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How to Use Tip-Ups for Northern Pike

Ryan Lisson

Using tip-ups is a great way to add variety to your ice fishing tactics.

When you get tired of watching a bobber float around the hole or your arm gets tired of jigging a rod, try your luck at using a tip-up. Every ice angler should have a couple of these simple yet effective pieces of equipment in their arsenal.

For those requiring a lesson in tip-up anatomy and use, the basic mechanics are as follows. A reel is suspended into the hole, which is attached to a flag. When a fish bites the lure and takes line out, the flag flips up to alert you. Then it’s up to you to set the hook and pull the line in hand over hand.

Though you can use this gear to effectively catch walleye and bass as well, this article mostly pertains to northern pike. With their mouthful of sharp teeth and powerful fight, some heavier duty gear is recommended.


Tip-Up Gear

As far as tip-up designs, I like hole-covering versions like the HT Enterprises Polar Therm so that you don’t spend your day scooping ice out of the hole. I typically spool about 50 yards of 30-40 pound test braided Dacron or nylon line onto the reel. Avoid monofilament line unless you want to cut your fingers when you hook into a lunker.

For northern pike, tie on a braided steel leader to ensure they don’t bite through your line. From here, you can use a multitude of hooks or jigs. I generally use Quickset leader/hook rigs and bait them with sucker minnows once near the head and once through the dorsal fin.


More from Wide Open Spaces:

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Tip-Up Placement and Action

When pursuing northern pike, focus on areas near weed beds or in shallow canals where pike might be feeding suspended. Generally focus on areas 6-15 feet deep, and set the minnow about three to four feet under the ice. Start by drilling holes about 15-20 yards apart and place your tip-ups, adjusting as the fish activity dictates.

After setting them, the waiting game ensues. This is the perk of tip-up fishing: you can gather with friends and family in a central spot and all watch for each other’s flags. In the meantime, cook some lunch, eat some snacks, drink your favorite beverage, etc. and wait for someone to call the magic words: “Flag up!”


As you approach your flag, wait for the reel to stop spinning (fish taking line) and then give yourself some slack line. You don’t want to spook the fish, so gently start pulling line in hand over hand until you feel resistance. Set the hook firmly and pull the fish in, being careful as it nears the hole to not bump it against the ice and dislodge the hook.

Congratulations on your northern pike! Now just repeat and enjoy!

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All images by Ryan Lisson

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How to Use Tip-Ups for Northern Pike