GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Dave Genz, inventor of the Fish Trap portable ice fishing shelter, is widely known as the "Father of Modern Ice Fishing." He is an innovator who helped carry ice fishing from the days of sitting on a bucket and hoping for the best to an approach that relies heavily on mobility and electronics -- in Genz's case, the Vexilar flasher unit -- to see what's happening below the ice and trigger more fish into striking.
These days, Genz, who turned 63 on Saturday, travels the "ice belt" promoting the sport of ice fishing and the products that have helped make the winter pastime more enjoyable. He's a member of the pro staffs at Clam Corp., which markets the Fish Trap and other ice fishing shelters, and Vexilar. He also is a member of the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame.
During a recent telephone interview from his home in St. Cloud, Minn., Genz talked ice fishing with Grand Forks Herald outdoors writer Brad Dokken. Here's an edited version of that conversation:
Question: You've been in the ice fishing business more than 20 years now. What's the biggest change you've seen in that time?
Answer: When I started, we weren't using any form of electronics in ice fishing yet, so mobility is definitely the change. What my grandfather taught me to do was go chop open the same hole the next night and fish in that spot and wait for the fish to start biting about sundown, and I think that kind of was the history of the sport.
Q: Why has ice fishing become so popular?
A: There were actually a lot of ice anglers back then, too. Some of the things that helped increase the ice fishing were the spoon auger and the power auger, which made mobility a lot easier, too. When we were chopping holes with a chisel, we didn't chop very many. And things like clothing have made it so much more comfortable out on the ice. When we developed Ice Armor at Clam, that was kind of the beginning of the winter outer wear, and we padded the knees because ice fishermen so often are kneeling by their hole, and we padded the seat. We're not only able to keep ourselves warm but keep ourselves dry.
Q: Is there still room for growth?
A: There certainly are a lot of people yet that haven't started ice fishing. What's happening is people are understanding they can keep themselves warm.
Q: Where are some of the potential spots for modern ice fishing to grow?
A: What's really interesting about the "Far East," as I call it -- the New England states -- is they're just starting to use electronics. I've been on several lakes out there myself, and the people I'm fishing with are the only ones that have a Vexilar.
You can guess how much fun that is. There was a time I had the only one in Minnesota, but I couldn't keep quiet.
Q: Looking to this winter, is there anything new on the market that's caught your attention?
A: I see more and more accessories, better lighting for the portable shelters and ways to hang things up and little shelves that hang from the pipes to put things on, just to be more comfortable.
Q: What are some of the other trends you've seen?
A: In the last few years, we've seen these popup "hub" shelters that fold up and fit into a small bag and fit in cars and set up into a good-size fish house. I know Clam has one -- the biggest is 7x14, a huge shelter that can be set up in minutes.
And more and more people are buying these wheeled fish houses. I like to think of it as people using them as their cabin.
If you look at it like it's the cabin, when it's summer and it's time to go fishing, you leave the cabin and go to where the fish are. You could fish off the dock but you don't. That's kind of like the wheeled house and the Fish Trap, in my case. It allows you to move around where the fish are.
Q: With the time you spend on the road talking about ice fishing, how do you find the time to actually ice fish?
A: I know this winter I will have fished in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Michigan -- I'm sure I'll fish in Illinois, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota, I'm sure I'll fish in that many because that's where I'm scheduled to make appearances.
I know I don't fish more now than years ago, but I fish a lot of good spots. Like when I'm in New Hampshire, I'm going fishing with some people that know the area quite well and don't have to go out and look for a spot. I get to go with someone who knows the spot.
Q: Any thoughts on fishing in North Dakota?
A: Obviously, Devils Lake has come back again. It's time to fish the perch again because the water has come back the last few years. There's ideal spawning habitat for the perch. I ended my season at Devils Lake last year.
The last day I was out there, my friend Rick and I, our limit would have been 40 perch and we only could get 38 in the pail and still put the cover on it.
Q: It's the time when anglers soon will be taking their first steps on hard water. Any tips for safety?
A: When I go out for my first time, I take my ice chisel with me. When I'm walking, I'm hitting that chisel in front of me. It's kind of a rhythm you get -- swing the chisel forward onto the ice, and if the chisel doesn't go through, neither will you.
And wear a life jacket. I choose to wear the inflatables because they're not bulky and cumbersome; you don't even know you've got it on after awhile.
Q: With all of the tools and technology on the market these days, is there a risk of ice fishing become too technical?
A: We all talk about fishing, but I think our real goal is catching, and all of our tools that we are acquiring here in modern ice fishing help us catch more fish. I don't think it's the other way -- it's making it more fun as we're catching.
I think the important thing is, I think we have to understand that releasing gets to be important then, too. We don't need to keep every fish we catch and put them in the bucket.
Q: Where do you see ice fishing 20 years from now?
A: That's a question I get asked a whole lot. In the last 20 years, we've taken ice fishing out of the Stone Age into the Space Age. I don't really know. Where is the Space Age going next? When we start landing spacecraft on Mars, I'm sure we'll have some new technology in ice fishing, too.
Q: After all these years, do you still feel the anticipation of getting on the ice for the first time?
A: Very much so.
I wait for this time of year. The winter flies by; when you're into the ice fishing, you really enjoy winter a lot more.