Using tip-ups for ice-fishing trips

Recently, I wrote a story about using tip-ups for ice fishing for one of the Sunset Country Travel Association’s websites.
It was a story aimed at anglers visiting to our region and how they should consider bringing along a few tip-ups on their ice-fishing trips.
Tip-ups basically are an evolution of the popular “willow stick” that has been used as a way for ice anglers to hang a jig near the bottom. When a fish bit the jig, the stick would fold over, indicating a bite.
It’s a primitive method but it worked. The problem with it is fish don’t get any line to run with, so they would feel the line and drop the jig if the angler wasn’t quick to set the hook.
Tip-ups today come with a spool of line that hangs in the water beneath a device that includes a flag to indicate strikes. When a fish bites and pulls the line, the flag is tripped and the race is on to get to the hole to catch the fish.
Tip-ups come in a couple of different designs, including disc style, which cover the hole and help insulate it to slow the formation of ice.
Rail-style tip-ups work fine but when it’s chilly out, they require anglers to make the rounds every so often to keep the holes open. They also don’t store as easily as the disc style, which fit perfectly in a five-gallon bucket.
I only carry the disc-style tip-ups with me and the best one I’ve found is the Frabill Pro Thermal Round Tip-up.
Tip-ups are not the best for light line, finesse presentations that we typically use for panfish or smaller trout and walleye. But they handle heavier line very well and are better suited for larger predators like lake trout, larger walleye, and especially pike.
When it comes to spooling up your tip-up, I like to use heavy line, which is easier to handle and resists tangles. I like 30- or 40-pound test designed for using on tip-ups.
Heavy braided line will work fine but you should wear gloves when you pull a fish in with it because it can cut your fingers because of its tight weave and thin diameter compared to actual tip-up line.
For lighter presentations, I’ll just attach a lighter leader of mono or fluorocarbon line to the heavier tip-up line.
While tip-ups are used by anglers for walleye and trout, if you want to consistently put large pike on the ice, you need to add a couple of tip-ups to your arsenal.
Through all my years of ice fishing (my friends and I have a lot of days on the ice chasing pike), there is no better way to catch a big pike than by hanging a dead cisco or sucker minnow on a quick-strike rig beneath a tip-up.
The set-up is quite simple. I use a quick-strike rig, like the Northland Predator Rig (or you can make one yourself) and tie it directly to the heavy tip-up line. It comes with two treble hooks–one that I’ll hook through the back of the dead bait, near the dorsal fin, and another hook that I’ll attach near the head of the minnow.
The way the Predator Rig is designed, it hangs the bait in a natural fashion.
Let the bait to the bottom, then set it a foot or two above bottom and let it hang. Pike will find it, trust me! We have tried live minnows for this over the years but they simply do not work as well as dead baits for pike.
Throughout the mid-winter period, we catch trophy pike from time to time around the same spots we fish for walleye, but late winter is when things really heat up.
Pike become very predictable in the weeks leading up to ice-out as they set up in the first bit of deeper water outside of the shallow bays where they will spawn shortly after ice-out (this is usually in eight-15 feet of water).
This is best time of the whole year to catch a big pike–and using tip-ups is, by far, the best way to catch one!

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