Trophy Tip-Up Tips

By Dale Helgeson - February 1, 2005

The ice is here and you want to get into some bigger fish through the ice. There are several options from the great sturgeon spearing on Lake Winnebago to jigging up trophy walleyes on the Mud Flats of Mille Lacs. But the number one preferred way to chase trophy fish through the ice is with tip-ups.

Tip-ups come in many different shapes and sizes from stick tip-ups, wood tip-ups, to plastic tip-ups. I prefer to use Frabill Pro Thermal tip-ups. They are insulated round plastic tip-ups that cover the hole. Being orange they are visible from a great distance above the ice but the bottom of them is mainly white insulation so it will blend in with the snow on the ice. Covering the hole with an insulated tip-up will help in keeping the hole from freezing as fast too. They are the easiest tip-up to store too being able to stack up to 7 in a 5 gallon bucket.

Use a flexible 15-30 pound Teflon coated nylon line on my tip-up spools and will either tie 12 pound monofilament or PowerPro onto the line as a leader. I have leaned away from the steel leaders as I get more bites from using the PowerPro or mono. Mono does produce more of a risk of a bite off than PowerPro though. I like to use at least a three foot leader.

Once your line is setup I try to use Daiichi Bleeding treble hooks in the size 4-10 depending on the species targeted and bait being used. I will also use a single Daiichi bleeding hook for walleyes. Then place a small split shot just large enough to sink your bait into position. Take several different sizes with you so you can change them quickly. The Pro Thermal tip-up has a compartment built into it for storing extra hooks and sinkers as well as bobber markers that I like to use to mark my line after I get it setup at the proper depth.

As far as baits it depends on the species that you are trying to catch and the body of water. For walleyes try to use large fatheads, or small shiners, for bass use small to large shiners, and for northern pike use large shiners or roaches or my personal favorite dead smelt. Also check your regulations and if you can catch some small pan fish they make excellent bait as well but usually you can only use them in the lake for which they are caught so check your regulations carefully.

Where to put the tip-ups? Look for weed edges near drop offs. Almost every species of large game fish species will patrol these edges for food. Don't be afraid to put some in very shallow water though on the inside edge of the weeds as many large pike come out of less than 5 feet of water. I tend to fish near points or some other type of structure on the bottom as well, such as a hump or hole. If you can find a pocket in the weeds especially with a sand bottom it can be great for bass and northern pike. I like to use my Vexilar FL18 to shoot through the ice before I start to drill any holes. Just clear away any snow and out a little water from your minnow bucket on the ice and you will be able to read right through the ice to check for weeds without having to drill a hole.

Once you find your locations drill your holes. If the ice is less than 10 inches I would recommend using a StrikeMaster Lazer hand auger but when the ice gets above 10 inches I use my StrikeMaster Lazer224 power auger to zip right through the ice. They are both the fastest augers in their classes which mean less time drilling and more time fishing.

Once your holes are drilled in the proper locations it is time to set your lines. I will use my Vexilar FL18 again to help set my depths if you don't have one use a snap weight depth finder. If using a snap weight mark your line with a small bobber and reel in the slack. I will put my desired bait on and send it down the hole until it gets to the desired depth that I want to fish. Using the Vexilar, once my bait is at the desired depth then put the bobber on for fast resetting.

For walleyes I tend to have my baits a foot off the bottom not more than 18 inches. Bass I will start at 18 inches and go up to three feet depending on water depth and weed cover. In heavy weeds I will put them just above the weeds. Northern pike I tend to put them 2-3 feet off bottom unless using smelt which I will sometimes put within a foot of the bottom as they will go pick up dead bait off the bottom.

I hook my fatheads and shiners behind the dorsal fin so they will swim away from the hole and downward. If hook toward the head they tend to swim upward toward the hole. Smelt are usually hooked in the middle so they are horizontal. A nail may be used to sink them if they do not sink on their own. I will also put a slit in their bellies to creat more scent in the water.

When using smelt it is a lot cheaper to buy it in bulk from a reputable bait dealer. I use Vados Bait Express www.vadosbait.com for most of my bait needs. You can repack them and freeze them for future use and it will save you a lot of money in the process.

Once your lines are at the desired depths then I use a small bobber to mark my line so when I get a flag I can easily reset my line to the same depth.

Try some of theses tips next time you are out ice fishing and best of luck. Remember to be safe and check the ice conditions before traversing onto new ice.

Take a kid or someone new to the sport out with you and create your own outdoor experiences.

Author Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson is owner and operator of The Outdoor Experience Guide Service focusing on lakes in southeastern Wisconsin. Dale is a professional fisherman fishings the MWC walleye fishing circuits as well as writing articles for Lake-Link and Southeast Wisconsin Outdoor Guide among others. Dale is sponsored by these fine sponsors: Geneva Cabinet Company, Action Marine, DR Plastics, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Black Mountain Socks, RAM Mounts, Frabill, Pflueger Rods and Reels, Dave’s Kaboom Lures, Lake-Link.com, Kick’n Walleye Scents, Minn Kota, Strikemaster Augers, Mapping Specialists, Vexilar, Guest Pro Chargers, PowerPro Lines, KINeSYS Sunscreen, NPAA 872. His Pro Staffs include: Daiichi Hooks, XTools, FinTech Tackle Company, Off Shore Tackle, Navionics, Jammin Jigs/Bad Dog Lures