Upward and Downward, with Realism

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Plastics in modern ice fishing, Part 2


When we left off last time, you might have been surprised to learn that Dave Genz has become increasingly confident in soft plastics – and finds himself fishing with them more often (without giving up his beloved live bait). Several factors are at work, the most important of which is improved plastics.

They’re softer and more realistic, meaning they look and feel better to the fish. With the options available these days, you can strive to match what fish are currently feeding on, in terms of size, shape and color. Watching talented tournament anglers pluck pressured fish off crowded spots, Genz gradually deepened his appreciation for the potential of plastics. Then, last winter, while fishing in Vermont with Jamie Vladyka, the “light bulb came on.”

The refined approach to plastics has to do with the fact that ice fishing is a matter of ‘dangling,’ more than anything else. You’re dangling baits downward and bringing them upward, striving to make them seem real even though they don’t travel outward very far.

Vladyka’s typical approach is to thread plastics on so they assume a ‘tails up’ posture. Rather than the plastic hanging horizontally on the hook shank, the tail (or tails) is angled upward.

“Jamie is the one who got me thinking this way,” credits Genz. “When the tails are upward like that, when you work it, it seems like it’s swimming up or down. You can go down and tap the bottom and make it look like this creature is swimming up out of the bottom. It’s more realistic than if it’s swimming around in circles by the bottom.”

When asked about his overall philosophy on plastics, Vladyka talks about matching the hatch, in the same way fly anglers do.

“We have spikes, wax worms, things like that,” he says, “and they catch fish, for sure. But that’s not what the fish are feeding on. With plastics, we’re matching what the fish are actually eating. Ultimately, we can hit the full color spectrum, including glow, with plastics. And we can scent the plastic so it smells like what the fish are eating.”

One area of intense study for Jamie has been what’s swimming and crawling around down there, and what he sees in fish stomachs. When he keeps fish to eat, he always checks what they’ve been eating. And he spends time with an underwater camera, to see what he can see in the prey department.

“I use (his underwater camera) to see what’s down there,” says Vladyka. “I go into the weeds and study what’s attached to the weeds. I put on a big jig and rip weeds to see what jumps off of them. I’m looking to see what those fish are there for. If crappies are feeding on pinheads or smelt fry or baby bluegills or some kind of insects, I try to figure that out. If I can match what they’re eating, in size and color, then our success rate goes up.

“I’m not saying you can’t catch fish with other things, but if we can match, we do much better.” (He says “our success” because he leads guide trips, at www.fishhounds.net.)


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