Well-balanced Presentations Trigger More ‘Ice’ Fish
Role of the rod and line in ice-fishing success, plus late-ice tips
By: Dave Genz
This winter, we’ve focused on what Dave Genz considers the keys to presenting a bait to fish under the ice. About the effectiveness of horizontal jigs, knot positioning and cadence of the presentation. To tie a bow around the topic, a bit about the crucial role the rod and line play in your ability to execute the Genz pounding presentation and experiment with cadence.
The line you use for ice fishing has to be fresh, and has to match up well with the weight of your bait. Everything else you do can be perfect, but if your line is too thick (“heavy”) for the bait, “It won’t hang straight,” says Genz. “Even if it’s just a little too heavy, it robs you of the feel you need to fish the bait and detect bites.”
Genz is meticulous about his line, changing it frequently, and often hand-stretching the first 20 feet or so at the start of the day, to remove any tendency for the line to coil when lowered down the hole. Fresh, limp line matched well with the bait provides you with a direct connection between the rod and the bait. “You can make that bait do what you want it to when your line is hanging straight and does not have memory,” he says. “If it’s too heavy and has coils in it, you can’t feel much and the bait doesn’t react to what you’re doing with the rod.”
Genz has spoken many times about his rod preferences for ice fishing.
“They need to function,” he says, “like long rods in miniature.”
Genz prefers ice rods that are relatively stiff and “very crisp,” so that the bottom of each jigging cycle can be felt in his hand. “The right rod allows me to do anything from hard pounding to a softer, slower, smoother presentation.”
It’s well-known that Genz does not like spring bobbers, because of how they smooth out and slow down cadence in presentation.
“If a slower, smoother presentation is what the fish want,” he says, “you can easily do that with a good graphite rod. And there are ways of detecting light bites by watching as much as feeling. If you’re watching the rod tip all the time, and you can see when the line moves slightly to the left or right, or if the rod tip dips slightly, you set the hook.”
On light-biting fish, if you miss on the first few hook sets, Genz advises, try dropping the rod tip when you see a bite occur. Drop the rod tip, hesitate, then set the hook. The time, and slack line, often allows the fish (if it is so inclined) to take that “second bite” and get the hook into its mouth. “A lot of times,” says Genz, “the fish will just kind of softly suck at it the first time, and the bait is touching on the outside of the mouth. When you drop the rod tip, if they decide they want it, they will suck it in and you can catch them.”
On most days, a rapid cadence, giving off good vibration, will attract and trigger more fish than a softer, more muted cadence. After all these years of fishing almost every day all winter, Genz has concluded that the biggest mistake anglers make is slowing down or stopping their jigging motion when fish show up.
“You should keep the movement going,” he says. “I see most of the spring-bobber people stop when a fish swims up to it. They just hold it still and watch for the spring to move. But when you do that, if your line has any twist, the jig starts to spin. Most of the time, the fish don’t like a spinning jig.”
“When you’re using a rapid cadence, and keep it going after the fish comes in, the lure doesn’t spin. And if you keep doing what brought the fish in, and experiment with raising or lowering the jig as you keep it vibrating, it gets more of the fish to bite. And they tend to bite down on it harder, because they tend to chase it more, and work harder at getting it all the way into their mouth.”
After each fish or missed bite, when you reel up to put on bait or rotate the knot on the eyelet of the jig, take a few seconds to let the line ‘un-spin’ to further minimize the curse of the spinning jig.
As we head into prime ice panfish time, here’s one example of a well-balanced setup, featuring a new rod Genz designed in the Ice Team Professional series. Match the 26-inch bluegill rod with 2 or 4-pound test line, and the new Dave Genz Drop-Kick tungsten jig. Any size jig in the series will match up well with this system.
Late/Early Ice Fishing Tips
We won’t leave you hangin’ when it comes to late-ice panfish action. Here are key tips from Genz for catching fish during some of the nicest days of the year.
* First, be safe out there. Across the Midwestern Ice Belt, the landscape varies from ice-free on the southern fringes to thick and sturdy ice in northerly strongholds. Regularly check ice conditions, and wear a life jacket.
* This is the time of winter when shallow water comes alive, as oxygen returns and water temperatures warm. The days get longer and the sun eats away at snow cover, especially around shorelines. Sun penetrates the ice, and weeds can even begin to grow again. As a result, shallow spots that didn’t hold fish midwinter can be teeming with life.
* Larger lakes tend to be better than smaller lakes, because, all things being equal, fish come out of the midwinter doldrums in better condition and tend to be more active.
* Head for bays on the north side of these larger lakes. A bay on the north side receives southern exposure, which means it gets more life-pumping sunshine on an average day, as late winter prepares to give way to early spring.
“During the transition between midwinter and late ice,” says Genz, “look for fish to start moving toward the shallows. They might still be in deeper water, but they might be staging close to the shallows. That’s why this can be a tricky time, so you have to look, keep moving, and drill enough holes to find where they are.”
If you don’t find fish deep, look shallower. If you don’t find them shallow, look deeper, especially close to large south-facing bays, inflowing creeks and rivers, manmade inlets and canals. Be extremely careful around current, as you always should.
But get out there and take part in one of the best portions of the ice fishing season.
Note: Dave Genz, known as Mr. Ice Fishing, was the primary driver of the modern ice fishing revolution. He has been enshrined in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport. For more fishing tips and to order his new info-packed book, Ice Revolution, go to www.davegenz.com.