By Pat Kalmerton
Tip-up fishing is a surefire way to cover lots of water quickly and ice just about anything that swims. But, like any fishing approach, it requires attention to detail.
Here are my top 10 do’s and don’ts to consistently produce fish when ice fishing tip-ups:
1. Do study the water and develop a game plan.
Take the time to study LakeMaster GPS maps and PC software like Contour Elite ahead of time to locate high-probability locations.
2. Do set up close to fish-holding structure.
Setting tip-ups right on top of weeds results in a tangled mess that fish will pass up. You also don’t want to spend all day in no-man’s land! Search out ambush locations like green weeds, breaks, river currents, bottom transitions, and other structure where baitfish hide, instead of directly on top or too far away.
3. Do choose the right tip-up for the job.
You need to have the right tip-up for your targeted species – or something versatile. The Frabill Dawg Bone can be used for both predators and panfish. For scouting panfish, simply adjust the shaft higher on the tip-up arm to release flag spring compression; this results in sensitivity to very light bites. When hunting larger predators, just make sure you push the shaft back down.
4. Do spread out your tip-ups.
Where you’re allowed more than one tip-up by law, fish different locations along any given structure, spreading them out as far as your state regulations allow. Imagine the ice as a grid. Position your tip-ups out from your base location along a break at different depths.
5. Do consider visibility.
Set your tip-ups in the same direction so, at a glance, you can see when one flag in a series trips. I like the pre-lubed Frabill Arctic Fire Rail Tip-Up for many situations. When faced with deep snow, I’ll choose a wooden classic tip-up with a long spool arm to reach the hole and ride the flag above the snow. When fishing in low-visibility situations, attach a tip-up light for easy detection.
6. Don’t forget about small hooks.
There’s a time and place for big hooks, but when in doubt, go smaller. For walleye, I size down to a #16 treble and usually opt for the extra flash of a gold Eagle Claw. For pike, I size up to a #12 treble.
7. Don’t fish dead weeds.
If you pull up your auger and the water’s full of plant matter that stinks, those are dying weeds. Baitfish and predators are drawn to vegetation that’s still producing oxygen, especially as winter progresses. Get to the buffet with the freshest salad and best baitfish!
8. Don’t limit your fishing window in the water column.
Some anglers put on a depth bomb, then come up six to eight inches for walleyes and two feet for pike. Instead, use your electronics to find the thermocline and baitfish to pinpoint where fish are feeding in the water column. In late winter, you may find that fish are up high, close to the ice, looking for water with more oxygen.
9. Don’t set your tip-up and forget it.
Walk around and make sure your tip-ups aren’t frozen in, there’s bait on your line, and it’s free of weeds. If you’re setting tip-ups for the evening “power hour,” think about using a Pro Thermal to keep your holes ice-free.
10. Don’t expect a weak hookset to get the job done.
Knowing when to set the hook, especially when you’re not sure when the tip-up flag tripped, can be difficult. Here’s the beauty of downsizing hooks (see #6) – most of the time, the fish doesn’t spit the bait because it doesn’t feel the metal. As soon as I know the fish is running away from me and I feel weight, I set the hook hard. Chances are you’re going to get a good gullet or corner-of-the-mouth hookset because that fish is committed to your bait!