Tip Up Ice Fishing
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Tip Up Ice Fishing


Familiar with tip up ice fishing? Brush up with our detailed info and try it yourself when you're ready.

Across the northern regions of America, lakes are freezing over and ice anglers are making moves to catch what they can.

Tip up ice fishing is a great way to increase the odds of catching fish while ice fishing. Multiple tip ups can be set up in an area, allowing the fishermen a greater probability to catch fish. Tip ups work great for crappie and other panfish, as well as big fish like walleye and northern pike.

Read on for tips and tricks for tip up ice angling beginners that will make the first season out there better and safer.

Ensuring Ice Thickness

The most important thing is to first ensure that the ice is safe to venture onto. The general rule is that ice needs to be four to five inches thick before it is safe to ice fish on. Most state regulatory agencies will release a statement when the ice is ready, but anglers can also check it themselves with an ice auger.


Be aware of what different ice conditions look like. Ice thickness can vary from one section to another, so be aware of the changes if moving around. Soft ice has a gray, dark or porous appearance, while thick (safe) ice has a bluish tint to it.

In some extremely cold, sub-zero conditions, tip up ice holes will freeze over, which prompted the marketing of "thermal tip ups," which place a cover over the hole and keep it from re-freezing.

Tip Up Ice Fishing Gear

Tip up ice fishing requires specific equipment. Each item has a certain purpose.

Ice Fishing Tip Ups: Tip ups are typically constructed of wood or plastic and designed to suspend a fishing line with a baited hook through an ice hole drilled in fish-friendly areas of the water body. A flag is fastened to a spring loaded trigger mechanism that releases when it is bitten by a fish. The fisherman is alerted to activity when the flag springs up. It's a convenient level of functionality to conserve time and energy.


There is a wide variety of tip ups on the market. Some tip ups have a bell that alerts anglers to a bite and some high end tip ups send a text to alert the angler of activity. Using a non-visual signal such as a bell or text is a good option for anglers that prefer to wait for action from the inside of an ice fishing shelter.

Tip up ice fishing does not utilize a rod or reel, so once a fish has taken a bite, the angler pulls the fish in by hand. Fishing line for tip ups can vary, as you can spool them with fluorocarbon, monofilament, or braid depending on your preference and the conditions.

Ice Auger: Ice augers are used to pierce through the ice to access the water below. Augers come in either manual or motorized styles. Manual augers are powered by elbow grease and are a more cost-effective option. Motorized augers are powered by a motor, typically either electric or gas. This option is quicker and less labor intensive, although motorized augers do generally cost more than manual augers.

Bait for Tip Ups

A popular method for tip up ice fishing is to use live bait. Tip ups are unlike a traditional ice fishing rod and reel combo where the angler can jig the pole up and down to entice the fish. Tip ups are immobile structures. Live bait creates the motion that attracts fish to bite.


Depending on where they are located, many anglers use smelt, suckers, shiners, minnows, and shad fish. Artificial lures are not unheard of in the tip up space, but they're a lot less common.

It is not uncommon to have to wait several hours for a bite on tip up. Rebait the line every hour or two to optimize movement, avoid dead bait, and produce the best results.

Keeping Warm on the Ice

Ice fishing is a cold weather activity. Between sub-freezing temperatures, wind exposure from being on an icy lake surface, and harsh weather conditions, anglers can become chilled quickly. Two elements make the difference in staying comfortable while ice fishing - good apparel and a quality ice shelter.

Many retailers make high quality cold weather fishing apparel. There are many options but when compiling cold weather apparel make sure to include some basics such as bibs, jacket, insulated footwear with good traction, comfortable gloves, a warm hat, face protection, and a good base layer.


Beyond proper clothing, many ice anglers employ the use of ice shelters.

Ice shelters, often called shanties, are portable structures that are hauled onto the ice and set up, either for a day or sometimes for the season, to block the wind and keep anglers safe and sheltered. Some anglers also set up portable heaters inside the shelters for added warmth.

Tip up ice fishing can be a fantastic way to get outdoors in the winter months and scratch the itch for some fun fishing action down a deep ice hole. Proper preparation should ensure a safe, comfortable, and successful first season using tip ups for ice fishing. The best ice fishing tip ups for one angler might be different for another, so try some out and determine what you prefer.



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