Preparation is the ultimate key to success in any type of fishing, but when it comes to ice fishing, it is even more important. Ice and winter weather are hard on tip-ups, spools, line, and leaders. Spending a little time getting your gear ready before you hit the ice will help you capitalize on opportunities to actually catch fish.
We all love early ice and fishing tip-ups for walleyes and pike. Time and time again, I fish with friends who pull their tip-ups from the garage the day before we head to the lake without any preparation, yet expecting success. Sooner or later, they are struggling with rusty spools and busted lines while I am catching fish. Tend to your tip-ups at the end and the beginning of the season and you will be enjoying reeling in fish rather than re-tying line.
Tending to my Beaver Dam tip-ups is quite easy. At the end of the year, I strip the line from the spool to make sure it is dry before I spool it back on. Tip-up line loves to hold water, which can cause the biggest problems. If you just put them away, you increase the chance for your tip-ups to become rusty and any winter walleye can tell the difference between a rusty spool and a smooth spool. Then prior to the season, just to be sure there was no water intrusion, I make sure each
Beaver Dam gets a little shot of some grease, making sure each spool freely moves. I like Beaver Dam No-Freeze Grease
that is specifically formulated for winter use. It is used in Beaver Dams, but works great on any tip-up, and gives added confidence that we get hooked up with each pop of the flag. If you are a person that prefers round tip-ups over rail style, this year Beaver Dam has introduced round tip-ups in both 10 and 12 inch diameter
. These tip-ups have the same smooth running metal shaft/spool as the originals and incorporate both wood and a slip-proof rubber layer to ensure an ice hole remains insulated in windy or cold weather. Unlike plastic, the heavier wood design prevents wind from lifting the tip-up edges which means no snow in the hole or spooked fish from loud rattling!
This same preparation should go to the leaders used on the tip-ups as well. Ice is hard on line, especially when you are free spooling a running fish. Nicks are common and replacement is a must. When Northern Pike are the game-fish of choice, they can be worse than the ice itself. Another reason to check and replace leaders is because of age. Mono or Fluoro can become brittle with age. A quick look and tension test by pulling in your hands will show you if you need replacement. These reasons are why I change leaders and my line on tip-ups as well as all of my jigging rods often, throughout the season itself and always before the start of the new season.
To make preparation easier, I like to have pre-tied leaders at the ready, having them wrapped around a cut off piece of swim noodle for quick changes when needed. For pike fishing, this is even easier, as Beaver Dam has new pre-tied leaders, both in Fluorocarbon and Liquid Steel depending on your preference. For walleyes, I use Beaver Dam leaders in the smaller diameter fluoro and store them the same way. Toss these into your tip-up bucket or box, and you're set for the season. Another trick is tying a small, but strong, swivel to the end of your tip-up line, allowing you to change out from walleye gear to pike gear, on the same tip-ups.
While ice and winter weather are tough on any angler, remember a good saying - "We cannot control the weather, but we certainly can control how our gear can handle the weather." This season, take some time beforehand to make these few pre-season preparations, and encourage your ice fishing buddies to do the same. With that, you all can be sure your gear will work properly and the fish-catching will be the easy part.
Have a great start to your ICE SEASON!
Jim Hudson is a fully licensed guide and USCG captain born in Northern Wisconsin. Jim is a college graduate in the field of natural resources and has dedicated himself in the conservation of our natural resources and the sport of fishing. All of this has allowed Jim to become a trusted face in the fishing community, where he is a regular guest on John Gillespies Water and Woods, The Next Bite, Northland Adventures, Butch Furtman's Sportsman's Journal, featured in many of the top fishing publications, and is a pro-staffer and product consultant for many of the top fishing related companies that lead the way for the modern angler.