Returning from military service in the 1970s, Genz began to manufacture flip-over portable ice fishing shelters similar to the ones his uncle developed. A conduit bender was used to form the metal rods that bolted onto a small sled.
His wife, Patsy, sewed the cotton duck coverings.
“She sewed five the first year, then 20, then 80,’’ Genz said. The shelters were sold in Twin Cities sporting goods stores under the Fish Trap name.
Other new ice fishing gear also was being developed.
“Jig sticks,’’ for example — quite literally wooden sticks rigged with stiff line that were the winter fishing rods of their time — were replaced by short fiberglass rods and metal reels.
“Then one day in 1982 I saw ice fishing leave the Stone Age and enter the Space Age,’’ Genz said.
While employing what was known at the time as a Sitex (now Twin Cities-based Vexilar) flasher, or depth finder, Genz watched in amazement as the gadget showed his jig and bait descend into the watery depths.
“The first ice fishing show was held in Madison, Wis., in the mid-1980s or so,’’ Genz said. “By then I was advocating ice-fishing systems, in which portable shelters and electronics were the major components.
“But not everyone understood the concept, and the first year, I didn’t sell much,’’ he said. “But the second year, people were catching on because In-Fisherman magazine started writing about my system. I sold everything I had by noon.’’
In the years since, the twin concepts of mobility and comfort have been continually refined.
“Permanent’’ or “skid’’ ice fishing houses are still popular. But today similar shelters on retractable wheels also are commonplace; shelters that can offer the conveniences of home, including beds, bathrooms, TVs, ovens and stoves, and that also can be moved fairly easily.
Yet Genz, who today represents Clam Corp., manufacturer of portable winter shelters and other ice fishing gear, still advocates mobility above all.
Mille Lacs fishing guide Tony Roach agrees. He might drill 100 ice holes in a day while leading clients across Mille Lacs in search of hungry fish.
Aiding Roach are high-powered, lightweight augers with laser-sharp blades, GPS systems that pinpoint hot spots and electronics that not only spot walleyes below the surface, but can display jigs and baits as they near a fish’s mouth.
The ice-fishing revolution will continue, Genz believes, who at the big St. Paul ice fishing show last weekend displayed a Clam portable shelter hooked to a customized snowmobile featuring a Star Wars-like assortment of gizmos, including an underwater camera.
“When fully electrified clothing comes on the market, that will really help,’’ he said. “Then no one will get cold.’’
Dennis Anderson • 612-673-4424