The modern ice fishing revolution is about mindset and tools. About approaching ice fishing as real fishing, rather than focusing on its limitations.
We all know the limitations. Mainly, you can’t cast or troll, in the traditional sense. You have to drill a hole through the ice for every “cast” you make, as Dave Genz says. But if you follow the history of the ice revolution, you also know Genz has been highlighting the advantages ice anglers have—especially the ability to settle over a spot, tightly control your presentation, and closely observe the reaction fish have to that presentation.
Done right, you can experiment with the most crucial moment in fishing better through the ice than over open water—that make-or-break time when fish are closely inspecting your bait, and the decision is made to suck it in or move on.
When you marry mobility and specialized gear with the right mindset, says Genz, “you’re definitely a fisherman in the winter.”
In addition to mindset, the revolution has always been about gear. These two things are so interconnected that you can’t have one without the other. A mobile mindset, in other words, does no good if you don’t have an auger that can easily drill lots of holes. Makes sense, right? Likewise, the intention to experiment with presentation cannot be carried out unless you also have a good rod that can make that bait dance in various ways.
So what’s new?
This is the big question every year, as Genz makes his annual tour of the Ice Belt, talking to anglers at sports shows, in tackle shops, and out on the ice. “It’s the first question everybody asks,” says Genz. “So what’s new this year?”
The difference in the way Dave handles the question is this: he focuses on whether a new piece of gear will actually come with him on the ice. You might know his mantra: bring everything you need, but nothing else. As time goes on, his pursuit of mobility has not slowed one bit. And his drive to keep overall weight down has actually intensified.
So when Dave volunteers a product review, it comes from one place: whether that piece of gear comes with him on every mission, or plays an important role in certain situations. You don’t get a long list of features and benefits that sounds like a press release. You get the Reader’s Digest version, from the king of common sense.
This is what you’re likely to hear from Genz this winter, if you ask him what’s new.
“The handle for the electric drill,” he begins, and we’re off and running. He’s talking about the new Ice Auger Conversion Kit from Clam. For more than 30 years, Genz has been a fan of electric augers and the promise they hold.
“Now we have something that turns your 18-volt portable drill into a real auger,” Dave continues. “I’ve been experimenting with different setups for the last five years, cutting lots of holes with my drill, using adapters that connect directly to the auger bit. And I’ve twisted my wrist more than once, where it takes half the summer before it quits hurting.”
Your portable drill fits into the conversion kit and you wind up with familiar auger handles and a lever to press on to start the drill. “There’s an industrial ball bearing that absorbs the load,” explains Genz, “so your drill is only used to spin the auger, not to support the auger torque. That extends the life of the battery and the drill itself.”
The bearing system is a huge key, he says. “It turns it into a real auger,” he stresses. “You get the speed (rivaling gas augers) now, using a lightweight drill.”
Bring two fully-charged batteries, and an inverter so you can recharge batteries off your vehicle, ATV, or snowmobile. “If you’re set up like that,” Genz says, “there is no limit to the number of holes you can drill.”
Using portable drills as ice augers has become popular in fringe areas of the Ice Belt, where the ice rarely gets very thick. But now, for the first time, Genz is ready to say that they are legitimate tools in all but the most extreme conditions. They are lightweight and “stashable” inside the sled of a Fish Trap. “Electric (augers) is the future,” he says, “but they’re here now, too.” His prediction: battery technology, driven by the needs of on-the-go smartphone, tablet, and laptop computer users, will continue to improve, benefiting applications like this.
The Conversion Kit is actually three separately-available components: the handle section, a standard-length auger, and an extension for thicker ice.
So what else is new?
Rod technology continues to advance. Lighter-weight guides and sophisticated blanks built to simulate performance of a much longer rod are resulting in tools Genz is excited to use. He has a, well, uh-hum, well-deserved reputation for being starkly honest about whether a given rod will allow you to fish with the famous ‘pounding’ presentation. That, and whether they help you feel the distinct bounce of your bait at the bottom of each pounding cycle—the secret to feeling bites. (When the bounce goes away, when the weight of the bait either disappears or becomes “different,” that usually means a fish has it.)
Learning the “Genz Pound” has long been one of the cornerstones of his fishing system. This style, based on letting fish see (and feel!) a certain cadence (another one of Genz’s favorite words), brings bites when other approaches go unbit. It takes a quality rod to do this. It has to be both stiff and resilient. This is the secret sauce. It has to both flex with, and rebound from, extremely fast, almost vibrating, presentations. All while helping you feel what your bait is doing, on every little bounce.
If you learn anything new about ice rods this year, let this be it.
The right rod has to transmit the feel, so you come to know that feel, so you come to know when the feel goes away, or changes just enough. A mushy rod—or even a rod that sports the right characteristics but is either too stiff or too soft to match up well with the weight of a given bait—doesn’t allow you to fish this way.
Again, it’s a matter of having the right gear to execute an incredibly effective fishing style.
Until this year, there has been a detectable performance gap between the best widely-available rods and the best custom rods. Genz is more than excited about the new Legacy Series rods by Clam, saying that they are as good as any he’s ever fished with.
“Just pick one up,” Dave says, “and you can tell right away. The guides are very light, they have all the attributes of a custom rod, and they come with a good reel that has a smooth drag.”
We’ll have more to say this winter about distinct styles of presentation and how the qualities of the right rod vary with each. From a rod performance standpoint, the pounding style, with the premium placed on responsiveness and feel, is the most demanding. The right rod for pounding can also be used for other styles, such as a smoother swimming presentation. But you cannot take a softer rod, or a rod equipped with a spring bobber, and make it work well for pounding.
Feel is enhanced, especially when using lighter baits, by using tungsten jigs. Tungsten is about 30 percent heavier than lead, apples to apples, so the feel advantage is there for the taking, as long as the jig design maximizes it. Genz helped with the new Tungsten Drop series jigs.
When a jig is “heavy for its size,” it makes Genz smile. Forever, he has preached efficiency in ice fishing, “and a huge part of that is seeing how fast you can get up and down in deeper water,” he says. “Every new hole, every drop, is like a cast. If I can make a lot of casts out there on the ice, it’s going to help me find fish faster, and catch more.”
The tools and techniques are impossible to separate, and the process of evolution and refinement continues. More on this next time.
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 to order his info-packed new book, Ice Revolution, go to www.davegenz.com.
Image courtesy davegenz.com