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.
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.
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.
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