By: Dave Genz
Could we be in for a series of “real, legitimate winters” as Dave Genz predicts? If so, you will be much more successful ice fishing in snowy and slushy conditions if you follow Genz’s experience-based strategies.
When it comes to understanding ice fishing from an Ice-Belt-Wide perspective, nobody has the years of travel and personal experience of Dave Genz. During the winter of 2010-11, Dave was able to reach into his memory banks for productive strategies when dealing with heaping portions of snow, and slush that bleeds onto the ice surface every time a new hole is drilled.
We sat down with him for an interview, while this “real, legitimate winter” was still fresh in his mind.
Q: You were all over the map, as usual, making runs all the way to the end of the East Coast, into the West, and through the heart, and fringes, of the Ice Belt. What did you see out there?
Genz: What happened this year, for the whole country basically, is we suddenly had snow cover again. There was a lot of flooding, slush on the ice, that made travel difficult.
Q: What did it take for people to get around out there?
Genz: Snowmobiles and track vehicles, which are something relatively new-ATVs with tracks on ’em were getting around well.
Q: But isn’t it really a problem, knowing how much these machines weigh, if you do get stuck in the slush? Getting a stuck snowmobile out is no picnic.
Genz: Snowmobiles are getting around better than ever. On the newer machines, the technology has advanced so much. The driver is moved farther forward, which gets more weight on the skis. The clutching systems are better. Everything is better. I didn’t get stuck at all, all winter; not even close, basically. I never even had to stop. I could even go slow through the slush.
Q: So you were able to get around out there, but there’s still the question of fishing effectively when you have to dig down through the slush to reach the soggy surface of the ice, then drill a hole, and then water flows up onto the ice and floods the area around your hole. How do you fish well under those conditions?
Genz: Yeah, well, you definitely have to deal with that (laughs). But when you find fish, you can still make ’em bite, and we had some really good days of catching. One of the problems is that, even when you find a good spot, it’s tough to go back there and fish the next day.
Q: How so?
Genz: The water keeps running up and out of the holes you drilled, and the whole area gets all sloppy. Sometimes, the holes don’t freeze over because the water keeps coming out overnight. When you go back to that area and try to fish, every time your foot gets close to the hole it squishes slush into the hole. Your feet get wet eventually, because it’s such a mess, so rather than deal with that, we usually look for new spots, or go to a different lake.
Q: As much of a disadvantage as that seems, isn’t there something good in there, when you are forced to move on and find more spots?
Genz: Yes. It forces you to broaden your horizons, something I try to get people to do anyway. When you can’t just go back to where you caught ’em yesterday, you have to get more than one spot going. After a few cold nights, those areas tend to freeze up and you can stay on top again, but one night usually isn’t enough.
It makes you get out your lake map, and look for spots that have the same characteristics as the place you caught fish yesterday. Look for the same depth range, same type of structures, and if you found green weeds, you have to go searching for other places with green weeds.
Q: Does the snow cover and slush create problems that some anglers just can’t overcome?
Genz: It depends on how well you can get around. If you have a good snowmobile or an ATV with tracks, you shouldn’t have major problems. Or if you can walk short distances to your spot, same thing. But the conditions also cause a lot of people to look for lakes they can get around on. In some places, there wasn’t as much snow. On those lakes, there tended to be so much traffic that it beat the snow down to the ground and you could drive anywhere, even in a vehicle. So I saw more of that-on the lakes you could get around on, there were a lot more people at those spots. Hundreds and hundreds of people would gather, and then you’d hear the same story you always hear: the big ones ain’t biting anymore; you really gotta weed through ’em to get to the big ones. Guess what? The big ones aren’t there anymore. They went home in people’s buckets.
Q: On a “real, legitimate winter,” what else do you see that anglers should watch for?
Genz: We always have much better success in deeper water, outside the weeds, once we get to the midwinter period on a year like this. Dead weeds don’t hold fish, at least biters, in the midwinter period. This winter, we had much better success fishing water from about 14-30 feet, on some of the same lakes we caught fish shallow on other years.
When you get a lot of snow on top of the ice, the weeds die off sooner, and that forces the biters out of the weeds. There’s always an exception, like lakes with a lot of curlyleaf pondweed, because those weeds can start growing in February. On any lakes with green weeds, the shallows can be good, even in the middle of the winter.
Q: So what do you think this winter of snow means? Do you think it’s now an oddity, and that we should be back to relatively mild winters again?
Genz: We built up to this. (In 2009-2010) there was more snow than the year before. Then this winter, we got more again. Maybe we’re going back into a heavier snow cycle. When you look back at records over the long term, you can see ups and downs. So, yeah, I don’t see why we couldn’t have more years like this one.
Q: What else can you pass on from the winter of 2010-11? Anything in the way of equipment observations that helped you deal with the conditions?
Genz: Yes, the first thing I would say has to do with reels that have larger diameter spools. I’ve been using the Clam True Blue reels and noticed how much nicer the line behaves for ice fishing. Not only does the line coil less, which helps your sensitivity, but the retrieve is much faster. If you’re working a fish up, up, up, and then it bites and you end up with your rod over your head, just a couple cranks of the reel handle gets you back down in the proper fighting position. I lost fewer fish because of the reel. And the Ice Armor hooded vest is much better than any sweatshirt hood. It doesn’t allow the wind to pass through the hood, so it’s a lot warmer than a cotton sweatshirt.