Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Join as a $13-a-month sustainer and get the retro NHPR t-shirt!

Innovation Comes To Ice Fishing

Sam Evans-Brown

This week the Granite state is playing host to an ice-fishing legend.  Dave Genz is the only ice-angler to make the freshwater fishing hall of fame and many credit him with sparking a revolution in the niche sport. And according to the so-called “godfather of modern ice fishing” and learned that the emblematic bob-house may be becoming an anachronism.

Out in the sun, it was probably inching toward 60 degrees on Turtle Town Pond in East Concord earlier this week. It’s not classic conditions for ice fishing in New England, but it’s still January, and the ice is plenty thick to carry the weight of a snow-mobile. A small cadre of hardcore ice-anglers are gathered to fish with someone billed as the godfather of modern ice fishing, Dave Genz.

“Just as in any activity there are always celebrities” explains Jonathan Sauers, a fishing sales rep who is out hoping to convince Genz to try some of the industry’s latest toys. “Dave is from the Midwest, where ice fishing is a religion. And Dave consistently catches lots and lots and lots of fish.”

You can say that again.

“So this one’s a little bit bigger than the last one I caught,” Genz says as his reel’s drag clicks engages, having hooked a fish. He pulls a medium sized “pan-fish” out of a bore hole in the ice. Glancing at it he says it’s a crappie. “You know it’s croppie in the Midwest and crappie in the northeast.

Genz is in New Hampshire to give a couple of seminars on ice fishing, but most of the time he fishes in his home state of Minnesota.

At 9 inches, the crappie is the biggest catch Genz makes during the morning. But it’s not the only one. When he’s not distracted and if he finds what he calls a pot of fish, he’s pulling up about a fish every two minutes or so.

His success comes from the way he fishes: Genz has invented all sorts of gear that has changed the sport of ice fishing. Genz doesn’t set out any “tip-ups”: unmanned lines with little flags that spring up when a fish bites – and he doesn’t have a bob-house, he takes a lighter approach.

Credit Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR
The ice took a hit with this week's thaw. Genz says while he's noticed the warming temperatures during his decades on the ice, he's not worried about the future of the sport, and notes that some

Showing me what he calls his “fish-trap” he muses, “We built these fish houses, they started in my garage. You know my wife sewing them on the home sewing machine and I’m out in the garage, bending up the conduits.”

The shelter Genz is a flip up tent, mounted on a sled, that you can drag around with your gear in it and flip down at whichever bore hole you want to fish. That means that an ice angler can be mobile, and go to the fish, just like in the summer.

Genz is also credited with bringing another summer innovation to winter waters: using sonar, and electronic fish-finders called flashers

“Oh, wait a minute, there is one coming up here now.” Genz says, monitoring the flashing lights on his depth finder. Moments later his rod bounces and he hauls up a tiny perch, two inches long.

“Between the rod tip and the flasher, I pretty knew what that was before I even seen it!” Genz says, strutting a bit, “You know it’s like sitting in a deer stand with a blind-fold on if you don’t have one of these, you know you wouldn’t do that!”

When asked if he considers the types who dot Alton Bay with their bob houses to be serious fishermen, Genz responds, “To me they’re not. That’s a whole different style of going and putting down all them tip-ups and waiting.”

In the Mid-West, these technologies have changed ice-fishing completely, but here in the East, anglers have been slower to catch on.

Mark Beauchesne works for marketing in New Hampshire fish and Game. He thinks New England ice-fishermen are just a bit more cautious about “the new”

“You know, Yankee mentality,” he muses, “What’s worked for my grandfather will work for me. But you know we’re starting to see the evolution change over here with some of the young guns coming out. So for the next generation coming up that’s more instantaneous, the video game folks, this is perfect.”

If the influence of Genz starts to spread, we might start to see a lot fewer fishermen sitting in the bob-houses dotting Lake Winnipesaukee, and a lot more of them out walking on the ice.