We all benefited when Dave Genz got so hyped about ice fishing over 30 years ago that he gave up anything resembling a real job and poured time and energy into his primary passion. Forever trying to learn, year after year, he tinkers relentlessly, restlessly with equipment, digging into the science of winter lakes and the fish in them. And while most of us should keep our day jobs, on your days off here are some of his hottest and all-time-best panfish tips to consider.
“The sonar sees a wider area than the camera—it’s your early warning system,” Genz explains. “But I hold my rod tip up in front of the sonar display. Sometimes, when fish come in hot, you don’t even have time to shift your gaze to the camera. In those cases, it’s nice to see the rod tip jump.
“Most times, fish slowly glide in and you have plenty of time to bring your eyes downward so you’re looking directly at the camera monitor. Now is when your eyes should shift from the flasher to the camera screen. Sure enough, here come the head and pectoral fins of the fish. The camera is looking straight down, so you see it from directly above, just as you do when sight-fishing.”
Watch the fish bite or not. See if the fish sucks in the jig but does not get the hook, and wait to set—fewer missed fish. At times, spin the line (with the hand not holding the rod handle) so the hook is facing the fish’s mouth right before it bites.
Finally, when a fish is hooked, the line can wind around the camera cable. “You can still fight the fish up,” says Genz. “Most of the time, the fish’s head comes up the hole and you grab him like you always do. Unhook the fish and the jig comes unwound off the cord if you pull with light tension. On rare occasions when a fish gets well wrapped, I grab the fish and lift the camera cable and the fish out of the water together. And I rarely miss a fish.”
“In the event you don’t know what the fall weather conditions were like before the lake froze where you’re fishing, a close inspection can help you figure things out. Look shallow right away. Drill some holes and inspect the condition of the weeds. Even when the weeds are brown and in the shallows, look along inside turns on the drop-off. The last of the standing weeds are on the inside turns. That’s always my rule.” —Dave Genz
- “More than we realize, our ice-fishing fortunes are influenced by what the weather was like during the fall,” says Genz. “If the winds are calm and we have lots of sunshine in late fall right before freeze-up, weeds can start growing in the shallow water again. The weeds might die and lie down when the first cold fall weather comes, then suddenly a winter warming pattern rolls in and they start growing again. Bug hatches can occur in the shallows if the weather is warm, too. Sunfish and crappies can be mighty shallow as long as food, cover, and oxygen hold out.”
“On the other hand, on the same lake next winter,” he cautions, “there can be no fish in the shallow water if the weather is nasty right before ice-up and all the weeds are down. When late fall is consumed with cloudy, windy, nasty days, you can suspect most panfish to hold in deeper water.
“Depending on how long ice covers the lake, and how much snow covers the ice, you can have shallow panfish populations through the ice season when weeds remain healthy. Again, It all depends on how the fall goes. You have to recognize these things. What happens in the fall can completely change the lake for the whole winter.”
*Mark Strand from Woodbury, Minnesota, has been a freelance outdoor writer for 30 years.