By Brent Frazee
Dave Genz doesn’t dread winter the way some people do.
Ice, snow, bitter cold, frigid wind chills? Bring it on.
For Genz, who lives in St. Cloud, Minn., winter is prime time for fishing. When the lakes lock up with ice, he drills holes, cozies up in his pullover shelters and drops small lures to the fish.
More often than not, he ends up with an impressive array of fish—everything from walleyes to big bluegills, jumbo yellow perch and even largemouth bass.
“I would much sooner fish when it’s cold than when it’s hot and humid,” Genz said. “There’s a certain feeling you get when it’s cold outside and everyone else is complaining about winter, but you’re out there catching.
“You’re fighting off the wolf.”
Genz, 76, has been fighting off the wolf for most of his life. His dad was in the road construction business, so he had most of the winter off. That left plenty of time for ice fishing.
Genz remembers his dad renting out ice shacks in the Detroit Lakes area of Minnesota. How long ago was that? This will give you a clue: Fishermen had to chop holes in the ice with a chisel.
“It was before the spoon auger even came around,” he said. “We had to work like crazy to just drill a few holes, then we had to stay in one place and wait for the fish to come by.
“We weren’t very mobile.”
Genz has been a pioneer in providing ice fishermen with mobility. Years ago, he designed the Fish Trap, a portable pullover ice-fishing shelter. Fishermen no longer were stuck in one spot. They could use a power auger to drill a few holes, then move on if there were no fish there.
“People ask me what I fish for,” Genz said. “I tell them, ‘Red lines.’
“I don’t care what it is.”
Eventually, Genz brought his Fish Trap design to Clam Outdoors, a giant in the ice-fishing business. And he helped design many ice-fishing lures and techniques to fool the fish.
Today, he is looked upon as the Godfather of Ice Fishing. He was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in 2010, and he hasn’t let old age slow him down. He already has ice fished in six states this winter—Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Nebraska.
He has found ice as thick as 20 inches, and has used his tried-and-true methods to catch countless fish.
He follows safety guidelines, ensuring the ice is thick enough to support him. He often drills test holes on the way out to his intended destination.
Good equipment is a key. Genz uses short spinning rods, usually 27 to 29 inches long, to accommodate fishing in tight quarters in his portable fish shelters.
He generally uses 3-pound test monofilament line and lures just heavy enough to take the kinks out of the line. That might be a small Tika Minnow, a Pinhead Minnow, or a Drop Kick, baits that can be fished vertically.
When the bite gets tough, he often will improvise.
“The other day, I could see the fish down there with my electronics, but I couldn’t catch them,” he said. “So I went to a No. 14 hook, put two maggots on there and started catching them.”
Genz advises beginners to concentrate on what he calls “the golden hour”—sunrise and sunset. That’s when the walleyes are most active and can be caught most easily.
But during the day, panfish such as big bluegills, yellow perch and crappies will bite. On small lakes, Genz often does his homework and looks for depressions.
“Maybe it’s a shallow lake and it has one spot where the water is 15 to 20 feet deep,” Genz said. “That’s where I’ll go.”
On larger lakes, Genz will fish flats, drop-offs, points and deep weed lines.
These days, he will fish off his snowmobile, which has been designed to include rod holders, a flasher unit and a Fish Trap.
He often can ice fish from Thanksgiving to almost Easter some years.
That amounts to a lot of fishing—and at a time when most people are complaining about the weather.
“Really, with the clothing available now, you can stay warm,” he said. “You get in that Fish Trap with a little propane heater, and it’s comfortable.”
Genz paused and added, “Besides, when you sit in that shelter, no one else can see you catch fish. They aren’t going to come over and move in on your spot.”
For more information on Dave Genz and his ice-fishing techniques, go to the website davegenz.com.
You can also check out our Great Plains Outdoors Podcast and listen to our epiosde with Dave! LISTEN HERE.