Tip-up ice fishing is a method of fishing that allows anglers to set multiple baited lines below the ice. Strikes are detected without the need to be in the immediate area of the equipment. A trigger mechanism flips up a flag, indicating a fish has taken the bait. Fish are pulled up by hand through the hole in the ice.
What are the Best Tip-Ups for Ice Fishing?
A tip-up is a fairly simple device but even so, countless styles of tip-ups litter the ice fishing market. Everyone has their favorite for various reasons. When you are getting started, keep it simple and buy a good quality tip-up the first time around. Don’t get discouraged by the frustration of cheap equipment. A quality tip-up should have an adjustable trigger mechanism with a stable base and freeze proof components.
5 Tip-Ups to Use
Beaver Dam– Widely considered the most reliable classic tip-up. A bit pricey but worth every penny.
Frabill 1664 Classic Wood– A less expensive alternative to the Beaver Dam with very good functionality.
HT Husky Deluxe– Another great wood tip-up. Made with quality components for freeze-free use.
Ifish Pro Ice– Designed for an ice fishing rod and reel. A great option for those who want the benefit of a tip-up and the fun of fighting the fish on a rod.
HT Polar Therm Extreme– When the conditions are extreme, this insulated tip-up prevents your ice hole from freezing up.
10 Steps to Fish With a Tip-Up the Right Way
1. Find the Best Spots and Spread Out
Location, location, location. Whether you are actively jigging or tip-up fishing, you need to put your bait where the fish are. Spend some time learning which spots on the lake will be most productive.
Use contour maps and other online mapping tools to find points, drop-offs, reefs and submerged humps that will concentrate fish.
You can also try setting up on the same spots you fish during open water seasons. This is especially true during early ice before depleting oxygen levels push fish to deeper water.
Once you establish a few good spots, spread out your tip-ups. The more you have set up, the better your odds of catching fish. However, too many guys make the mistake of placing their tip-ups too close together. 30 yards or more between tip-ups is not uncommon.
If you are allowed multiple tip-ups in the state you’re fishing, use them to your advantage. Tip-up fishing is about covering water fast and finding the bite.
2. Drill Holes in the Ice
Each tip-up needs its own hole drilled in the ice. A manual ice auger works if you have just a couple tip-ups. For more tip-ups, save some time and invest in a gas or electric auger. Spend more time fishing and less time drilling.
An 8 inch auger is most commonly used by anglers using tip-ups. Everything from perch to fat northern pike can fit through an 8 inch hole.
3. Spool Up with Good Line
Like any fishing, choosing the right line is a big component to your success on the ice.
Dacron (braided nylon) line is the “bread and butter” of tip-up ice fishing. Some anglers are switching to braided ice lines like PowerPro or Fireline for lower stretch options. I suggest sticking with the tried and true Dacron.
Unlike the no-stretch braids designed for conventional fishing, Dacron stays flexible on the spool without kinking. The supple line free-spools better when fish take the bait which leads to more hookups.
Dacron comes in many strengths. Anything from 15 pound test to 60 pound test works depending on the fish species you are after. A 30 pound test is a good middle of the road line. It’s sensitive enough for panfish and strong enough for pike and lake trout.
Black and green Dacron are standard colors that work great in almost all water conditions and clarity. I find that 60 to 75 yards of line is plenty for most situations. For deep water lake trout, you may want to add an additional line.
It’s a good idea to use at least 3 to 4 feet of fluorocarbon as leader attached to the Dacron via a snap swivel. The invisibility of fluorocarbon gives your setup a natural presentation on high pressured lakes with finicky fish.
Tie on a 6-10 pound fluoro leader for walleye and 20-30 pound leader for pike and lake trout. When fishing lakes with trophy class pike, use wire leader material or you risk losing fish. Their sharp teeth cut through fluorocarbon with ease.
4. Check the Depth
Leave out as much guesswork as possible when tip-up fishing. Avoid wasting time fishing dead parts of the water column by measuring the exact depth of the water.
The fastest way to do this is with a fish finder. If you don’t have one, just clip a one or two ounce lead weight to the snap swivel on your line and lower it down until it hits bottom. Decide how far off the bottom you want your bait suspended and pull up just enough line to get there. Use either a bobber stop or small clip bobber to mark the spot on the line.
Now, when you’re ready to bait up, unspool the line to where you marked it and set the trigger to lock the depth in place.
5. Select Your Tip-Up Bait
Your bait of choice will depend on what species you are after. Tip-up fishing is a still fishing method with some sort of live or scented bait.
Live minnows like suckers and shiners are preferred by most anglers for walleye. Whereas dead minnows are particularly effective for pike and sometimes lake trout. Even crappie find a small sized minnow hard to resist.
Rigging up a live minnow is simple. For the best action, hook a wiggly minnow just under the dorsal fin. A struggling minnow is an irresistible treat for hungry fish.
Going after a big pike? Use a quick strike rig for dead bait. The quick strike rig has two treble hooks connected by a short length of leader or wire. Hook the upper treble securely in the dorsal region and the other near the head. Keep the hook points pointed towards the tail since fish eat dead bait headfirst most of the time.
With live minnows, add a small split shot to the leader about 12-14 inches above the hook. Add more weight when you are fishing deep water but not so much that the minnow can’t move freely.
If you’re fishing with large dead minnows like ciscoes or tullibee, weight is not always needed. Just be sure to puncture the air bladder so it sinks. The bladder is located mid-body between the spine and stomach. Put the bait in the water and squeeze the air bladder. You should see air bubbles coming out the puncture. When the bubbles stop, it should sink right to the bottom without weight.
You can greatly increase your chances of hooking more fish by using different baits on of each tip-up. If one tip-up catches more fish, switch baits to match on the others. It is an efficient way to test what works best at new locations.
6. Adjust Your Trigger Sensitivity
Once your bait is set at the right depth and in the perfect location, it’s time to set the trigger mechanism that sends up the flag.
Most tip-ups come with adjustable triggers. That way you can match the sensitivity to the species you are after.
Always set it to the minimum needed. Too tight and the fish will feel the resistance. Not tight enough and the flag gets tripped by the movement of the bait. Nothing is worse than running a fifty yard dash to a tip-up for no reason.
Get in the habit of testing the tension of your trigger before placing the tip-up.
7. Keep an Eye on the Flags
Now it is time to sit back and wait for a bite. This is a good time to toss a football, play cards or get warm next to the heater. No matter how you fill the time, always keep one eye on the flags.
When you are fishing in a group, take turns designating someone as the spotter. Rotate the job so everyone can enjoy the fun and be part of the action.
8. Move Quick When a Flag Goes Up
When the flag goes up, your blood starts pumping and everyone rushes to the hole. Time is your enemy in this game. Let the fish hold the bait too long and he may spit it out. The fish may also empty your spool and break loose.
Just remember to exercise caution. You would not be the first person to end up in the ER after racing to a tip-up.
Keep your paths to the tip-ups clear and free of loose gear that act as a tripping hazard. Also, never run on bare ice. No fish is worth a head injury or broken bones. If you need it, use micro spikes for more traction on slippery ice.
9. Make Sure the Fish is Still On
After sprinting to the hole, wait a few seconds before grabbing the line. Look first for movement in the line or the rotation of the spool. This indicates the fish still has the bait.
Yanking on the line prematurely is a common cause of missed opportunities. Sometimes a fish strikes the bait without eating it and triggers the flag. The fish may need another second to swing around and grab it. You don’t want to pull the bait up before it has the chance to strike again.
10. Set the Hook and Pull in the Fish
Everything is going good so far. You found the fish and now something took your bait. Gently take up the line and pull slowly until you feel just the slightest pressure from the fish.
Setting the hook with all your strength is a rookie mistake during the excitement of tip-up fishing. A quick, smooth lift of the line is all that’s needed to drive the hook into the fish’s mouth.
The fight is on! Pull line in using a hand over hand method until the fish comes to the surface. Feel for the size and power of the fish. It is important to let big fish run when they need to. It is harder to prevent slack line while holding the line by hand. Use gloves to avoid line cuts when a monster pike or lake trout needs to fight.
Most fish can be brought to the hole quickly because of the heavy line. It takes practice to manage big ones and there is no substitute for experience.
Ice fishing is a great way to enjoy quality time outdoors with friends and family and tip-ups make it even better. Set it and forget it. But not for too long because when the flags start waving, the action is fast and furious. Bring on the fish! and test the trigger for stiffness. Also, dry the tip-up off with a clean rag after every fish.
Thaw out frozen tip-ups in your ice house or vehicle before using again. Have a couple spare tip-ups stored in a dry location when fishing in harsh conditions and swap them out when needed.
A little bit of extra care should help avoid most freeze-up problems.
Ready to Get Out on the Ice?
There are many ways to use tip-ups and their use is not limited to just a few species of fish. Almost any fish can be caught on a tip-up. Take part in the fun and try it out. Reach out to us to begin planning your trip today!