By Larry Smith - December 1, 2002
Tip-Ups are one of the most popular and effective ways to ice fish. They will catch a variety of fish provided the angler knows how to rig them for maximum effectiveness.
Monofilaments are not well suited for this type of fishing. Spool up with a quality braided line or one of the special coated lines designed for tip-ups. A 30-40lb test line is adequate. These lines handle easier in cold weather and are less prone to tangle on the ice.
For Walleye and other game fish a mono leader is preferred. To allow the use of a mono leader tie a small barrel swivel to your braided main line. This will allow you to attach your mono leader. Use about a three-foot section of 8lb. test in clear or clear green color. In extremely clear water with shy fish, the use of a fluorocarbon leader can make a big difference. Fluorocarbon line is practically invisible underwater. Use of a smaller #8-#10 finer wire treble hook provides a more natural presentation and will increase your percentage of hook-ups.
For Northern Pike use a "quick strike" style braided steel leader. Available in different lengths and hook styles, they allow instant hook-sets with less chance of deeply hooking and injuring fish that may be released.
Split shot or twist on rubber core sinkers work fine. Use just enough weight to keep the bait in the strike zone. Winter fish are not overly aggressive and less prone to chase bait. Keep the weights closer to the bait (4"5") to prevent the bait from swimming up and away from the fish.
Setting The Depth
Different conditions can dictate where to set your bait. General rule of thumb is to keep the bait within a foot or two of the bottom or above the tops of dense weeds so the fish can see the bait.
Let the fish tell you where they want the bait. Walleyes can be fussy at times and want the bait just inches off the bottom. Experiment with different depths until you establish a pattern. Once a productive depth is found make sure to mark the depth so you can automatically return to that exact depth. Simply attach a tiny clip-on bobber to the line to mark the depth that's most productive.
No matter what species of fish you're after, you can be more successful by regularly checking your tip-ups. Check the bait, change depths and move your tip-ups around to find active fish. Make sure your tip-ups are readily accessible and not too far a distance away. Many times fish will strike and move off with the bait only to drop it a short distance later. By being closer to your set-ups, your hook-up percentage will improve.
Locate drop-offs and weed lines adjacent to deeper water, which are natural migration points for game fish. Spread your tip-ups along these breaks to find the active fish. When first setting up, spread out your tip-ups to cover a wider area. You can cover more water in search of active fish. Once an active spot is found you can then concentrate your spread.
Along with being a television personality and professional angler, Larry Smith is the owner of Strike Master Guide Service
located out of Berlin, Wisconsin.