When it comes to modern ice fishing, there is a direct connection between tools and techniques. The tools make the techniques possible. And yet, when it comes to talking about the tools, we often lose the direct connection to the techniques.
That all ends here. When you talk ice fishing tools with Dave Genz, the discussion always starts and ends with what the tools get used for. Approach it this way and your equipment selection is simplified. This time, we focus on styles of fishing. When you know what kind of angler you are, you can do a better job of gathering up the right tools.
“So, rather than just talking about new products and their features,” begins Genz, “let’s talk about how you’re going to use whatever you use.”
He begins thinking out loud, talking about how some ice anglers—himself included—head onto the ice with a game plan that includes remaining mobile. That is, the primary strategy is to drill lots of holes and fish them quickly, looking for active biters. Other anglers—and it can be a function of the type of ice shelter they use—tend to drill fewer holes, and focus mainly on catching whatever fish are under them. As time passes, it’s often the same fish (that have already seen your initial offering) that you’re trying to catch.
“It’s those two different styles of fishing,” says Genz, “and both are effective. Which one do you want to be? If you’re fishing out of a hub-style house or a wheeled fish house or a permanent shack, you aren’t going to move as much. Maybe not at all. So you need lots of rods, all rigged with something different, to try to catch the fish that are camped under your house.”
He talks about top competitors in ice tournaments, and how they want to be mobile and move to many holes, looking for biters, but the crowd on the spots makes it hard to fish that way. “Tournament guys are faced with that a lot,” he says. “There are people on all the spots, so you’re forced to make those fish bite that are in your area.”
He talks about pressured fish and how they tend to be harder to tempt. He brings up Jim Martin, a Michigan fisherman known for his ability to catch fish in crowds during tournament hours. “Jim Martin is the master at having lots of rods rigged up ahead of time,” says Dave. “He puts a lot of effort into tying up all these rods the night before. His plan is to get those fish to bite by dropping a different bait down there. Something new.”
The point is clear: if your mobility is limited, either by choice or circumstance, it becomes more important to try to coax a few reluctant fish into biting. It’s more likely that you are going to be sitting over fish that are slow to react. Active biters get caught quickly, then you settle in to a period of working over tough customers.
In this scenario, it’s more likely that the bites are going to be soft and hard to detect. The fish tend to ease up to your bait and perhaps half-heartedly suck at them, maybe just getting the bait to touch the outside of their lips. There is a theory in fishing that you “get what you ask for” from the fish, meaning that if you fish slow and subtle, you get timid bites. If you fish more aggressively, you tend to trigger more aggressive bites. But even that aside, in many cases when you’re camped on a spot, Genz says, the bites become harder to detect.
This is one of the reasons that spring bobbers are effective tools for a lot of people. “But you have to realize,” says Genz, “that putting a spring bobber on your rod limits what you can do with the presentation.” We’ve talked about this before, but a spring bobber generally ‘smooths out’ the presentation, making it more of a swimming thing rather than a rapidly-vibrating thing as with the Genz Pound.
The good news is that, if you like to fish with spring bobbers and they match your style well, that your rods are going to cost less. You don’t need a great rod with a spring bobber. The rod can’t be a mushy train wreck, but any reasonable rod will do when paired with a spring. So it makes it more affordable to gather up an arsenal of rods, allowing you to do the Jim Martin thing and hit the ice with lots of rods, pre-rigged with different style and color baits.
Next stop: sight fishing. Dave goes into his thoughts on gear and outlook when you can see the fish. “And remember, these days we can sight-fish at any depth,” he says, “because you can use an underwater camera and see deep fish, too, as long as the water is clear enough.”
After watching countless others sight-fish, and doing plenty of it himself, Genz came to the following conclusion: when you can see the fish, you tend to slow down, or stop, your presentation as the fish gets closer. “It’s like you want to make it easy for the fish to catch your bait,” theorizes Dave. “So you slow everything down or stop. That’s when your line starts untwisting, so the bait starts spinning. Most fish lose interest when the bait is spinning.”
This has been a long-standing issue. Some sight fishermen have learned to grab the line to keep it from spinning. But now you have a hook-setting problem, because your line is in one hand, and there is probably slack line between your hand and the rod. The fish sucks in the bait, you deal with the mess, and the fish has long since spit it back out before you get the hook set.
The best answer to the whole spinning bait thing has been the introduction of ‘fly reels for ice fishing,’ so the line peels straight off without twisting. Genz was instrumental in designing the Ice Spooler series for Clam, which features a longer ‘reel stem’ so the reel doesn’t sit tight to the rod, as a true fly reel would. This lets you get your hand in there and hold it like a traditional reel.
You can use a rod with a spring bobber on it for sight fishing, but the spring bobber is not useful for detecting bites when you can already see the fish, and the spring limits your presentation options. So perhaps the ultimate sight rod is one that allows you to either ‘pound it’ or swim it smoothly, and minimizes line twist so the bait won’t spin around as you slow down or stop the presentation.
Genz’s favorite style of ice fishing, the style he built the modern ice revolution around, is sometimes called run and gun. This is where you attack the lake, drilling holes on many promising spots, fishing quickly, looking for active biters, moving on. You keep moving, in most cases, even when you catch fish, because the theory is that there are only so many active biters in an area at any given point in time.
As soon as the action slows, you’re on the move, drilling more holes.
Fishing this style was the inspiration for what became the original ‘blue suit’ by Clam, which has evolved into a series of ice fishing-specific suits that block the wind, let you kneel down on the ice, and just generally keep your comfortable while fishing ‘outside’ in the elements. It has become part of ice fishing lingo to say that you’re wearing your portable shelter, using tools like Fish Traps primarily to block the wind better, to see better for sight fishing, and to get warm before going out on the next attack.
The theory behind this fishing style has been proven so many times that it’s no longer a theory. On most days, this approach produces the most fish, and the biggest fish. It places a premium on the first drop down a new hole, a time when the most aggressive fish is likely to rise up out of the pack and beat the others to your bait. These are often the biggest fish in the area.
“Our style of fishing,” says Dave, “is we use the same jig and fish it in a lot of holes.”
It’s not that he never changes baits. In fact, he brings about four pre-rigged rods with baits he thinks should produce. But it’s common for him to keep dropping the same jig down many holes. His classic presentation style is called the Genz Pound. To execute it, you need a high quality rod that lets you remain in control of many rapid, tiny vibration-like movements you impart to the bait, and distinctly feel each cycle. What you are feeling is the ‘bottom of each bounce,’ and you train your hands and brain to notice when the cycle of boomp-boomp-boomp gets interrupted. That usually means a fish has sucked it in, and it’s already past time to set the hook!
It’s difficult or impossible to fish this style without a top-quality rod. This is the style we talked about last time, that has Genz so excited about the new Legacy rods. “They’re the most affordable rods ever,” he says, “that let you fish this way.”
That’s it for today. There’s always a reason for the gear selections, if you think about the style of fishing you plan to do. Hopefully, this will help you gather up the right stuff before you head out onto the ice.
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