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Best Tips for Tip Ups: Catching More Fish Through the Ice

If there’s one thing all ice anglers can agree on, it’s that tip ups are an effective way to cover a lot of hard water no matter how cold the weather is. And if the thought of a lake packed with pike and walleye, but covered in ice and snow, gets your heart pounding, we feel you!

To get the most from your tip ups, they demand a touch of routine maintenance and just a bit of know-how.

Do you know how often you should re-lubricate your spools? Are you sure you’ve got the best strategy to ensure you can see your flags? Was last winter not as productive as you’d have liked--and you’re not sure why?

Keep reading to find out!

Check out the rest of our ice fishing tips!

Tip Up Basics

Tip ups are a time-tested way to catch fish through the hard water.

Essentially, all tip ups rely on the same basic parts: a spool that runs lines beneath the ice to your terminal tackle, a flag that signals a hit, and a base that keeps the tip up in place.

Simple but effective, tip ups are an effective way to cover a lot of water, maximizing your chances to catch panfish, trout, walleye, pike, and anything else that’s biting in cold water.

Check out our guide for buying the best ice fishing tip ups!

Take Care of Your Tip Ups, and They’ll Take Care of You!

As simple as tip ups are, they still require some maintenance and care to perform.

As the days grow shorter and you get ready for ice-over, it’s time to dig out your buckets and take a hard look at your tip ups. Assess their condition, looking for things like cracked bases and worn or torn flags.

It’s also important to think about lubrication. The factory-applied lubricants don’t last forever, and a few seasons in frigid water means that it’s time for some basic maintenance. I don’t recommend re-lubrication every year--although that’s not a bad idea--but at least every two to three years, it’s time for spool disassembly and re-lubrication.

Skip the WD-40, though! You need a purpose-designed product like Beaver Dam’s No-Freeze Grease.

Each brand of tip up is a little different, so be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

If you’re really lost as to how to get started, this video provides an excellent guide to the ever-popular Beaver Dam Original.

It’s also critical that you spool your tip up correctly, and unfortunately, if you’re new to ice fishing, that may be confusing, too.

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to spool a tip up with the help of a cordless drill:

Our Top Tips to Ensure Success with Your Tip Ups

Once you’ve got your tip ups in prime shape, spooled properly, and ready to fish, there are five tips to keep in mind to maximize your success.

Light is Not Your Friend

When you auger a hole in the ice and place your tip ups, it’s important to consider the effect that all that light pouring through the hole will have.

Species like pike are low-light predators, relying on excellent vision to target prey. Once the water is hard, they’ll cruise relatively shallow, looking to trap prey against the frozen surface. But one thing they don’t like is a spotlight on their hunting activity!

As many seasoned ice anglers can attest, if you run the same tip ups through the same number of holes, but cover half of them, pike are far more likely to hit the covered lines.

It’s imperative that you take this seriously, and whether you choose to backfill your holes with snow, use a product like the ThermaSeat, make your own cover from plywood and rubber roofing material, or choose a thermal-style tip up like the HT Polar, mitigating the light that’s penetrating the water column is critical.

Some sort of cover to shield the water is essential, and if you take the time and effort to reduce the light, you’ll find that your tip ups become way more effective.

Flag Visibility is Key

Tip ups allow ice anglers to run lots of lines (always check local laws to ensure that you’re running a legal number!!!), and they rely on flags to alert waiting fishermen to strikes.

But if you can’t see the flag, you’ll miss fish--no question.

If you fish in areas where the snowfall is extreme, it may be a good idea to invest in a staple of ice fishing hailing from places like Maine: the Heritage Laker Ice Trap.

Designed to provide extreme visibility when the snow is deep, they stretch 45 inches high with the flag up. And when the snow is blowing into drifts, you’ll be glad to have every inch of that!

It’s important, too, to keep your flags in good shape, but let’s be honest: even the brightest orange can become nearly invisible in the gloom of a winter evening.

The solution: a tip up light that activates when the flag pops up.

Available in red, blue, and green, you’re going to see these from your truck or pop-up, no question--however bad the light is.

Vibration is a No-No

Lots of anglers are scared to spook fish on the open water, but far too many ice anglers don’t share that concern.

When you walk around your holes, your footsteps transmit vibration to the water below. And believe me when I say that makes a difference!

Once you’ve set your tip ups, resist the temptation to check them more than every 30 to 45 minutes. Yes, you want to know if they’ve iced-over or if your bait has been stolen, but frequent visits to the hole will kill your tip ups’ productivity.

Leaders: When and How to Use Them

Plenty of ice anglers run the Dacron line that comes with their tip up directly to their terminal tackle, and it’s true that pike--in particular--aren’t especially line shy.

That said, I strongly recommend that you use a leader for all species.


It never hurts to decrease line visibility--ever--and that Dacron does inhibit the action of live bait.

My recommendation is a tough monofilament. For panfish, standard line weights will be just fine, say 6- to 8-pound test. For walleye, I’d step up to 10- to 15-pound mono. And for bruisers like pike and lake trout, I’d start at about 60-pound test.

Why mono rather than fluorocarbon?

Fluorocarbon offers almost no advantage over mono for tip ups. Mono offers superior shock strength and abrasion-resistance, ties easily, and is as low-visibility as you can get.

I recommend at least a few feet of leader, joining it to your main line with a Double Uni knot, and some anglers like to add a swivel to improve line twisting and knotting when running live bait.

It’s a simple fact: run a leader, and you’ll catch more fish on your tip ups.

Hook Size: Is Smaller Better?

Old, rusty, dull hooks should go where they belong: into the trash.

Always use new, sharp hooks from companies like Gamakatsu and Eagle Claw.

A sharp, high-quality hook will improve your hit to hook-up ratio, especially since tip ups depend on good hooks, perhaps even a tad more than rod and reel fishing.

Big hooks are sometimes the right choice in warm water, but not for ice fishing with tip ups. I tend to size-down, and that’s true whether I’m running a treble hook for pike and walleye, or a single hook for panfish (with the exception of crappie).

As Pat Kalmerton explains, “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.”

And like Matt Straw and Dave Genz advise, “The bait should be balanced with the weight of the jig and the hook size. Small, delicate baits like maggots and nymphs (wigglers) in most cases require small, thin hooks, in sizes ranging from #12 to #10 on jigs ranging from 1/250 ounce to 1/64 ounce.

Larger hooks tear maggots, but with the barb pinched down, three maggots can be slipped onto a #8 hook to balance with jigs up to 1/32 ounce. Poppers (larger maggots) balance well with slightly heavier heads and a variety of hook sizes. Waxworms work best on a #8 or even a short-shank #6 hook, and jigs should weigh at least 1/80 ounce, or the bait overbalances the jig.”

Final Thoughts

Tip ups are an ice angler’s best friend, and they can keep you catching no matter how nasty the weather.

But to get the most from your tip ups, you need to take care of them and rig ‘em right.

We hope these tips help you catch more fish this winter, and as always, we’d love to hear from you!

About The Author
Pete Danylewycz