by John Phillips
A Southern boy’s perspective on fishing Minnesota’s ‘hard water’
Because not much ice fishing exists in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama – where we had 95-plus degree temperatures this past October – I was eager to try that sport. The first time I went to Iowa – many, many years ago – I sat all day on a 5-gallon bucket and jiggled a little ice fly through a hole for fish I couldn’t see. I was bored to tears.
However, when I went on a later ice fishing excursion to Lake Mille Lacs in Minnesota in the middle of the winter, I gained a new respect for the fun found in fishing hard water. My new-found enthusiasm came from fishing a day with Dave Genz, a resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who has preached the gospel of ice fishing for more than 30 years and who completely revolutionized ice fishing for me.
When I talked with Dave recently, he told me, “After fishing on the ice for several decades, I decided a better way to catch panfish like bluegills and crappie through the ice had to exist. In the summertime, I could move all around the lake in my boat and go from spot to spot finding fish. However, in the winter months, I was stuck in one place in an icehouse.”
Because of his discontent, Genz developed his Winter Fishing System that includes a portable icehouse, the Fish Trap, that is available in one, two or three-person models and has plenty of dry storage for your gear, including a heater, rods, reels and a seat – all on a molded polyethylene sled base that makes moving easy, after you flip the top down and grab the tow rope.
Genz prefers a Verilux FLX-28 flasher, which provides instant feedback as a fish reacts to your presentation and features two zoom zones, five colors to select from for maximum visibility, 5-foot depth range adjustments and night display brightness settings, as well as options for fishing in super-shallow water and weeds. After Genz drills a number of holes in the ice, then he moves the Fish Trap from hole to hole, until he finds crappie with his flasher. Today Genz fishes with the Dave Genz Ice Fishing Combos from Clam Outdoors, a balanced rod and reel combo with a lightweight design, a cork handle and five guides.
What amazed me most when I fished with Dave was that I could observe a 1/32-ounce ice fly – what we fished with then – fall from the surface of the water to a depth of 33 feet on the flasher. Not only could I see the ice fly on the screen of the flasher, but I also could watch the fish move in to take the bait. I had my own video game inside my icehouse.
If I saw a little crappie coming toward my bait, I could move my ice fly away from the small fish and either up or down to where a bigger crappie could take the lure. If I spotted a crappie moving toward my bait and saw the line on the flasher representing the fish overlap the line that was my ice fly, I knew the crappie had taken the bait, and I should set the hook. From watching the flasher, I could see a strike on the flasher before I ever felt the bite on my line.
Something else I learned from the flasher was I could determine whether the fish were in an aggressive or non-feeding mode. An active crappie would follow my ice fly or jig up toward the surface to attack, but an inactive fish would not move more than a foot or two to take the bait. When I saw that the crappie were inactive on the flasher, I’d put my ice fly tipped with a Eurolarva (a maggot) in front of the fish and shake the bait until the fish hit.
The flasher was more like a video game than the machines found at an arcade. Dave Genz’s style of ice fishing taught me plenty about how crappie feed and move too under the ice. With this type of video game, instead of bells and whistles going off when you win, you get to bring a fat crappie to the surface to take home to supper. I may be from the South, but I’ve learned how to enjoy and appreciate the fun and the adventure of northern ice fishing, Dave Genz style.
Learn more about ice fishing at http://davegenz.com/.
See the five best ice-fishing flashers and their features GlobeSurfer.com.
(John Phillips holds an array of awards including the 2012 Homer Circle Fishing Award from the American Sportfishing Association and the 2007 Legendary Communicator inducted into the National Fresh Water Hall of Fame. He has written more than 6,000 magazine articles and served as Outdoor Editor for the Birmingham Post-Herald for 24 years. Phillips is a founding member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association and an active member of the Southeastern Outdoors Press Association. The author of more than 100 books, you can learn more from his book, “Crappie: How to Catch Them Fall and Winter.)