Dave Genz: Cool on ice, but at home fishing on the river
Many ice anglers itching to get out and drill their first holes of the season look to Dave Genz – widely viewed as the pioneer of modern ice fishing – for tips, instruction and inspiration. But Genz’s angling passions extend well beyond the frozen lakes of the Great Lakes Ice Belt. He has a penchant for spending the open water season catching big smallmouth bass, and has his own special place and method for catching them.
This past September, a friend and I had the opportunity to explore Genz’s home waters with the Ice Man himself after attending the 59th annual Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers conference in Minneapolis. By the end of that glorious day, our arms ached from reeling in multiple monster smallmouth bass – a small price to pay for the chance to spend a day with a fishing legend and friend.
The fish? It doesn’t feel right calling them smallies, since they were all gigantic. The man? Well, fishing with Dave feels a bit like fishing with your dad – if your dad is a soft-spoken fishing legend who pilots a 200-hp jet sled around boulders and shallow gravel bars in mid-sized rivers at 50 mph.
The ride on Dave’s home waters of the Upper Mississippi River below St. Cloud, Minn., was incredibly beautiful and exciting. It seems he could have navigated these serene, yet treacherous, waters with his eyes closed.
We caught 30 trophy smallmouth bass ranging from 17 to 21 inches that fine fall day. Yes, it was 30. I know, because Dave keeps track on a clicker hanging from his console. In addition to those magnificent bass, we hooked a couple of hungry muskies, which promptly cut our monofilament leaders – until my fishing partner and fellow writer, Josh Lantz, stuck one neatly through the tip of its top lip. Lantz was able to bring the fat 42-incher boatside, where it was photographed and released. I couldn’t help but wonder how many big muskies were lurking around us if we were catching them without even trying. Of course, the “secret” bait we were using had everything to do with our spectacular day of fishing.
Genz had caught the bait he was sharing with us, one by one, on an ice rod while using his very own ice jigs. Proving that ice-fishing techniques can be applied even without ice, Genz had caught each and every red-tailed chub jigging in an undisclosed location prior to fishing for those Mississippi River smallies. There must have been 100 redtails in his livewell. Considering the time and energy that went into catching them, Lantz and I joked about feeling horrible every time we lost one on a failed hookset. But Genz didn’t mind. For him, the most rewarding aspect of his remarkable angling career has come from helping others catch more fish.
But his generosity only goes so far.