Mr. Ice Fishing gets his Lake Superior walleye
A 23-inch walleye on Superior Bay made the bucket list for ice-fishing guru Dave Genz.
DULUTH -- Considering that Dave Genz has been involved with most major advancements in ice fishing over the last 40 years, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise to see him pedaling a battery-assisted, fat-fire bicycle out to our fishing spot last week.
“It sure beats walking,” said Genz, 74, as he stepped off the bike and onto the ice of Superior Bay in the Twin Ports harbor, about a half-mile ride off Park Point.
He even has a little hitch so he can tow his Clam Fish Trap shelter, and all his gear, behind the bike.
Will the fat-tire bike become the next big deal in ice fishing? Maybe not. But if Dave Genz is riding one, don’t bet against it.
Genz was joining us for the afternoon bite on the bay on a weekday just before Christmas. There was plenty of ice for walking, and riding, ranging from 5 to 10 inches where we fished. And the walleyes have been biting, mostly early and late in the day, for about two weeks now.
Throngs of headlamp-clad anglers have been dragging sleds of gear out in the dark on most mornings. And many have been rewarded with a few of these migratory fish that are making their way out of Lake Superior, through the harbor, on their way to spawn in the St. Louis River below the Fond du Lac dam, probably in April.
Our group of three — including Luke Markus of Osceloa, Wisconsin and Jarrid Houston of South Range — caught several walleyes in the 12- to 16-inch class and one around 20 inches in the morning fishing in 6-8 feet of water.
Genz and his daughter, Kathy Roberts, joined us later hoping to scratch off one more item from his lifelong ice-fishing bucket list. He was hoping he could say he had caught a walleye in every Great Lakes system, and the only one he had left unchecked was Lake Superior, ironically the one closest to his home near St. Cloud.
“I’ve fished up here (Lake Superior) a lot, but always for trout and salmon,” Genz said.
Mr. Ice Fishing
Even if you don’t know Dave Genz, you probably know the name. It’s literally stamped on the side of thousands of portable fish shacks and depth finders and a host of other ice-fishing gear. Some say the history of ice fishing is essentially divided into BG and AG, Before Genz and After Genz.
It was Genz who made the portable, flip-up shelter one of the most-used tools in ice fishing. And then he just kept adding more ideas, and more products, that helped take ice fishing from the dark and cold ages to the modern era — comfortable, warm, dry and successful.
It all started with the Fish Trap shack.
“The biggest thing is that it allows people to move around to find where the fish are biting,” Genz said while jigging last week. “Back when my dad and uncle used to fish on Mille Lacs, they’d drill two holes with a hand auger and that’s where they fished.”
Now, power augers allow anglers to drill dozens of holes effortlessly, and portable shelters, propane heaters and high-tech depth and fish-finding electronics keep getting better. Genz has been an ambassador for ice fishing in general and for the company now called Clam Outdoors, specifically, for more than 40 years now.
“When I started I literally walked from hole to hole showing people my flip-over shelter and showing them my Vexilar (depth/fish finder) and showing them their lure on the Vexilar and showing them the fish on the screen. ... I did that all the way from Minnesota to New York and back,” Genz said. “They had to see it work. That’s how we got people to buy the stuff. … That’s when they started catching more fish, too.”
It’s the portability of the gear that allows Genz to use his tried-and-true ice-fishing system of moving, almost constantly, until he finds fish that are willing to bite. That often means fishing multiple spots on any single lake or river, or maybe even multiple lakes, in a single day.
Genz was raised in the St. Cloud area, the youngest child in his family and a frequent fishing partner with his dad. The younger Genz was in his early 20s when he started doing fishing seminars in people’s homes, like a Tupperware party, for a company that made fishing products marketed directly to people and mailed out on order. Eventually those items became available in stores, so his home seminar business faded away. But Genz had established a solid foothold in the business of fishing and he’s been at it ever since.
In the early 1980s, still mostly BG, at a time when people mostly fished in large, wooden, stationary ice-fishing shacks — or simply sat outdoors — Genz was experimenting. While working at his day job as a maintenance engineer in a Twin Cities machine shop, Genz took an idea from his uncle and developed a one-person portable ice-fishing shelter using canvas and tubing.
“A guy I worked with saw me building it and said it looked like a fish trap,” Genz noted. “I said, yep, that’s what it is. And the name stuck.”
Others saw it and wanted one, so his wife started sewing them in their garage. The first year they sold 20 Fish Traps. The next year it was 80. In 1992 Genz essentially sold the idea to an existing company with manufacturing facilities. After a few years the manufacturer became the Clam Outdoors Corp., for which Genz remains the brand ambassador. (The company, based in Rogers, Minnesota, is owned by Dave Osborne and now markets more than 750 products.)
In 2021, Clam released their 40th anniversary edition of the Dave Genz Fish Trap, this time in white, instead of the company’s usual blue Denier material, to commemorate the original ones made in the Genz garage, at the time using white cotton canvas.
In addition to his Fish Traps, Genz has put his name on a line of ice-fishing rods and terminal tackle — including Genz Worms, the Fat Boy and Genz Bugs. In 2003, Clam Corp. introduced a line of clothing specifically for ice fishing. The waterproof Ice Armor line includes bibs, parka, gloves and mittens. Vexilar calls its portable platform for ice-fishing flasher/fish finders the Genz Box.
In the 1990s Genz helped recruit Clam’s famous Ice Team of pro fisherman and guides who helped broaden the company’s marketing reach of its entire line of products.
Genz has appeared in countless fishing shows, headed scores of seminars at ice-fishing events, emceed tournaments and been the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles. And he seems to genuinely enjoy it all.
Early on in his fishing career, Genz said he received some sage advice from a veteran of the sales business.
“He told me I wasn’t selling fishing shelters, I was selling Dave Genz,’’ he said with a smile. “I guess I’m still selling Dave Genz.”
Still going strong
He’s so popular and so recognizable that for years, on the ice or in stores or at fishing shows and seminars, Genz was inundated with people asking for his autograph. Now, it’s people wanting cellphone photos taken with Mr. Ice Fishing.
“I tried to walk around the St. Paul ice-fishing show a few weeks ago but I couldn't get anywhere,” he noted. “Everyone wants a selfie nowadays.”
Over the years Genz has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, was a silver medalist of the 1992 World Ice Fishing Championship with Team USA and has been inducted into both the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame.
Recently, Genz has dropped the daily grind of working as the Clam brand ambassador and has spent more time actually fishing.
“The (Mississippi) river was just incredible this summer,” Genz said, noting he was catching dozens of smallmouth bass almost every day out of his boat equipped with an outboard that has jet propulsion, no propeller.
Genz lost his wife of 54 years, Patsy, in 2020, which hit hard. And a few health issues — heart rhythm, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma — have teamed up to make it harder for him to get out ice fishing on some mornings. But he’s still on the go, still riding his bike, still selling modern ice fishing and its gear to anyone who will listen.
Genz and his daughter Kathy are headed to Vermont on New Year’s Day to emcee an ice-fishing contest there. Last winter he was part of a Western states ice-fishing tour that included Utah, South Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho.
His next big goal is to raise the number of states where he’s ice fished from 20 to 25.
“He’s going to do it. That’s his goal in life now, to get to 25 states,’’ said Roberts. “He wants to be able to say that he’s ice fished in half the states in the U.S.”
Oh, and that Lake Superior system walleye he was after?
Almost as if on cue, and pretty much as everyone in our group expected, Genz completed that Great Lakes walleye line on his bucket list, jigging up a roughly 23-inch walleye just as the daylight was beginning to fade to dusk on Superior Bay.
Of course, he was using a Clam Tackle Leech Flutter Spoon.
When it comes to ice fishing, don’t bet against Dave Genz.
Some of Dave Genz’s ice fishing accomplishments:
Inventor of the first portable, flip-over-style fish house, now known as Clam Outdoors Fish Trap.
Adapted fishing sonar with the Ice Box, now Vexilar's Genz Box.
Developed tungsten ice jigs that were small, but fished “heavy” and showed up well on the sonar.
Popularized the pistol-grip ice fishing rod.
Popularized multi-colored maggots, EuroLarvae, for use in ice fishing in the U.S.
Developed “dropper rigs” and helped design multiple other ice lures.
Took the underwater camera technology and integrated it into high-speed mobile ice fishing with the down viewing method.
Developed the system for “ice trolling” on large lake basins while searching for fish.
Silver medalist of the 1992 World Ice Fishing Championship, Team USA.
Co-author of In-Fisherman book “Ice Fishing Secrets,” with Al Lindner and Doug Stange.
Author of “Bluegills,” the book and DVD, with Mark Strand.
Co-author Pro Guide Series “Ice Fishing with Dave Genz and Jerry Carlson”
Inducted into the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame.
Inducted in Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in 2011 as a Legendary Angler.
For more information go to davegenz.com .
John Myers reports on the outdoors, environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.