Fish the Dominant Species

It might sound obvious, but it’s a good idea to target abundant

Attention to detail serves us well, in many areas of our lives.
When it comes to ice fishing, there is a ‘small detail’ that gets
ignored more commonly than you might think, in the process
handicapping your best efforts before you drill the first hole of
the day.

Fishing is all about putting the odds in your favor. There are
plenty of odds going against you. For one thing, fish are a moving
target. Plus, changing weather conditions, changing food sources,
changing weed conditions, and more, “give you plenty of puzzle
pieces to put together without adding any,” says Dave Genz, the man
who revolutionized the sport more than 30 years ago. One of the
foundations of Genz’s approach is the importance of planning before
you hit the ice. “Don’t wait until you get out there to start
thinking about what you’re going to do to try to catch fish,” says

Coming back to the main topic for today, the ‘small detail’ many
anglers overlook is the importance of going after the most abundant
fish species available. It might sound obvious, says Genz, “but if
you’re a crappie fisherman and want to go on a lake and catch
crappies, what if they aren’t the dominant species? You can drill a
lot of holes and come away with one or two fish. If they’re not
there, you’re not going to catch them.”

A Planned Approach

Again, this might seem obvious, but it’s not. Every day, many
anglers venture forth and put out a field of tip-ups to catch
northern pike on a lake that has relatively few pike. Or, they
drill holes along points and rock humps and weed edges, jigging
away for walleyes, in a lake where walleyes are very much a
minority group.

Here’s the fine point, the important takeaway: fish populations
are in constant flux on most bodies of water. So a lake can have a
great reputation for kicking out big bluegills, or monster
crappies, or steady walleye action. But- and this is particularly
true on smaller fisheries- things can change drastically in a
couple years. Sometimes, in one year. Sometimes, even within a
single season, if harvest is heavy and the bite is good.

“Beware of reputations,” says Genz, “because they can get you.
You need to go where a good bite is happening right now, for the
species you want to catch. You need good information, and it needs
to be current. You can get good information from local bait
dealers, and you can listen to good rumors you hear in a restaurant
or read about on the Internet.

“But don’t bank on anything you hear if it doesn’t pan out after
you get there and start fishing. Give everything a good try, but
move to a different lake if you aren’t catching what the rumors
were promising.”

There is more information available today than ever, including
easily accessible test net data, stocking details, and more. State
wildlife agencies make their good works available to the public.
You can read for yourself how many walleyes were caught in the
sample nets, and what size they were. But again, realize that by
the time you read those numbers they can be old news, if high- or
low-water cycles have developed, or if word got out about the great
bite on that lake and tons of fish went home in people’s

“I’m always focused on what’s going on right now, on that lake,”
stresses Genz. “Not last year, or years ago. You hear stories all
the time, about how they caught all these big crappies on this
lake. That doesn’t mean there’s still all these big crappies in
that lake.

“You need to find out what’s happening now. You can’t just go to
the spot where they caught all those big crappies years ago and
expect to find them there. A lot of things can change. Water
clarity can change. Weed beds can die off and push the fish into
deeper water.

“You have to have a plan when you go out on the ice, something
to start with. Go where you think there are a lot of good fish, and
target those fish. Decide where you’re going to look first, whether
it’s shallow or deep. Give it some time to pan out. If it doesn’t,
change the plan and look in other places for those fish that are
supposed to be there.

“If the bite isn’t happening, go to the next lake, where the
next best rumors are.”

Genz is known for fishing fast out on the ice, drilling groups
of three or four holes and fishing them before deciding where to
drill the next three or four. He chooses baits that fish “heavy for
their size” so he can get up and down quickly in the water column
as he tries to attract and trigger biters. Rarely does he sit over
“sniffers” as he calls them, fish that show up on a depthfinder
display but are difficult to catch.

“I’d sooner drop my jig down four holes and fish each one for a
few minutes than sit over one hole and drop four different jigs
down there,” he says. “You find what you’re looking for faster if
you try to make those fish bite and see what they are. A lot of
times, if fish show up and they won’t bite, they’re small fish.
That’s not what I’m looking for.”

Genz’s approach is both patient and impatient. He is patient, in
that he hits the ice with a plan and methodically sticks to it. He
is impatient, in that he does not give any one hole very long to
pay off. He targets the dominant species, most of the time, in
whatever lake he’s on at the moment- then pursues that species
relentlessly until he either catches what he came for or decides
it’s time to move on.


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