Ice Fishing Tip Ups

January 16, 2012 by  

By Nick Simonson

I often think back fondly to my times while ice fishing tip ups growing up in North Dakota.  For those anglers who love to chase a waiving flag across the ice, there’s no better place than the Peace Garden State, where on hardwater, fishermen are allotted four lines with no restrictions as to what’s on the other end.  It could be a treble or it could be a single hook, it could be in pursuit of pike or trout or walleye.  Smelt, shiners, fatheads, whatever your bait of choice there are so many ways to fish with tip ups.  We fished them all and found ways to modify our tip ups for any situation.  Now, even in Minnesota where only two lines are allowed, I still like to keep a lookout for an orange flag waiving in the breeze.  What follows are some tips for not only the usual slimy suspects, but for fishing flags for any other species.

Ice Fishing Tip Ups10.  Barrel Role.  I like to spool all of my tip-ups with old-school 50-pound-test Dacron – simply because it’s strong and easy to handle.  However, if fishing walleyes or trout, it is far too visible to connect to a hook.  I like to tie a barrel swivel at the end of the line and from there I can add leaders of superline or monofilament in varying lengths above a smaller hook or treble to match the species I’m pursuing.

9.  Another Notch.  The flag-holding T on the top of each tip-up usually has two sides, an all-smooth side and a notched side.  The notched side will hold the flag more securely, requiring a good tug to pop it loose, as opposed to the smooth side, which will allow the flag to trip easier.  In addition, these sides can be turned into, or against the wind to prevent a premature triggering of the flag.  Use this feature to assist on those gusty days.

8.  Cleanup.  When using tip-ups, make sure the area around the ice hole is clean.  Also, keep the surface of the water in the hole free of slush and ice; making sure to monitor that there isn’t a build-up of ice sealing off the hole.  This might require a regular round of inspections – particularly when it’s cold – to keep the areas ice free.  Clean holes will make playing and landing fish with a tip-up easier and more successful.

7.  Depth Charge.  When fishing for species that tend to roam the water column or at least parts of it – such as stocked trout, lake trout and pike – vary the depths at which your baits are set.  I found great success fishing for wintertime rainbows stocked in a lake near my home town by finding depths of 15-to-20-feet and setting a bunch of tip-up offerings from five feet below the ice to five feet above the bottom.  Check them with a sonar unit and mark the line at the surface with a rubber band when the presentation is where you want it.
6.  Sharpen Up.  Now, most of my tip-up fishing is for pike.  I like quick-strike rigs and just plain trebles, where legal.  The key for toothy critters is keeping these bigger hooks sharp.  Go through your collection of terminal tackle, whether fresh out of the package or not, and run a hook hone to make sure the point finds the mark when it’s time for the hook set.
5.  On Your Mark.  As stated above, a line marker will allow for a quick reset of a tip up after a fish has been landed.  I like to use a broken thin rubber band, but a piece of string or yarn will do the trick.  Once you have your presentation set where you want it to be, or where you find fish are striking, tie in your marker so you can get back to fishing sooner when you bring your hook to the surface.

4.  Traction Faction.  When there are a number of folks fishing tip-ups in a group, the more the merrier.  Be ready for fast-paced flag action on the ice, and be ready to sprint to the nearest tip-up when a pack of pike rolls through.  Especially at early ice, the spring from the shore or shack to the flag requires traction on the ice.  Have a set of cleats, such as Yaktrax, on your boots to help you stay standing (or sprinting) after those tip-ups that pop.
3.  Wrapped Up.  It is important to keep the line spooled neatly on tip-ups, and you should check for an evenly wrapped spool each time you bring the line up and put the line back down.  Bunched or tilted line freezes and tangles easier.  This can produce resistance when a fish swims off with your bait, causing unnatural pull which in turn may cause the fish to drop the offering.
2.  Neat Freak.  When a fish is on the other end, there’s a lot to think about – tension, playing out the line, how to land it and where the fish is located.  Keep your line out of the equation by setting each section as neatly as possible on the side of the hole each time you gain a little on your quarry.  This way, if the fish runs the line zips easily up through your hands and back down the hole.  Refer back to tip #8 to make sure the loose line plays back easily – with no ice or slush to snag on.

1.  Let It Spin.  When fishing for species you plan to keep, you can take things a little easier.  Especially when looking for pike, when a flag pops, hustle over to the tip-up and watch.  If the fish still has the bait and is swimming away, wait until the T mechanism stops twirling.  Pike instinctively strike a bait and then run with it a while before stopping, turning the bait and swallowing.  If you’re keeping fish, it’s best to set the hook after the tip up stops moving.

With these tips and some you’ll undoubtedly pick up on the ice with a little experience, you’ll find your ice fishing tip ups success will increase.  And it won’t be long until the repeated and resounding shouts of “FLAAAAAG!!!” will echo across the hardwater surface of your favorite lake…in our outdoors.


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