An answer to a question that has puzzled us forever
|Dave Genz with a dandy walleye taken by using his "poof-and-drag" method. He developed this technique specifically for the Lindy Rattl'n Flyer Spoon. He drops the lure on a slack line until it hits bottom, then drags it along bottom until it's directly below him. Then, if he hasn't had a bite, Genz poofs up the bottom and jigs the lure aggressively to call in fish.
For generations, in-the-know anglers have deliberately pounded jigs and spoons and sinkers into lake bottoms, in order to cause the bottom to poof sediment in a cloud around the vicinity of their hook.
We have done this with all the scientific certainty of a fifth grader. We did it because we got more bites, a lot of times, than if we didn't do it.
Here's our explanation: It works because it does.
That was good enough for most of us, but as usual, not good enough for Dave Genz. He always wants to know why something improves his fishing fortunes, and this one has been bugging him (pun intended) for a long time. After digging around for answers (two puns in a row), Genz wound up finding a plausible explanation from a trusted source.
Dating back to 1998, when Dave was working on his book, "Bluegills!" he's been running fishing theories past Dr. Mac Strand, Ph.D., professor of entomology and aquatic ecology at Northern Michigan University. Dr. Strand is the perfect sounding board, because he's a lifelong fisherman who is also naturally interested in "how come this works" and "how come that doesn't."
In this case, that's how these guys met at the bottom of the lake. Dave has more real-life fishing experiences than any ice angler in history, so he could provide details surrounding the situations where poofing produces. Also in this case, the boys ended up tying a few loose ends, because they wound up keying on the sticky-bottom areas Genz also pioneered.
Prime poofing grounds are found on the not-too-hard, not-too-soft mid-depth areas that make excellent home sites for burrowing insects. As we have written about before, Genz particularly keys along the base of dropoffs, "where the break levels out and leads onto a flat," he says. Sediments accumulate along these zones, having slid down the dropoff.
Fish that feed on insects find these places, so that creates the ingredients for a perfect underwater dust storm. The only thing missing is you, and your bait being pounded into the bottom, stirring up the sediments.
But, again, we already knew this. We know it works, and Genz has been teaching us about the sticky-bottom areas since before the Bluegills book came out. We've been disturbing the bottom, with success, in many places. But the why has always been a mystery, which tends to limit how repeatable any fishing method is.
Finally: Why it Works
After all these years of doing it just because it works, finally a logical explanation.
Burrowing larvae, particularly mayflies, go into what we would call panic mode, using our fifth-grade science minds, whenever they are dragged from their homes. Dave and Dr. Strand agree on the theory that numerous fish species, from lake trout to walleyes to perch to bluegills, develop a strategy of 'rooting' them out and feeding on them as they attempt to dig back in.
Dr. Mac says: "as soon as they (larvae) are dislodged, they swim straight back down to the bottom and dig by using tusk-like structures as a scoop. I think some of the successes we have as anglers are the result of mimicking this re-entry behavior, by jigging heavy lures and letting them hit the bottom and stir things up."
It makes so much sense, because it's what goes on out there! Successful predator fish learn to recognize the disturbance of bottom sediment as fleeting feeding opportunity, so they go into action. Fish know they don't have time to lolly-gag (that's another one of our scientific terms), because their next meal is already digging hard for China. Fish are attracted to the poofed-up sediment, because they've seen it before, and they head into the area, see your bait, and come in closer, pre-disposed to put it in their mouth first and ask questions later.
Even if fish do lolly-gag, your bait is still there. The fish's pea-sized brain has a good laugh about how this is the slowest diggin' mayfly larvae in history. If your bait meets with the fish's instinctive approval, it gets sucked in before it can dig its way to safety.
Assuming you set the hook and don't screw things up, that fish will be flopping on the ice in short order.
So that's pretty much how this whole poofing up the bottom thing works. It's similar in concept to a lot of other good fishing tactics that are built around the idea of forcing fish to make a quick decision. And because your bait remains above the bottom, you can repeat the poofing process many times, creating a series of fake feeding opportunities, performing your same little show for all the nearby fish.
You can take this show on the road, too. Just go from one sticky-bottom area to the next, poofing away, enhancing your chances of success, all the while knowing why it works.
Now, we have an image in our minds as we poof the bottom with our ice-fishing lures. We have a lock on the best types of places to do it, and we know what we are trying to replicate. No need to pound and pound until fish cannot see anything because you have created a plume of smoke that stretches for five underwater acres, but the judicious use of poofing can add to your bag of tricks and bring on the bite.