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Illinois hunting and fishing

A younger Dave Genz smiles as he shows off a bluegill, seated in an early Fish Trap, holding one of the first graphite ice rods. Photo courtesy of Mark Strand Outdoors.

Ice fishing comes into the future: Now if it would just get cold

December 14, 2012 at 12:50 PM

The State Journal-Register

Dave Genz has faith in Mother Nature.

Even though warm weather reduced or eliminated ice-fishing seasons in some parts of the country last winter, Genz said he knows cold weather will come around again.

Considered the father of modern ice fishing, Genz developed portable ice fishing shelters in the early 1980s in his garage. His wife sewed the first prototypes together and the Fish Trap Company was born. Fish Trap later joined with Clam Outdoors, headquartered in Medina, Minn.

The ice fishing equipment business has grown exponentially since then, but last year’s unusually warm winter weather was enough to make even an experienced industry executive sweat. Stores sold their initial inventories in advance of ice-fishing season. “But because it was so warm, the (retailers) never made another order,” Genz said.

Clam Corp. makes ice-fishing shelters, rods, electronic fish-finding equipment and specialized clothing to keep ice anglers comfortable.

Illinois hunting and fishing
Ice shelters, specialized clothing and other gear are on display during a trade show earlier this fall.

“It was bad for the retailers and for the manufactures that had the product that was ready to be shipped,” he said. “But it was still better than shipping it to them and the retailers shipping it back. The trucking companies make all the money then and everybody else loses.”

Genz said last year’s ice-fishing season ended earlier than usual.

“We didn’t get to fish as late into the spring,” he said. “Normally I fish until April 15 before I’m ever off the ice — sometimes it’s later than that. This last winter it was March yet, and we couldn’t get on the ice anymore. I drove to South Dakota, and I had to go 6,500 feet up into the Black Hills to find ice.”

Last January, warnings were issued from Michigan to South Dakota, asking ice anglers to use caution.

Let it snow

After a long, hot summer, winter snow and ice — and the activities that come with them — will be welcome for many outdoorsmen and women. The Associated Press reports parts of the upper Midwest received up to 16 inches of snow last weekend, bringing cross-country skiers and snowmobilers out of hibernation.

At the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area near Chandlerville, outdoors activities don’t stop with the close of hunting seasons in mid-January.

“Ice fishing is huge here,” said site superintendent Michael Wickens. “Mostly on the ponds, but also on Drake, Gridley and Prairie Lakes. People are very successful at catching the fish. The success rate is probably higher for the fishermen in the winter than for fishermen fishing for sunfish in the mid- to late summer. They do pretty well through the ice.”

Last year was not good for ice fishing, but Wickens said the previous winter was.

Ice anglers should be aware that Prairie Lake is the last to freeze up because it is larger, deeper and has trees surrounding it to break the wind. Waterfowl also sometimes keep pockets of water from freezing up, so anglers should use caution.

Jim Edgar Panther Creek also is open for snowmobiling after Jan. 16 if there is enough snow — four or more inches. Cross-country skiing — which takes even less snow — also is popular. Wickens recommends the miles of trails around Prairie and Drake Lakes.

Some people use the cabins at the site for winter camping.

“My favorite story is a grandfather and four grandkids that would sled down the hill between the cabin and the lake,” Wickens said. “When they got cold, they would go into the cabin to watch videos and warm up. They were having a great time.”

Wildlife observation also picks up after hunting seasons close, Wickens said. Wild turkeys, especially, are easier to see against a backdrop of snow.

Birders and other outdoors enthusiasts also descend on Rock Cut State Park near Rockford.

The park, spanning about 3,000 acres, has 14 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails and lots of opportunity for snowshoeing, bird watching and ice fishing.

Site superintendent Melinda Kitchens said cross-country skiing is especially popular among park visitors.

Bird waters travel from as far away as Chicago to view birds in a variety of habitats.

Ice fishing also is available during daylight hours, she said.

Anglers catch mostly crappie on the two lakes, Pierce and Olson.

Despite the disappointment of last winter, Genz is confident cold weather and “hard water,” as ice-anglers call it, will return.

“My experience over the years of watching the weather, which I do quite a bit, is the overall average temperature from year to year doesn’t change very much,” he said. “We’ve had this extremely warm summer, and it has to be payback time this winter that we are going to get some cooler weather.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

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