It wasn't that Dave Genz was looking for an easy way out. He just didn't think ice-fishing had to be an exercise in suffering.
So the St. Cloud angler became a self-appointed ambassador for the sport, traveling to any state with frozen water and extolling the virtues of portable shelters, depth finders, power augers and fishing mobility.
Now his Clam Corp. has helped revolutionize ice-fishing gear and clothing. Along with other sponsors, the business will hold six ice-fishing tournaments across northern states this winter with top prizes of $10,000 each. His "Ice Team" of 50 ice-fishing experts -- dubbed "Power Sticks" -- promotes Clam's line of equipment and clothing as they conduct ice-fishing seminars across the north. Two Ice Team "universities" for new and improving ice anglers are scheduled for March in Minnesota.
Business is good
Genz, an affable 59-year-old, can be seen frequently on television fishing programs, and his line of equipment continues to expand. He was inducted into the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame in 2002.
"The snowball is still rolling down the hill," Genz said in a recent telephone interview.
Genz's innovations have changed ice-fishing, said Russ Francisco, owner of Marine General Sports in Duluth.
"Dave Genz is known as the father of ice-fishing," Francisco said. "He didn't invent ice-fishing, but he invented modern ice fishing with the shelters, the heaters, the 'glass [Fiberglass] rods, the graphite rods, the good reels. Those improvements have made ice-fishing as popular as summer fishing."
Like most businesses, Genz's ice-fishing endeavor started slowly.
"Twenty-five years ago, we went person to person on the ice with an FL-8 [depth finder] in a wooden box, talking to people one at a time," Genz said.
He invented the Fish Trap line of portable fishing shelters, designed to allow anglers to set up quickly and move easily to new locations on the ice.
"The fish houses started in my garage," Genz said. "My wife [Patsy] sewed five, then 20, then 80, and then she wouldn't sew 'em any more."
But as much as anything, Genz changed the philosophy of ice-fishing. His idea was to adapt the easy mobility of summer fishing to ice-fishing. His flip-over Fish Traps were light and easy to tow across the ice. They were self-contained, allowing for easy movement from one spot to another. Power augers allowed anglers to drill a lot of holes. Depth finders identified fish, and anglers just didn't fish a hole if the depth finder didn't indicate fish present.
"He's the one that opened the door," said Greg Clusiau of Keewatin, one of the Power Sticks on the Clam Corp. team. "The mobility, especially, with his Fish Trap. He started it, and everyone else is following suit."
MOVEMENT CATCHES ON
The philosophy has caught on with a lot of anglers. Some still prefer to set up a permanent shelter and leave it in one spot all winter. But many anglers have discovered that mobility is the key to finding and catching fish.
Genz moved quickly from philosophy to the production line. In addition to his Fish Traps, he 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 mitts.
"Throughout my younger career," he said, "I always had a wet butt from sitting on my heels. This new clothing is almost like wearing a portable fish house. If you're comfortable, you're a better fisherman."
Minnesota anglers have caught on quickly to Genz's philosophy, but he said people are still discovering what he calls "modern ice-fishing."
"I think we've actually just touched the surface, compared to summer," he said. "Every time someone buys one of these products, they have a friend who doesn't have one."
The market potential remains especially strong in other wintry states, Genz said.
"There are still lots of people who have never used any electronics in ice fishing," he said, "especially when you get away from Minnesota. When you go out east and stand in a store and try to convince them, it's a hard sell. When you get them out on the ice, it's easy."