How to Hold a Musky (and other info)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Catching Fish Through the Ice

Depth, Speed, and Color
These are the three ingredients you need to catch fish through the ice

By Dave Genz, with Mark Strand

Dave Genz led the modern revolution in ice-fishing equipment and methods. The development of his Fish Trap portable shelter and Ice Box sonar holder made it possible for anglers to be more mobile and effective in winter. Call 1-800-ICE-TEAM to learn more about Genz’s new ice fishing club, Ice Team. Members receive an informational newsletter.

In this series of articles with ice fishing pioneer Dave Genz, we stress mobility to the point that many readers will begin to feel guilty for sitting down to fish. But that’s far from the intention, says Dave, as we sit down for another interview.

After you gear up and find a spot and drill the hole, you begin the process of presentation, the steps leading up to what you came there for…the bite. This is where your bait meets the water, and the fish. Here are three ingredients you need to make a good impression.

"This is the most important factor," says Genz, a haphazard pile of ice jigs spread before him on the bench in his garage. "You have to be in the depth of water the fish are at, or at least be close enough that the fish is willing to come to where your bait is."
"Remember, fish don’t have to be at the bottom. They could be suspended three inches or three feet off the bottom, or even 30 feet off the bottom. They can even be right underneath the ice."
It’s important to realize that fish don’t come through at the same depth level, even on the same lake, form day to day, Genz says.
"But with an FL-8 (a flasher depthfinder, his favorite ice fishing sonar)," he says, "you know what depth level they’re at immediately. And many times, the larger fish will come through above or below the main flow of fish. Always look for the main school, but be ready to adjust up or down when you see that fish are suspended.
"It just amazes me, the number of ice fishermen who still aren’t using a depthfinder. I would hate it if I had to drill a hole and fish blind like that, not knowing if a fish is down there."

An FL-8 not only alerts you to the presence of fish, Genz says; it also provides you with a reading on how the fish reacts to your presentation.
"You see the fish come in your hole," he says, "and you can tell whether it continues to approach or swims away. If it swims away, that gives you valuable information that there might be something about your presentation the fish didn’t like. Maybe the lure was too big, maybe the bait isn’t lively enough, maybe you were jigging it too fast or too slow."
‘Speed,’ in this case, means ‘What you’re doing with your lure.’
"So many people want to use finesse as the only way to catch fish," says Genz, "but we use very aggressive tactics all the time."
"So many people use a spring bobber, and they raise and lower their arm, giving kind of a wiggling, rising or lowering presentation. That works great sometimes, but if they’re not biting on that, they don’t catch any that day."
One aggressive jigging tactic Genz and friends rely on is known as ‘pounding,’ which is a fast, continuous motion done by rapidly vibrating your wrist without moving it much up or down. "It looks like you’re nervous," is how Genz often describes it. It creates an intense wiggling motion to the lure that looks very natural, very ‘alive.’
"Pounding calls fish in from a distance, but it also triggers bites," says Genz. "For one thing, pounding keeps the jig moving all the time, so it can’t spin around. Almost everything you do causes line twist, and after you stop jigging and hold still – which many people do when a fish comes in their hole and they see it on their FL-8 – the line spins around as it untwists."
"Spinning is not one of the things you see in nature. Things don’t spin around in circles. That’s why fish won’t bite a spinning lure a lot of times, I think, because it doesn’t look like something they would eat. Constantly jigging, even if it’s in small movements, keeps the lure from spinning while it’s sitting still. You can raise or lower the rod as you do the pounding, and that will give you the raising and lowering of the jig."
"Also, if the bait is moving, you’re not letting the fish get a really good look at it. Remember, water is clearest is winter. Fish get a good look at your lure, and that’s why we like thin, clear line and a horizontal presentation with good, lively bait. If you stop it and let the fish study it, they reject it a lot of times. It’s not that we never catch fish when the lure is sitting still; sometimes it’s the only thing that will trigger them."
"I still say the biggest problem most people have is they use the same presentation all the time. And when they catch fish doing it, that just makes them more determined to keep using it all the time. You have to break out of that habit and experiment. That’s why I depend so much on my FL-8. It’s my eyes down there. It helps me determine, on a minute-by-minute basis, how the fish want the lure presented."
One trick Genz uses to minimize line twist: he leaves about three or four feet of line hanging out of his reel, then holds the rod up high before he puts the lure down the hole, and waits for the jig to unwind.
"It doesn’t take all the twist out," he says, "but it helps."
Another presentation option that often works when fish don’t want the bait sitting still is called ‘Snappin.’ The key here is to load up the rod, then snap upward fairly forcefully, which creates a bend in the rod that pops – springs – the jig upward in the water.
You snap upward with the wrist, but your hand is the only thing that moves upward other than the rod. Your forearm and elbow remain basically stationary.
The jig springs upward very quickly, then settles back. The motion must be achieved by letting the rod load up then spring back; it’s as much in the rod as the wrist.
"To do this right," says Genz, "your rod and line and lure have to be in balance. If you use a heavier jig, you need a heavier rod, and vise versa."
Snappin’ becomes an extremely erratic, bouncing motion, never doing the same thing twice.
"Sometimes," Genz says, "fish want this bigger movement. They might be curious to examine your bait, but you keep it moving so fast they can’t. They get closer and closer and pretty soon they grab it."
As you might imagine, the strikes are forceful. They have to hit it like they mean business if they intend to get a hold of it.
Biggest mistake made by anglers with this method?
"When a fish comes in the hole," Genz Says, "your tendency is to stop doing it. We’ve all gone through that; you get the fish interested by jigging it aggressively, and here comes the fish and you want to stop the bait so it can come up and grab it easily. Well, a lot of times, it was the action that was bringing them in to hit, and when it stops, they leave."
"You can’t flinch. You have to keep the motion going, a lot of times, to get them to hit it."
Tip: tie in a swivel about 24 to 36 inches above your lure; this motion really creates a lot of line twist.
Genz’s favorite lures for this method include jigging spoons like the Deadly Dart (for bigger fish), and the Genz Worm (a horizontal presentation), Fat Boy, and Pounder for panfish.
Another effective presentation under the ice is a natural circling, swimming motion. You can achieve this naturally, says Genz, with lures like the Flyer by Systems Tackle. It circles and stops and comes to a rest when you quit the smooth jigging motion.
Tip: use a minnow with the Flyer, and how you hook it is important. Start the hook in the minnow’s mouth and bring it out the back of its head, so it looks like the minnow is biting the head of the jig.
Having said everything we have, there are times that fish prefer a more subtle presentation. Sometimes, start above the fish and slowly, softly lower it to them. The trend is to do this with a lighter lure, but you can do it with a heavier lure, too. You have total control over the drop rate, by using your arm.
Sometimes, the fish want the lure barely moving, or softly going up and down, or dead still. Just remember to try to minimize line twist, and beware the dreaded ‘spins.’
Don’t get hung up on just one style of presentation, and make sure your rod (or the way you rig it) doesn’t naturally limit the number of presentation styles you can do. Genz doesn’t like spring bobbers and whippy rods, for this reason; they limit you to soft, subtle presentations. With them, you simply cannot perform a snappin’ motion, and pounding is difficult.

Color, often discussed at length, is rarely as important as depth and speed. Color is really refinement you make after you have the other two factors under control, says Genz.
"It makes no sense to change colors if you’re not fishing where there’s fish," he says. "And it’s arguably more important under most conditions to get the presentation right than play with color."
"I like to use flashy baits, and multi-colored, air-brushed lures, which have colors blended together. When you spray orange over yellow, you get a variation as they blend together, which gives you more colors of the spectrum."
In deep water, dirty water, and at night, Genz feels glow-in-the-dark lures are a distinct advantage.


At 2:19 AM, Anonymous ice fishing tip said...

Holy smokes!!! I've been trying all day to find little know sources of "real" people online with thoughts and ideas about ice fishing. I stumbled on to your porst about Catching Fish Through the Ice and although it's not exactly what I was looking for, it certainly caught my attention. I'm personally building a resource for ice fishing and hope you might stop by and check it out when you have a chance...let me know your thoughts. I'll be sure to send people this way as well. Thanks freelancewritingdude...Cheers!


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