If you’re a winter pike angler, you probably use one or more tip ups to present deadbaits on quick strike rigs. It’s like setting a trapline in a productive area—likely a main-lake weedbed or shoreline point—and waiting for a flag to pop up, indicating a strike. Amble on over to the tip-up, gingerly lift it out of the hole, grasp the line to feel for the presence of a fish, take up the slack, and set the hook! At that point, it’s hand-over-hand, playing the fish to the hole. If it runs, let the line slip under pressure between your fingertips, self-adjusting tension like a human drag.
Many anglers fail to realize, however, that tip ups aren’t just for pike—but also walleyes, bass—and potentially even panfish or trout (where legal)! Any place you can set a bobber rig in a hole will likely be a great place to try fishing with a tip up. The fact is, you can set multiple tip ups in good locations, greatly expanding your range and efficiency.
Why fish one line when you can fish several? In Minnesota, you’re allowed to fish two lines through the ice in most locations. (Regulations for border waters, Great Lakes waters and waters with special regulations may vary; always check in advance.) In Wisconsin and Michigan, it’s three. And in the Dakotas, a generous four. So the real question is, how can you afford not to fish tip ups, given their advantage of fishing unattended lines for you? Tip ups are like your wingman—make that wingmen—providing an extra arm or arms to fish additional holes.
In certain areas of the Dakotas, tip ups might, in fact, be the primary method for catching walleyes through the ice. Just nick a treble hook through a live minnow’s back, and send it down the hole. If you like, jig another rod while the satellite minnow does the work for you.
Panfish are perhaps a bit trickier, since they’re notoriously light biters. That’s why panfish anglers tend to use sensitive slip floats or deadsticks when fishing unattended lines. But for fishing holes at a distance, well, tip ups with small single hooks, baited with waxworms or other delicacy are highly visible, and just might be an option.
Start by spooling some backup Dacron line on your spool. Continue on with a full spool of Dacron, or tie in flyline or tip up line as your main line; something that’s easy to grab by hand in the cold. Then attach a short fluorocarbon leader of choice, varying the pound test depending on the species you’re after. Plus the appropriate size hook, of course.
In all cases, the basic idea is to attach a depth finder weight to your hook, and send it down to the bottom. Then grasp the line at the water line, lift the line about two feet, and mark it at that point by attaching a tiny bobber, adjusting a slip bobber knot, or other form of indicator. Next, fingertip-rotate the spool until the indicator is right up next to the spool of line. Now, retrieve your line, take the depth finder off your hook, add any necessary sinkers to your leader, and bait up.
When you place the weighted/baited line, spool and shaft down into the hole, resting the tip up atop the ice, your baited hook will settle to and rest about a foot off bottom—in perfect position to attract a fish’s attention. Depress and set the flag beneath the pin at the top of the rotating shaft—much like setting a sensitive mouse trap—and you’re fishing. It won’t set the hook for you, like a trap, but it does set the stage for action.
Now, all you need do is wait for a flag to pop. If you’re fishing in a crowd, you don’t even have to be that attentive, because someone will always yell, “Tip up!” when a flag pops, even if it’s not their own. It’s like having free bite indicators out there working for you.
At lowlight or during the night, battery-powered lights attached to tip ups indicate bites under cover of darkness. Something to invest in if you’re after light-sensitive walleyes—or maybe even slab crappies.
Use ‘em or don’t—it’s up to you. If you’re a purist who prefers handholding a rod, working a lure and feeling strikes, more power to you. But if you don’t mind a backup squadron of lines simultaneously fishing for you, well, tip ups are relatively cheap, easy to fish, and deadly effective for catching fish through the ice.