Trusting Tip Ups

In ice fishing a lot of the spotlight has recently focused on run-and-gun tactics with jigging rods. Yet in the shadow of this approach lurks a tried-and-true technique that fools hundreds of fish each season – tip-ups.

In ice fishing a lot of the spotlight has recently focused on run-and-gun tactics with jigging rods. Yet in the shadow of this approach lurks a tried-and-true technique that fools hundreds of fish each season – tip-ups. Tip-ups are sometimes perceived as a secondary, or lesser, method for ice fishing. However, when properly used these presentations can be extremely successful, sometimes out-fishing jigging rods.

Types of Tip-Ups
Tip-ups can be described as a self-supporting unit, usually rigged with bait, that has a signaling device (often a flag) for when a fish strikes. Tip-ups are made from wood, metal and high-impact plastic. The major difference in types of tip-ups is whether the majority of the device sits above or below water.

Underwater designs consist of a frame that straddles the ice while the spool shaft sits in the hole. The positioning of these models prevents them from being blown over in strong winds. These tip-ups are particularly suited for extremely cold temperatures. The spool will not freeze underwater. High-end models feature spool shafts coated with low temperature lubrication, ensuring a smooth spin when a fish pulls line. Some below water designs also cover the entire hole, preventing holes from freezing.

Above-water spool designs often resemble an off-balanced “T”. On most home-made models, the tip-up’s resting position features a raised arm and when a fish hits, the arm lowers. Also included are wind propelled jigging models with rudders like HT Enterprises’ Windlass Tip-Up. These tip-ups catch the wind imparting an up-and-down motion to the bait; strikes are signaled with a flag. Wind propelled models are excellent for targeting aggressive fish and work best on mild days. The disadvantage of above-water tip-ups is the unit’s exposed. In cold temperatures moving parts can freeze.

Simple Set-Up
Rig spools with 20- to 40-pound-test black, braided nylon or Dacron line. These lines function well in the cold and are visible on snow and ice. Coated lines absorb less water, lasting longer than non-coated versions. They are also easy to handle when playing a fish. Don’t use superbraids. Their thin diameter can cause cuts when hand-fighting fish. Some anglers tie terminal tackle directly to the main line, but low-temperature monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders work for line-shy fish. Connect leaders using a blood knot or a ball bearing swivel. Use a steel leader when fishing for toothy pike.

Terminal Tackle
Sharp hooks are crucial for effective hook sets. Some anglers prefer treble hooks to single versions when using minnows for better hook-ups. When targeting large fish, like lake trout or northern pike, a “quick strike” rig will ensure a high hooking percentage, and reduce gut-hooking. A jig head will minimize the baitfish’s movement, making it easier for lethargic predators to bite. Coloured hooks, jigs or glow beads can attract fish. For sinkers, split shot and rubber-core sinkers perform well on various line types.

Tip-Up Tactics
Not being confined by a boat and able to fish multiple lines (as regulations dictate), wise anglers use tip-ups to explore their fishing areas. When fishing with others, plan how you’ll fish the structure. Drill the holes all at once and follow a pattern. A triangle works well for a bay, a grid suits a flat, and a V-shape is excellent for points.

Set tip-ups as your strategy dictates. You may want them on the periphery of the structure, or in shallow water. Once tip-ups are in place, jig open holes to explore the area. After hooking a fish, lines can be set to copy the successful presentation.

Tip-ups can also be used to target alternative species. For example, when jigging areas for panfish and perch, it’s likely walleye or pike may be nearby. Rigging a tip-up with a large minnow on a feeding route may produce larger gamefish.

Playing the Fish:
I particularly enjoy the hand-fighting fish part of the tip-up experience. Without a rod to absorb the fight, you feel each run and headshake. Use a hand-over-hand retrieve to bring in fish. Open water techniques apply for letting fish run, including not rushing in a green fish. When retrieving a lot of line, it’s helpful if a partner coils it away from the hole.

Using tip-ups is a relatively slow approach to fishing if compared to aggressive running-and-gunning, but tip-ups have their application. If you have an old home-made tip-up, consider upgrading to a high-end unit for better reliability and performance. Finally, when using tip-ups this season, make sure you tie-up your boots; you’ll need them to fit snug when dashing across snow and ice to a tripped flag.

All Photos by Tim Allard