave came up with the idea of glueing a leveling bubble to the top of the transducer.
Because a flasher updates its display continuously, in real time, ice anglers could suddenly see their bait and follow its movements, no matter how fast they jiggled it. They could also see the signals of fish coming in to inspect the bait. That meant, for the first time, that you could literally watch a fish’s reaction to your presentation.

Genz dubbed the ice-specific flasher a “mood indicator,” meaning you could tell whether fish seemed aggressive, lethargic, or somewhere in between. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this. It was one of the biggest breakthroughs of the ice revolution.

Right after putting this part of the system together, Dave began talking about how ice anglers actually have advantages over those fishing from a boat – because of the stable platform (the ice) they are fishing from, and how much easier it is to keep a lure and the fish on the same sonar screen. It was the first time such a claim could be made on behalf of ice fishing.

Pioneered the importance of mobility, using improving augers to drill lots of holes. After becoming convinced that ‘the first drop down a new hole’ was crucial, especially to daytime success, even early spoon augers were used to keep on the move. Mobility remains one of the most commonly used buzzwords in modern ice fishing. It was Genz and his friends who started pushing for it, many, many years ago.

This movement toward mobility, by itself, changed the fortunes of daytime ice anglers. It was no longer accepted that you had to wait around until the prime time around sunset, or be on the ice at dawn, in order to put together a good catch of fish.

Created the first modern ice rods from broken graphite fly rods. Eventually, largely through Genz’s design concepts, these evolved into rods built from the ground up to perform like long rods in miniature. The light weight and incredible sensitivity of these rods ushered in a total transformation of ice fishing techniques that did not rely on bobbers.

Genz developed the idea of making ice-specific jigs that were small, “but fished heavy for their size.” This concept was driven by the invention of graphite ice rods and the use of flashers. The designs were tinkered with until it was discovered which ones both fished well and showed up best on a depthfinder. After all, if you had this depthfinder that could help you see the fish’s reaction to your presentation, it was important to be able to see the jig on the display at all times – while keeping the sensitivity (or ‘gain’) set as low as possible. His designs are still being made today by leading lure companies.

Driven by evolving graphite ice rods and specialized ice jigs, Genz and his friends pioneered a jigging method they called ‘pounding’ (and variations of it), teaching ice anglers to create intense vibrations by rapidly making minute movements with their wrist. The triggering appeal of pounding makes it the most universally-used presentation in the sport to this day. It remains the go-to method for Dave and most other top ice anglers.

Dave and his family, along with several close friends, were key figures in popularizing the use of multi-colored maggots, originally called Eurolarvae, for ice fishing. Dave and Rick Johnson met Englishman John Gilman at Vados Bait in Minnesota. They saw the potential for ice fishing, even though it was being touted for open-water applications.

The Genz family ran a small company, Midwest Direct Live Bait, that was responsible for getting these now universally-used live baits into widespread use in key ice fishing states.

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/Mark Strand

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  • Mark — did this pick come from Ice Station Berkley?

    • Mark Strand

      Actually, it’s from quite a long time prior to that. But I looked back through many slides from that outing… with you, John Phillips, Louie Stout, Kent Hrbek, and many others… those were great days!