Ice-fishing in the Age of Refinement


The Genz family worked side-by-side in the kitchen, garage, and at the sewing machine through every minute of the ice-fishing revolution. Dave, the guy with so many ideas, his wife Patsy, and daughters Missy and Kathy plugged away to advance fishing methods and create the gear necessary to pull it all off.

They sewed and assembled Fish Traps, built boxes that held flashers, glued leveling bubbles on transducers, filled containers and shipped out multi-colored maggots, fished non-stop, and worked sports shows and in-store promotions to spread the word.

Both daughters are grown up now, steeped in ice-fishing culture and the business of it, continuing to work on a daily basis to help their famous father continue his never-ending quest to help us catch fish through the ice.

As December rolls around and ice season hits full speed, we present a wide-ranging discussion about the state of the sport and what the best ice anglers are doing right now. Here we go, in the words of Dave Genz and daughter Kathy Roberts…


MidWest Outdoors: Dave, you talk all the time about how you’re still learning things out on the ice. What else have you noticed lately, things that you might have changed your mind about, or refined your understanding of, when it comes to ice fishing?

Dave Genz: One thing I do every time I go out there while I’m locating fish and trying to catch them is ask myself “why?” as in, “why did we catch these fish here?” You should try to figure it out. You learn from that. You know, the weeds are green down here. It’s a sticky-bottom area where burrowing insects can be. Or it’s an edge, or a rock pile. Understand that and it makes it easier to go to a new body of water and go through this process of checking spots out and usually you locate some fish.

What I see now, and it started on the tournament side of ice-fishing, is that the underwater camera is becoming a bigger part of it. These guys pre-fish for two, three, four days and sometimes never put a line in the water. They just go around drilling holes and dropping a camera down, looking for fish.

They record what they’re seeing on the camera and replay that footage in the evening, trying to determine the size of the fish they’re seeing down there.

MWO: Seeing fish in their world and studying what they do has helped us in many ways, right?

Genz: Yes it has, and back before the cameras we were already doing that, because we did a lot of sight-fishing back in those days. It was a big deal, all that time we spent at Lake Okoboji in Iowa. It’s real clear water, and when you look down the hole you can observe these fish, how they come up to your hook. They were challenging to catch. And it wasn’t always sight-fishing in shallow water, either; you could easily see the bottom and your jig in 15 feet.

We learned a lot down there. First time I went there, I couldn’t catch ‘em. So we moved tournaments there because there was something to learn. Then we moved the tournaments to Illinois and learned the methods they were using. Then we moved tournaments to Michigan and learned the methods they were using. We went to North Dakota, and Canada, and Lake Erie, and Vermont, New York and all over the East.

By traveling around, we learned a tremendous amount by meeting local people, and we made friends in these places and we’ve been learning from each other ever since. That’s how we got to where we are now, in terms of our understanding of how to catch fish through the ice no matter where you go.

MWO: Would you say we’re in a stage of refinement when it comes to modern ice fishing, that the big revolution is pretty much over and we are making smaller improvements to our approach?

Genz: Yes and no. I think there are going to be some big things to come. Right now it’s electronics that are making some noise. Side-viewing is becoming more popular, people searching for fish that way. It works out fine in open water, but it becomes a lot more difficult to see fish in the weeds using side-scanning.

We do something similar by shaking the transducer of our Vexilar in the hole, so it rocks back and forth and widens the cone angle. Sometimes you spot fish that are off to the side by doing that. But now with actual side-scanning sonar you can look in different directions a lot farther. Schools of suspended crappies are found that way. If fish are close to the bottom or in cover it’s hard to determine, but if they’re up off the bottom showing themselves then that type of sonar can pinpoint ‘em.

Side-scanning sonar can locate a pod of fish and get you close––but you still use traditional sonar for fishing over those fish.

Something interesting I hear is that, because of our electronics, we are ruining fishing; we’re taking too many fish. But it’s not just electronics. Take the power auger away and none of these electronics can have an impact. You gotta be able to drill lots of holes to fish the way we do.

When I started my ice-fishing career at a young age, all we had was a chisel. We were out there chopping holes. And that’s why we fished walleyes and crappies, because you could go out to that same place every day as the sun was going down and chop open that old hole and catch some fish. You weren’t out looking around because it was too much work [laughs].

MWO: Let’s talk about augers, especially the trend toward better electric augers and cordless drills as power source, often fitted to adapters that make them look and operate like an auger. These lightweight options are also quietly making noise, right?

Genz: Yes, technology moves on. What helped make this happen is that the batteries have improved so much. Now we have these lithium batteries, so a small battery has a lot of life in it. And the motors on cordless drills are more heavy-duty; both DeWalt and Milwaukee are making drills that can cut holes better. The auger bits are better, too, like Vexilar with its K-drill bit, they’re lightweight, spin fast, and they clean the holes out well.

Using drills for augers caught on first in the Chicago-Madison-Milwaukee area. That’s where I first saw them, with different adapters people came up with. It worked in that area because they didn’t get real thick ice, so it kind of stayed there for a number of years. Then the drills and batteries and bits all got better, and Clam built a handle you could mount the drill on and feel comfortable holding onto the handles and drilling holes.

All sizes are available now, 6-, 7-, 8-, 9-, even 10-inch electric augers. The day of the gas auger is gone, I think; I can’t imagine why anybody would buy one now that the electrics have gotten so good. They’re quiet, and no gas tank in my vehicle anymore. It has happened to me more than once and I know it happened to you, too, where the auger gas leaked in the back of the truck.

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MWO: Now you’re using these electric drills, fitted with the adapter and a bit, as your everyday auger all winter, right?

Genz: Correct. I have a piece of PVC pipe mounted to the side of my snowmobile that the auger slides right into. Pull up on a spot, grab the auger out of its holster, we’ll call it, turn to the side, drill a hole, take my transducer out of its little bag and drop it in the hole. My Vexilar is mounted on the dash, next to a GPS with the lake map chip in it, so I know where I am on the lake, and my underwater camera is mounted right there, too, so if I have any questions about what I’m seeing I can drop the camera down and know for sure what it is.

MWO: You’re a machine out there! And couple the gear with your experience and knowing how to make decisions and you’re a very dangerous person. And as you say, it comes down to being able to drill as many holes as you want, quickly and easily.

Genz: Right. The new augers are so light and they drill so well that they have made a difference in my fishing. And you’ll have to ask Kathy for her electric auger story.

MWO: Yes, and perfect chance to bring her in. Kathy, tell us about your experiences with the new electric augers.

Kathy Roberts: Well, it changed my whole outlook on ice-fishing. I have always loved going out, but what I didn’t like was that I was always asking people, “would you drill a hole for me?” I didn’t like the gas auger; it was uncomfortable for me; it was heavy, it was big.

When the drill augers came out, that totally changed my outlook on ice-fishing, and it was that way for Missy, too [her sister]. We were able to be part of the team now, because we could drill our own holes. If somebody’s fishing intently, I don’t want to bug them, make them stop fishing so they can drill a hole for me.

If I’m watching Dad and he’s over there catching fish, I’m going to grab the drill and go punch a hole by him [laughs]. It was a tremendous change for me. When you come out to a spot on a new lake and you’re testing things out, looking for fish, where’s the drop-off? Now, we can be part of helping to look, because we can help drill the holes. Before, I was the one with the depthfinder, checking holes and stuff, but now it feels like I’m a bigger part of the team.

Now, if I get an idea and want to go check an area, I don’t have to wait for anybody. I just go do it, and if I find fish, then I’m really contributing to what we’re doing out there.

MWO: Kathy, you’re on the road with your dad all winter these days, helping at shows and seminars, but also on the ice fishing and taking pictures. Describe what it’s like to hit the ice with Dave Genz and go about the business of catching fish.

Roberts: One of our favorite things is to go to a lake we’ve never been to and figure out how to catch something. Dad always says he doesn’t care what kind of fish we catch, and that’s how I feel about it, too. We just go to good-looking spots on the map, drill some holes, and most of the time we see fish on the Vexilar and catch some.

MWO: How do you decide what kind of baits to start with?

Roberts: Most of the time we use an ice jig or a jigging spoon or something like that, and we put maggots on the hook. If we think there are walleyes down there, we put on a spoon and a couple maggots on each hook of the treble hook. If we think we’re going to find panfish, we tie on a smaller ice jig and put maggots on the hook.

Genz: And something else we do is that we bring two containers of maggots each, and keep one in an outside pocket and one in an inside pocket. Then we rotate them; when our maggots start to look like they’re freezing up, we put that one in the inside pocket and bring out the warmer ones. That’s a little trick we do, to keep the bait at its best all day long. When they get cold, they start to get a little soft, and that’s when we switch. It keeps fresh bait that’s lively on the hook, even on those really cold days.

MWO: That is a great tip! Now, switching gears, it’s been a long time since the start of the ice-fishing revolution. Dave, you’ve traveled to more states and lakes than anyone, talking with and observing what people are up to on the ice. What are most ice anglers doing? Are they fishing like you do, are they stuck in the ‘Stone Age,’ or somewhere in between?

Genz: Well, there’s more than one style of ice-fishing is what’s going on out there. The method that I’ve taught––run-and-gun is what it’s been called––you keep looking and if there’s nothing on your sonar, you move. Then there’s another style of fishing, and a lot of times it’s with the wheeled fish houses. They go to a spot and set it down and they might spend the weekend in that spot.

If you stay in one spot, you need to catch the fish that are there. Let’s say you set it up on a weed bed. There might be a lot of fish in those weeds, but only so many are biters. If you stay there, you have to turn the sniffers––the ones that don’t want to bite––into biters. That’s a lot more tedious, but, in a lot of cases, possible.

Just watching the early tournaments, the run-and-gunners were the ones that had the bigger fish, because they were making that first drop down a new hole, and a bigger fish rises up and grabs it. The person that sits in one place often has to catch smaller fish, too, after the biters have been caught.

So the aggressive people––with the one-person portable fish house, electric auger, sonar, GPS––catch a lot of fish, especially during the daytime. I’m fishing off my snowmobile now most of the time, and I bring my snowmobile even if I could drive my truck. I fish right off the seat, so I can quickly move to a new spot easily. If it’s easy, I’ll do it. If it’s not, I won’t.


More of the story awaits…

There’s plenty more ice-fishing wisdom where this came from, and we’ll share it with you in early December on the Podcast. You’ll find it in the Podcast section at We’ll see you there… it’s time well spent.