Icing April Walleyes

By Mark Strand

Especially because a lot of people still regard ice fishing as a sport you reluctantly participate in while the ice covers your favorite lakes, people look at Dave Genz like he’s got to be nuts in April.

By then, many rivers are open, and many anglers are fishing them in boats. Heck, turkey hunters are out there trying to call up gobblers. But Genz is still towing his Arctic Cat and Fish Trap around, chasing the ice north and having a ball.

“Wherever there’s open water, people will be putting boats in,” says Genz. “A lot of times, the available open water is crowded. I’m still ice fishing, usually with one or two other people, and we have the ice pretty much to ourselves.”

-Typical daytime highs are in the 30s, 40s, or even warmer, even when he ventures into Canada (although they report temperatures in Celsius, so they don’t sound quite as impressive). Often, the ice has ‘broken free’ or even partially thawed at the shoreline, creating an inflow of fresh, warm, oxygenated water. Life is thriving under the ice, and the fish are actively feeding, many of them preparing to spawn.

“If people knew how many fish I catch through the ice in April,” reveals Dave, “it might be more crowded out there. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut about this.”

Too late.

Caution is a huge thing at late ice. The ice can be impressively thick but beginning to degrade, so you need to inspect it every day. “And I always wear a life jacket,” says Genz. “I fish with other people, and we don’t take chances. We fish in the vicinity of narrows and other current areas, because they hold a lot of fish, but we stay back and fish the slack water eddies, under the good ice.”

It’s been years now that Genz has been enjoying this quiet ice-fishing season. He fishes his native Minnesota right through mid April, and travels to northern Wisconsin, the border waters between several states and Canada, and also ventures deeper into the Canadian provinces. The hustle of the busy ‘Trap Attack Open’ schedule is over for the year, many of his manufacturing partners have developed prototypes of new products he helped design, and they need testing. Genz fishes every day through March and April, until the ice finally gives way for another year.

“Last spring, we went right until April 15,” he said. “It got up to 70 degrees while we were still on the ice, so we figured we better get off before the shoreline melted too much. We loaded up the snowmobile, and while we were driving home it got up to 80. We went from ice fishing to turning on the air conditioning on the same day.”

Icing April Walleyes

Genz, known more for his panfish prowess than anything, loves to chase daytime walleyes at this time of year.

“The walleyes are really active, and they’re moving to the same areas where they’ll be caught by boat fishermen as soon as the ice goes out,” he says. “Anything that would make a good walleye spawning area is a good place to check. Points and other structure just out from inflowing streams are perfect. Again, you have to be careful, and stay back from the current areas. Rock and rubble shorelines, and even large shallow reefs can be good.”

Reluctant to give up this final piece of locational advice, Genz says that his Vexilar helps him find relatively shallow rock humps that he sees on contour maps. The theory is that the sun actually gets through the ice and helps warm the rocks, which might top off at 6-8 feet below the ice.

“I drill holes and find those humps,” he says, “then watch them with my Aqua-Vu while I’m fishing. The higher angle of the sun helps it penetrate the ice and things are warming up on top of those rocks. Fish are up there because life is coming back. I’ve seen crayfish out walking around on top of those rocks, and the walleyes are right behind them, because they know they’re available.”

One of Genz’s favorite presentations for late-ice walleyes is a Flyer, tipped with a fathead, shiner or other minnow. “The minnow has to be hooked in the mouth and out the back of the head, so it hangs straight behind,” says Genz. “Otherwise, the Flyer doesn’t work as well.”

Work it with a lift-drop motion. “Pick it up,” says Genz, “and follow it back down again. The lure jumps forward, circles, and comes back to rest. It really triggers walleyes. If they come in to look at it, the minnow helps close the deal, you might say.”

While discussing this subject, Dave constantly stresses that you need to wear a life jacket and fish with somebody. “I’ve never personally fallen through the ice,” he says, “but it could happen. If it does, the life jacket will keep you up until you can kick your way back onto the ice or grab the rope. Both of you should carry a rope you can toss to the other person if necessary.

“Really, as long as you check the ice every day, every hour, you can tell when it’s getting rotten.”

Up until that point, Genz has come to love this phase of ‘winter’ if you can call it that. When it’s finally over, you might spot him driving home, pulling the snowmobile trailer, wearing a t-shirt, sporting a farmer’s tan, with an all-day smile from having what was left of the ice all to himself.

Published December 28th, 2005 in Walleyes, Articles.

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