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Minnesota Fishing Reports
Articles : (Keeping Your Bait) Out of the Mouths of Babes by Dave Genz
Posted by LSF on Dec 01, 2011 (3274 reads) News by the same author

There’s plenty of talk in the ice fishing world about going tiny, fishing with finesse, dancing downsized morsels in front of lethargic winter fish in order to coax reluctant bites. There are times that fluttering something microscopic can be a difference maker, says ice fishing icon Dave Genz – but on most days, he makes a living doing exactly the opposite.

“If all you ever do is use these smaller lures,” says Genz, “you miss a lot of chances to catch big fish.”

Dave argues that there are compelling reasons to start each day “fishing big,” then downsize if and when it becomes necessary – rather than the other way around.

Lindy Fat BoyOut of the Mouths of Babes
From a big-picture standpoint, the difference between the Genz philosophy and what you might hear from others is that Genz is unwilling to sit over the top of a group of fish and tinker with what it takes to get them to bite. On the contrary, he remains on the move constantly, looking for willing biters. (More accurately, he’s looking for fish that can be readily tempted by a presentation capable of triggering them. Presentation detail is everything in Genz’s Winter Fishing System.)

What we’re talking about here is another important detail that drives the Genz philosophy: while you’re on the move and looking for willing biters, realize that there are often little fish between you and the bigger fish you would rather catch. That tiny bait, so in vogue, which might be tempting to big fish, is downright intoxicating to the eyes of little fish. So successful ice fishing includes purposely selecting for bigger fish with a presentation that keeps many small fish at bay.

It’s a matter of keeping your bait out of the mouths of babes long enough for a brute to come in and take it.

“A lot of times,” says Dave, “the small fish and the big fish run together. I have to keep the small fish from grabbing my lure, so the big fish can swim up to it and bite it. It doesn’t do me any good if a little fish has it in his mouth when the big fish comes swimming by.”

Reality, dictated by nature, is that there are many more small fish than big fish. Except in extremely rare instances created by temporary flukes of nature, there’s no such thing as a lake dominated by big fish. For every big fish there are scores of small fish waiting to attack your fresh maggots as soon as they lower into the zone of awareness.

“What I do is start big (in the presentation department) and I can always downsize if I think the situation calls for it,” says Dave. The difference between his ‘big’ baits and smaller versions is not the difference between a golf ball and a basketball, though. “I start out with a size 6 or 8 (Lindy) Fat Boy, rather than a 10 or 12,” he says. “Same thing with the Lindy Worm. Same thing with the Slick Jig. I start with larger sizes than most people do.

“It can be the difference between putting six maggots on the hook instead of two. Or two wax worms instead of one. You bulk up the profile of the bait, and that helps you catch more big fish. I’ve been watching this for years, how the small fish struggle to bite bigger lures, to get it in their mouths. When you jiggle it, it scares them off, and the bigger fish have an opportunity to come in and grab it.

“All you sight fishermen know exactly what I’m talking about, because you’ve been struggling to pull (your bait) away from the little ones, and trying to give it to the big ones. With the larger screen on the new Vexilar underwater camera, I can really see what’s going on down there at any depth, and I’ve seen how much of a difference it makes to fish bigger lures.”

Efficiency Refined
For many years, Genz has been stressing the importance of efficiency in ice fishing. This very much includes using a jig or other bait that’s heavy enough to lower quickly to near the fish zone, at which point you slowly fish it down to where the fish are holding. If you can get up and down quickly, you can fish a large number of holes during the course of an outing, and find more fish.

Keeping your bait from being immediately eaten by a small fish is another aspect of efficiency, and that’s where bigger baits shine. “Bigger baits are heavier,” Genz says, “and fishing heavy, that’s one part of efficiency. Size (such as bulking up the package with numerous maggots, or a larger plastic tail) is about eliminating the small bites. It’s about keeping the bait in the water longer, to get the right bites. It could be perch, walleyes, bluegills, whatever.

“We tend to downsize so much these days. People that know me see that, when I’m fishing in the summertime, I use large minnows to keep from catching the small fish. Why shouldn’t I do that in the winter, so I don’t have to catch the small ones?”

The immediate argument you might hear trickling into your other ear is that fish tend to be lethargic, sluggish, finicky in the winter under a coating of ice. Except for perhaps trout and big pike, most fish are moving slower and eating much less in the winter, you might say, meaning that a smaller bait is necessary to get them to bite.

“If I was talking about fishing some huge bait, that might be the case,” says Genz. “But we’re just talking about using something large enough to keep most of the small fish from rushing in there and getting it in their mouth before the big fish has a chance. Just try it. If you’re catching a bunch of small fish, upsize your lure. You might have to go a couple sizes bigger than what you’re used to using.”

It really is a matter of efficiency. It takes time to reel up a small fish, unhook it, put new bait on, drop back down there, and start trying to tempt a big fish. “If a big fish wants to eat,” says Dave, “he can get there first if he chooses to. You just have to keep it down there long enough for the bigger fish to have a chance.”
The advantages to using larger baits are also evident after you set the hook.

“You want to keep everything in balance between the rod, the line, and the lure,” says Dave. “When you’re using a larger and heavier lure, you can use heavier line and a stiffer rod. It takes a stiffer rod to pound that heavier lure and keep it under control. So when you hook that big fish, you can get it up a lot easier than with light line and a softer rod.”

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