Gripping and Jigging

Close-up of Dave Genz’ hand holding an ice fishing rod in the “pencil grip” position, a new way of holding the rod that improves both presentation and hook-setting performance.

Other than in beer commercials, where the models seem to have no idea how to hold onto a fishing reel, everybody holds a spinning outfit the same. Ditto for the ‘under-spin,’ a closed-face version of the spinning reel.

The reel is intended to sit below the rod as you fish, and if you’ve been fishing before you know how to hold onto it. The fingers of your jigging hand slide tight around the reel arm, wrap around the rod handle and you start fishing. At least that’s the way it goes in ‘summer’ fishing, when you’re using a 6- to 7-foot rod.

It’s been that way for a couple generations, ever since they invented spinning reels.

Then, along comes Dave Genz and his short little graphite ice rods and his hyper-portable shelter called the Fish Trap. He’s fishing away in there, like he always had, and so are his Winter Fishing System buddies, and they’re banging their rods up against the inside of the roof when they set the hook.

That by itself sets Genz to thinking, and a solution to that problem leads to a better way to hold onto the rod, for a variety of reasons.

The New Way

It has become known as the pencil grip, and many (if not most) top-notch ice anglers use it, at least part of the time. Rather than gripping the ice rod in the traditional manner, you essentially grab onto the rod from ‘over the top,’ or sort of cradle the reel in your hand as if you are rocking it to sleep.

(After you take this grip, you can hold it in an ‘overhand’ position, or turn your hand so palm and wrist are facing upward. By experimenting with hand positions, you’ll find what works best for you, and will learn to vary it to achieve different presentations.)

“The big reason you do it that way,” says Genz, “is that it takes your shoulder out of it when you set the hook. It’s all wrist now. You’re set to come up real quick with your wrist. You can set the hook into that fish’s mouth before he can spit it out.”

Indeed, fish are legendary for their ability to suck your offering down to their tonsils, then expel it in a trail of bubbles before your reflexes can send the hook home. If you sight-fish, you quickly learn that your reflexes are a bit shy of cat-like, when you test them in the real world.

But if you sit there on a hair trigger, even as you watch fish on a Vexilar display or Aqua-Vu monitor, you can set the hook into the fish’s mouth much faster if you swipe upward with a flick of the wrist.

“That moves the rod tip as far, or farther than, when you pull up with your shoulder and smash into the roof of the Fish Trap,” says Genz. “And it’s way faster.”

For hooksetting advantages alone, the new way of gripping an ice rod is better. But we haven’t even discussed the presentation advantages.

“It feels funny to do it this way, at first,” says Genz, “but the action you can get on the jig is worth spending time at it. Get comfortable and it feels weird to do it the old way after a while.”

Indeed, especially when you are trying to replicate the famous Genz ‘pounding’ action (where you achieve a kicking motion that makes the jig look alive, with rapid vibrations), this hold works much better than the traditional way of holding an ice rod.

(Just as an aside, here is what you are trying to accomplish with the ‘pounding’ presentation: a ‘kicking’ motion when you jig. The eye of the jig is the pivot point and the ‘tail’ portion—the hook—kicks up and down like a horse’s rear legs bucking. You don’t want the entire jig to move up and down in high hops. The pivot point is just that; it doesn’t move up and down much. The presentation has an overall horizontal attitude, and you can raise or lower it, always maintaining the rapid kicking motion.)

Besides the pounding presentation, you can also achieve a wide variety of other ‘looks,’ including a rhythmic swimming motion, or just hold the bait still by resting the back of your hand against your leg.

“When you go to set the hook,” says Genz, “it becomes just an upward snap of the wrist. Especially when your hand is already turned upward, it happens fast. You snap up with your wrist, and that causes your rod tip to travel as far as it does when you bang the rod all the way up to the roof of the fish house. That’s all you need, is that travel of the rod tip. It’s all physics. If the rod tip moves that far, it exerts a lot of pressure on the hook point, which tightens the connection. Fish on.”

The first time you do it, it might feel good to scream down to the fish, as it struggles against the pull of the line…

“How do you like my reflexes NOW?!!!”

First Published on 2006

Winter Fishing Systems, Inc 2019