Tip up fishing is one of the most common ways to target larger species of fish through the ice. The iconic scene of a few people huddled together amidst a spread of tip ups is what comes to mind when we talk about this method of ice fishing. A conventional tip up is made of a wooden frame, a spool of line, and a flag and trigger system to let you know when you have a bite. A tip up is used to suspend real bait (live or dead) at a desired depth without having to hold a rod in your hand. Ice fishing with tip ups is the go-to technique for catching lethargic trophies during the winter because they allow you to spread out multiple offers at various depths.
How to Set Up a Tip Up
First you need to rig up your tip up system. Start by lining the spool with 50 to 65 pound test braided tip up line. Be sure to tie the line to the spool using an arbor knot the same way you would to spool a spinning reel. Wrap the line evenly around the tip up spool in the clockwise direction. We like to tie on a duolock snap to the end of your braided line to easily switch out a monofilament, fluorocarbon or steel leader. Add a split shot weight above the snap on your braided line depending on the size of your bait. The aided weight keeps your live bait from darting away from a predator or getting hung up in debris. Attach a tip up rig to your snap as outlined in the following section depending on your target species.
Now that you have line on your tip up, you’re ready to set it up. Use a clip on depth finder like the one in our ice fishing kit to measure the depth in the hole. Clip the depth finder weight onto the un-baited hook rig and lower into the ice hole until it hits the bottom and the line goes slack. Pull the line up 12”-18” and and wrap a loop around the knob of your spool. When you drop the rig back down with bait you can stop at this depth so it sits off the bottom. Bait your rig and let it down into the water. Drop the line back down until you reach the loop on your knob. Finally, set your flag on the indent of the metal rod so that when the line spools out the flag is tripped. Test the spool so it turns with light pressure and sets off the flag before you move on to the next tip up.
Tip Up Ice Fishing Rigs and Tackle
The business end of a tip up varies depending on what larger fish species you are targeting. While it is possible to catch smaller species like perch, panfish and crappie, they generally lack the power to trip a flag. We recommend jigging for crappie and panfish with light tackle instead. Focus your tip up efforts on larger species like northern pike, walleye, and lake trout. While these species are powerful enough to trip the flag, they each have different feeding preferences which should be accounted for when rigging up your tip up.
Quick Strike Rig for Pike:
The quick strike rig is the most common rig to hook up with big Pike. A basic quick strike rig consists of two treble hooks, a leader made of monofilament or steel line, split shot, and a swivel or snap. This rig allows you to put one hook near the tail of the bait and one near the head so that the bait lays horizontal and naturally wounded. Although the hookup ratio is seldom 100%, this rig ups your odds by having a treble hook in each end of your bait.
Jig and Fluorocarbon Leader for Walleye:
A demon jig with a fluorocarbon leader is one of our favorite rigs for flagging trophy walleye ice fishing. This rig consists of tying a 3-4ft leader of 8-12 pound test fluorocarbon from the snap to a demon jig. Hook the demon jig through the minnow near the dorsal fin so that it hangs horizontally in the water. The added color or flash of the demon jig when the minnow swims will entice strikes from weary walleye.
Single Treble Hook Rig for Lake Trout:
Lake trout are one of the largest trophies to catch through the ice. We like to use a single treble hook rig for targeting them. The single treble hook rig consists of a 4ft long monofilament or fluorocarbon leader, a split shot, and a treble hook. A lively minnow is required to call in roaming lakers. A single treble hook enables a strong set into the tough mouth of a lake trout, but we prefer not to use two treble hooks as lake trout are wearier than pike.
Best Bait for Ice Fishing with Tip Ups
The best baits for ice fishing with tip ups are live shiners, shad, and suckers. Dead bait like frozen herring and raw chicken also make the list for trophy pike. Live minnows can be rigged on any of the aforementioned species rigs. Sometimes we like to hook live minnows through the backbone to give an injured baitfish presentation. Only rig dead bait such as frozen herring on quick strike rigs so that they hang in a natural, horizontal fashion. Using dead bait is critical if you are fishing where live minnows are not allowed. Live minnows will generally conjure more bites, however dead bait can be effective when zeroing in on the largest pike & musky.
Tactics for Covering Water
Covering water with your tip up spread is key to getting more bites and bigger fish. Drill holes in a zig zag or grid pattern to maximize coverage of structure and depth transitions. Plan out your spread based on the number of lines allowed in your water body. Use mapping, sonar electronics, and your depth finder to cover a mix of shallower, mid-depth and deeper water until you get some bites. Trophy fish wont always be in the same depth or area, so spread out and cover an effective range. A good rule of thumb is a 100 yard radius. Keep in mind you will need to get the tip up in time and change your baits out every hour.
Setting the Hook and Landing Fish
Flag up! Get over to the flag to see if a fish is swimming off with the bait. If the spool is spinning when you get to the hole, let the fish swim with it for a minute. When the spooling slows down, gently lift the tip up out and place on the side of the hole. Slowly pull the line with your dominant hand until it is taut, then use a hard tug to set the hook into the fish’s mouth. Use a hand over hand motion to pull the fish in a few feet at a time. Gently pull the fish upward and through the hole, steering the fish so it breaches head first. If you’re practicing catch and release, grab the fish with your free hand and keep it off the ice to prevent freezing. To let the fish go, remove the hook and gently lower the fish back into the hole head first. Keep your opposite hand on its tail as you guide the fish through the hole. Work the tail back and forth until the fish kicks down on its own.