Tip Up Basics 
By Daniel Kiazyk

It seems to happen more often than not, but a lowly "tip up" will out-fish even the best fisherman… Why? Well, I believe there's a number of reasons, reasons that make them worthy of a second look. By the way I'm not receiving any money for this endorsement of the tip-up and if you're not using one I suggest they are worth a second if not a third long look! Hey who out there isn't trying to improve their odds at a few more fish anyway?

Fish Trap

It's been said on this or that T.V. show (infomercials) that this or that piece of tackle is a better mousetrap. Well, the modern tip-up is one piece of equipment in my opinion that rightfully fits into the latter category of being a better mouse trap in so far as it will generally increase your odds for a few more fish in many situations. These at once old/new devices have many qualities that put them light years beyond the old willow branch (a long revered and in some instances deadly form of tip-up). Consider the pressure packed lubricated tube that runs down below the waters surface and is nearly always guaranteed to run freely when a fish picks up and runs with a bait, ultimately not spooking the fish and making it that much easier to hook, fight, bring up on the ice. Ok I've seen some guys pull up their tip ups, leave them too long exposed to the frigid winter weather conditions and tell me…"see they don't work!" Well to be quite frank any piece of equipment is likely not to work when exposed to temperatures below minus 30 F. But the long and the short of this discussion is that the newer models do work well, rather well, I might add.

To see a bit more about the "why" of the effectiveness of these fishing tools one has only to look at some innovations that have occurred of late with the tip-up. One of the most recent innovations that has caught many a northerner's eye involves an effort to combat one of the tip ups greatest enemies – a frozen hole (with tip-up in it to boot!). These new models insulate an open hole, keeping it "more" open in even the coldest weather. I don't know about you but having to bust through two inches of ice with a gloved hand when you've got a fish running is not necessarily the best scenario. (It actually brings to mind an experience I've had when out on Buffalo bay LOTW and I'm sure I lost a big pike because I had to make noise breaking the ice to lift the tip-up. And when the pike heard the noise he drop the bait like yesterday's news). Moreover flags on newer models, – those sentinels that advert our attention to a bite- can now also be extended or even illuminated or even made to make a sound once set off (in case of those fish who wish to take advantage of a night bite or sitting/sleeping in the truck!). Last but not least the actual base of many tip ups has been built of materials and with such a shape that they don't freeze into the ice, rot, and are quite easier to pick up from where they've been put down. To be quite honest tip ups are light years beyond what they were in the past and they really deserve a second look from any serious ice fisherman. Many of the little quirks with these devices have been worked out of the equation which only means your chances of picking up fish have been substantially increase – at least when they bite and are on a tip-up's hook.


Well, there are a few components that I consider essential when picking up a new trap. Spool size is important. For pike, I'll make sure there's a larger spool, capable of taking a couple hundred more yards of line. Believe it or not, but the availability of parts for a tip up is another significant consideration for any tip up that I'll buy. Rattling, cold weather stresses, and sometimes neglect, or just being frozen can wreak havoc on a unit. I've found that over the years being able to buy parts has helped me to maintain equipment, rather than having to purchase anew. Some of the other items that I'll look for when making repairs on my tip ups are as follows: Flags grow dull and in some cases tattered, nuts, grommets, washers are always in need. One last note, if the unit fails (usually this involves water entry into the center tube) I'll generally replace the tip up.


Before I'll actually get into a discussion of some of the little tricks for this or that set up, I should say that there are times when fishing for certain species or for that matter fishing in general can improved or enhanced by using a tip-up.

Spring pike coming to bays where they will be spawning generally are very susceptible to the tip up and the offerings that we'll hang below them. The tip-up's dead stick action doesn't spook those big girls as does a jigged chunk of bait. I say the latter given years of experience where we've very rarely caught a late season monster pike on a jigging rod and have caught "many" on a tip-up. Basically you can't argue with experience in that matter.

As for walleye I've seen mid season action (and success for that matter) depend on the presence of tip-ups. In this scenario the fish are starting to become very lethargic and for whatever reason in this mode they'll generally go after a tip-up set vs. a jigged offering. What am I suggesting well it's simple…. you've got to give the fish what they want!

Having said that the tip-up is an effective tool for particular species at this or that time of year is all well and good but then there's the next part of the story: How do you set one up so it can catch a fish? I'm not kidding when I say this as I know personally long time very proficient fishermen who have had little or no success with their tip-ups. In a general way this part of the game remains a mystery to many and a treasured secret to a few.

Where do you start? A weighting/set system with an alligator clip can help you set a bait to that sweet spot that is producing fish is an excellent place to start. Making your own set weigh isn't all that hard at all. A half ounce bell weight, an alligator clip, solder and voila, you've got the basics required for production. Solder the two together and if you are so inclined paint the weight your favorite color. I believe in painting my set weight as it seems to blend in with the baits I'm setting. I've even seen (actually more often than you'd imagine) fish take my bait with the set weight attached. Now in this latter case fish are reacting to movement somewhat of an irony given the propensity of a tip-up to deliver a "still" bait

The actual process of setting a bait is of course dependant on personal preference, but a few tips might be in order to those who want to use them a little more effectively.

1) Clip the set weight over the line allowing it to slide down to the bait you're goingto use.

2) On those sets where you are going to be using a combo of Dacron an a mono leader with a swivel connecting them, your set weight isn't going to slide down all the way. You'll have to put the set weight on the leader section before putting the bait down.

3) In early season and at the end of the ice season when fish are aggressive,generally I won't put a tip up set more than a turn and a half above the bottom. By using the trip mechanism and turning it one and a half turns I will be able to set the bait with some consistency (pattern). If the bite does pan out, you will then be able to reset with greater consistency. If fish are suspended as they can be with certain species having your vexilar in the hole to suspend/set the bait at whatever level is appropriate is very helpful – pulling the vexilar out when set up is also no problem.

4) The actual bait/hook I prefer to use is actually be lighter than what I'll use for jigging. I feel a lighter bait is better for tip ups as it allows fish to inhale and bite down on the bait with less resistance. Of course the newer quick strike rigs hooked up with either treble hooks on the partridge style hook work very well to not hurt a fish.

For walleye in particular, I'll use a very light jig and stinger combo. The most significant "trick" to hooking up more walleye is how you "hook-up" your bait. Play with this one and experiment beyond what you've normally done for regular jigging. (OK that's about all I'm going to divulge – people hire me for something!)

5) Line also merits a bit of consideration. I've found for walleye thatmono/fluorocarbon work best while pike don't seem to mind Dacron. I do like Dacron on my tip up as it makes pulling a fish a bit easier and once a fish is released putting line back on a hole can be easier (that is if you don't leave it out for too long!) If I use a combo line approach, that is a mono leader to the bait, I'll attach the two lines with a small swivel. Three feet of fluorocarbon seems to do the trick for those mid winter blues making bait presentation near invisible. The downside to Dacron is that it can become overly stiff if you leave it out of the water too long.

Other tips

Four other tid-bits I'd add to this brief treatise on the virtues of the fish trap are simple yet significant if you like to use the tip up as much as I do.

Firstly on the line holder that directs line off the spool of the tip up, I'd recommend putting a piece of scotch tape around the tip up shaft, which in turn inhibits the line guide form spinning on the spool that has to turn – I believe some companies recommend this but if they don't give it a try. This little trick helps with the whole set up procedure (if you don't have this tape, the line guide mechanism will spin and not allow you to set your bait with precision).

Secondly, beneath the spool you can glue on a piece of cork. Why a piece of cork here? Well, instead of re-tying or leaving line loose after use it is possible to hook up loose baits to this piece of cork, keeping them out of the way of their other lines – tip ups etc when you've got to transport them.

Thirdly, a larger elastic band can also facilitate transport be keeping everything tied together. This method of keeping everything together works but in really cold weather I seem to break more elastics.

Finally, a bag dedicated to the transport of your tip ups can be very helpful. HT a company in Wisconsin seems to have understood the significance of this ideas by creating a series of bags to hold tip ups. If you don't use a bag, your pail that you'll use for sitting out on the ice will work as well.

Well enough said for the lowly tip up. Although a lot more can be said about why and where tip ups work. It's a matter of getting out there (there's the teacher in this critter), to experiment and have some fun watching those flags do their thing!