Stop Feeding the Fish!

Dave Genz says make ‘em strike, instead …

Some of you have noticed that Dave Genz has been on a ‘cadence kick’ for more than a year. He talks, increasingly, about how your presentation has to feel good to the fish. It needs to smell and taste good, too, and it never hurts when it looks right (where clarity and lighting allow fish to see it). But to get to the point where a fish is attracted close enough to notice what your bait smells and tastes like, the motion of your presentation – and the signature of its felt signals on the fish’s lateral line – have to communicate possible food item.

During the winter of 2012-13, Genz became more convinced than ever in the value of ‘pounding’ the lure while presenting it to fish. On most days, he says, the catch rate is higher for those who create extremely fast, vibrating motions. Up-down, up-down, up-down goes the wrist, in minute movements. Boomp-boomp-boomp-boomp goes the bait, kicking, rocking, looking alive. There isn’t much to see, if you watch someone doing it.

But there’s a lot for the fish to feel, and you can slowly raise or lower the bait as you pound it. It feels like life to the fish, which are accustomed to feeding on things that move like this.

He’s talked about this a lot, but Genz wanted to mention again that this aggressive (whatever that means) presentation style not only brings fish in from a distance, but closes the deal, gets them to open their mouths, once the fish get right up to your bait.

Even anglers who subscribe to pounding tend to stop doing it when fish show up. It’s human nature. Dave talked about one of his numerous extended road trips, from January, 2013. He was traveling and fishing with Joe Jackson (longtime Clam and Ice Team pro), during which there were numerous days they caught more fish than their guides and hosts – because they sent the right signals to the fish.

“I’ve been observing guys who were sight fishing,” said Genz, “and seeing that those fish were just not going to bite their lines. When the fish show up, they stop doing what brought the fish in. They slow down, and the fish loses interest and goes away.

“Same thing when people use spring bobbers. You just can’t get that sharp cadence with a spring bobber. When fish show up, they slow everything down. They’re trying to feed ‘em. Joe and I were so much more aggressive; we made ‘em strike.

“You can make those fish bite if you get the right cadence going. We used to call it the pound, or pounding it, and I don’t know if everybody understood what we meant by that. But now that we’re talking about cadence, that word is catching on. You can work with the same thing in summer fishing, like when you try small, medium, or large spinner blades on a crawler harness. You find what cadence the fish want that day. When you change the blade, you change the rhythm, the cadence. A different blade can trigger more fish.

“That’s what we’re doing, when we’re pounding the bait when we’re ice fishing. We use a lure that matches up with our line and our rod, so we can feel that bait as we’re pounding it. It’s that crisp cadence that catches fish.

“The problem with spring bobbers, and those rods with real flexible tips, is you can’t get that cadence going and keep it going. It smooths it out too much. You have to find the exact movement they want and keep giving it to them. If the rod tip is too floppy, it dips down too far and flips up too far. Same thing when you put a spring on the end of the rod. They’re too soft. I don’t want to condemn that smooth presentation, because it’s fine if that’s what the fish are looking for. But when they want that crisp cadence, you can’t give it to ‘em unless you’re using the right rod, and it’s balanced so the line hangs straight with no kinks in it.”

Plastics can be Deadly Fished ‘Smooth’

When using soft plastics, Genz has noticed that the smoother, ‘longer wavelength’ cadence produced by soft-tipped rods and spring bobbers can produce well.
“That nice smooth, rolling motion can produce (with plastics),” he said. “And the plastics seem to, sometimes, be better for continuing to catch fish out of the same hole, after the bite slows down. There are places and times when the guys using plastics are catching more than the guys using live bait. That’s because the plastics are better than they used to be, and we’re learning more about how to catch fish with them.”

Dave, a diehard live-bait fisherman, is, in fact, working on refining a soft plastics system that he says he’ll be ready to talk about in time for next winter.

Aggressive Fish are the Exception

If you drill enough new holes and get over enough biters, you can put together a good catch with virtually any kind of rod, spring, bait, and presentation.

“When you drop that bait down for the first time in a new hole,” says Genz, “a lot of times the first fish rises up and bites it. It meets the bait halfway down and your line goes slack. That one, you don’t have to do much to catch. It just happens. But then, after that fish, the other ones are less aggressive. You have to do more to catch them.
“I try to get the fish to charge my bait, and keep doing what brought him in. I keep the cadence going, and keep looking for exactly how he wants it. I usually slowly take it away from him, make him chase it.”

Many other anglers tend to slow down or even stop the cadence once a fish shows up – especially when sight fishing.

“Something happens when you can see the fish,” says Genz. “As the fish gets closer, you tend to go slower. Breaking the rhythm breaks the spell. Going from a crisp cadence to a stop is too much for the fish to accept, especially when the lure starts to spin after you stop the motion. We have to stop trying to feed ‘em, and start making ‘em strike.”

Note: Dave Genz, known as Mr. Ice Fishing, was the primary driver of the modern ice fishing revolution. He has been enshrined in the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame and Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame for his contributions to the sport. For more fishing tips and information on the new book, Ice Revolution, go to