Drilling Lots of Holes For Panfish

Drill more holes," comes the Dave Genz battle cry. Tattered banners whipping in a blizzard, the Genzer signals us forth. Drill more holes, indeed. With more holes we find them; with light line we bind them. Onward into the panfish maelstrom.

Theodore Sturgeon once told me, "Ask the next question. And the next." He meant, those who stop asking stop learning. Dave Genz tells me, "Drill another hole. And the next, and another after that." For, those who stop drilling stop catching, amen.

So we drilled a gazillion holes. And thefish came to our holes. Then we drilled more holes. And fish came to those holes, too. Suddenly, strangers who appeared from nowhere were using our original holes; bucket-filling jackals snarling over the leftovers. Genz looked at me and smiled. "I know, I know. Drill more holes."

Does it ever stop? Genz peppers the ice with openings to find difficult little spots. He drills new holes to make nearby fishermen believe he's not catching fish, after hiding in his Fish Trap and releasing slabs hand over fist. He drills holes to herd bulls from the surrounding area to the holes he wants to fish. He drills enough holes to fish every cabbage stalk in a weedbed, enough to raise concerns about the integrity of the ice underfoot. The man is a hole-drilling fanatic. But here's the rub: There are far worse kinds of fanatics.

Gearing Up

Genz loves nothing more than the sight of a pound-plus pug-nosed saucer scribing concentric circles beneath his feet, tethered to a taught stretch of 2-pound mono. Crappies are fillers that serve when the bulls aren't home. Walleyes? Sure. Salmon? Sometimes. Bass, eelpout, pike, rainbows, turtles — anything that can be dragged through a hole in the ice is fair game, but only if the bulls aren't biting hot and heavy somewhere.

When Genz finally drops the auger (hallelujah!) and gets down to business, he drops a horizontal jig down the hole, usually a Lindy Fat Boy or Genz Worm. "A jig has to drop like a rock but fish small," Genz explains. "It needs a small, sharp, fine-wire hook that can hold a couple-three maggots without making them disintegrate. A horizontal profile shows up better on sonar by providing more surface area for the signal to catch, but it has to look small to the fish."

These baits have #8 or #10 hooks. Genz is partial to his own creations to a fault, scoffing at the little Custom Jigs-N-Spins Rat Finkies, Ratsos, and Maynard's Rock N' Roll Jigs I pull out of my little fly-box.

Finnicky biters send Genz to the next hole (and the next, and the next after that). "I'd rather keep moving to find aggressive biters than waste time trying to convert inactive fish." Genz believes that, somewhere in every lake, a pod of kamikaze panzies awaits. All too often these days, his beliefs run up against the hard, cold reality of cautious, pressured fish that refuse to bite anything visible to the naked eye.

When that happens, Genz switches to a small vertical jig, usually a Coped or a Pounder, both he designed with enough surface area on top to catch sonar signals. These baits have #10, #12, or even #14 hooks. In these scenarios, I often use even smaller jigs than Genz, such as the tiniest of the Thunderhawk Talon Tears.

"Cautious and wary panfish almost have to be able to inhale the package," he says. "Some days, if they open their mouths to inhale and the jig doesn't move, they won't bother swimming over to bite."

Genz delivers all of these baits with the same basic equipment. Moderately long for panfish, he couples his fast-action rods (24 to 28 inches) with small reels spooled with flexible, thin 2-pound monofilament.

"A soft, wimpy, buggy-whip rod won't make the jig move the way I want it to," he says. "It has to be fast, so the jig moves almost the same distance as the rod tip during a jigging motion. That way I know exactly what's going on down there. But at the same time, the rod has to protect 2-pound line, so it has to give to a big fish."

Genz depends on Thorne Brothers custom ice rods, but he occasionally finds some worthwhile sticks elsewhere. "I designed a new line of rods for Berkley that fish nicely," he says.

For Genz, finding fish begins at home or behind the wheel of the truck. He makes as many phone calls as he drills holes. He calls from behind his desk or from a cell phone until his network of buddies cough up a hot hole. Then he tries to determine the depths fish are using, how high they're positioned off bottom, what they're biting on, and the best place to buy coffee along the way.

To find fish on his own, Genz relies on his microseason analysis (see "Top Bites On Ice" in this issue) and his flasher (a Vexilar FL-8). "Most ice fishermen realize today that a flasher is critical," Genz says. "Drill lots of holes in a likely area and start moving around, looking for fish. If the fish don't show up on screen somewhere in the area, or quickly reveal themselves by rising off bottom or out of the weeds to chase a jig, move on." Time, alas, to drill more holes somewhere else. Depending on the size of the area, Genz can size up a spot in 15 to 30 minutes.

Critical Moves

Genz always lets the jig spin above the hole before dropping it down. "Panfish don't like the jig turning or spinning down there," he explains. "Quickly retrieving jigs or playing tug-o-war with a bull can put a twist in the line. Let it untwist before dropping it back down."

If fish don't appear on screen, Genz begins by dropping his lure quickly to a height above bottom he knows fish should be using (typically within five feet of bottom for crappies, one to three feet for 'gills, or wherever his information or experience with the lake indicates). Once in the fish zone, Genz makes several aggressive jigging motions, raising the jig two or three feet and letting it fall, followed by a twitching action and a pause. If, within a few minutes, this doesn't draw in something he can see on his flasher, he's off to the next hole.

If fish appear on screen when Genz pulls up to a hole, he likes to rest the rod on the web of his right hand, between thumb and forefinger, holding it just ahead of the reel. This allows him to put those coffee trembles to work to make the jig dance with delicate little moves.

In this case, he drops the jig down quickly to a point somewhere above the fish (how far above them depends on how spooky the fish are), and slowly lowers the jig, occasionally pausing and tapping the rod blank with his finger to see if the fish will rise to the jig. Holding the rod in this seemingly awkward manner (overhand with the reel by his ear) allows him to make precise, delicate triggering motions with the jig.

"If a fish rises to the jig, I just keep doing whatever made it respond that way," he explains. "Many people stop and wait. Sometimes a pause, even a long pause, becomes a critical trigger. But most days, the fish come to the jig because it's doing something they like. So why stop doing it?"

The Vexilar has long been his window on the panfish world, telling him how fast to drop the jig and how aggressively to work it. "If panfish come to a jig, inspect and leave, it's time to do something different. The flasher is a gauge of fish activity levels. Without it, it's hard to say how far fish will move to smack a jig, which jigging motions work, and which don't — even which size or color to use."

Breakfast With Genzer

When traveling with Genz, I anticipate Al Lindner kinds of days, where an hour without fish sends us packing off across the landscape in search of another lake. "Hey, if they aren't bitin', they aren't bitin'," he says while piling his Fish Trap on his special rack atop his snowmobile.

The Fish Trap, we must add, is a critical part of the Genz attack plan for panzies. On windy days, 2-pound mono can be a nightmare to fish with out in the open, but not in the confines of our little "bass boats on ice," as Genz puts it. And bass boats they are, carrying boxes of jigs, extra rods, buckets, augers, bait, scoops, cleats, and everything else a fisherman needs out there. Genz even outfits his Trap with rod holders, heaters, and rod-storage clips.

"How about breakfast?" I might ask, hopefully.

"Have some Wheaties. Al tells me it's good carp bait. Nothing's healthier than a carp."

Genzer was referring to Al Lindner, who was doubtless driving hooks into lakers somewhere up on the Canadian Shield at that moment.

"Breakfast," I remind Genz needlessly, "is the most important meal of the day."

"Here," he says, extending a Hershey bar my way. "Drill more holes."

Genzer, of course, had already drilled enough for everyone in St. Peter, Minnesota, with a few left over for tourists. When he stops making holes (hallelujah!), he travels light, walking from hole to hole with his Vexilar, a rod, and a pack of maggots in his pocket.

"Nothing beats maggots for panfish," he claims. He's probably right. In fact, I would have to admit that on the lakes I fish, maggots outfish minnows for crappies about four days in five.

When Genz finds the mother lode of 'gills and crappies, he goes back for his Trap and settles down to business. And business is good until the fish stop biting.

"Hey, Matt."

"I know, I know. Moreholes."

This much I know: The Genzer is one hole drillin' mothuh. Me too. Amen. Drilling lots of holes for panfish

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