Tip-Ups And TeethBy Adam Walton - January 1, 2014
Let's first discuss gear. Having the correct equipment is crucial when chasing these trophy fish. Just like fishing rods, quality and durability should be a high priority when purchasing items. There are many tip-up brands on the market, but nothing compares to a trusty Beaver Dam. Beaver Dam tip-ups are handmade in Wisconsin and their quality components are built to last many generations. In fact, I still have my great grandfather's tip-ups that he purchased many years ago. Beaver Dam continues to offer their signature rail style tips-ups, but they have also expanded their product line. This includes round tip-ups, carry bags, Beaver Grip storage brackets, tip-up line, liquid steel leaders, and foam hole covers. These new products now offer anglers the whole package when it comes to getting set up.
We run all of our tip-ups with 25# braided line. When targeting large pike though, we use two different styles of tip-up rigging. The first way is with Beaver Dam's "Liquid steel" leaders tipped with 3" to 4" Black Tailed Chubs. Hooking the chub upside down, just in front of the anus, keeps the bait lively. Minnows and chubs do not like being upside down and will constant struggle in attempts to right themselves. The constant motion is obviously more enticing than bait hanging motionless. This single leader application works best when fish are finicky, since the leader's thin profile decreases its underwater visibility. This smaller profile also works well if you're looking to catch a mixed bag. Along with pike, walleye and bass will also strike this set up. If fish are more aggressive or if you're looking to strictly catch trophy pike, Northland Tackle's "Predator Rig" puts fish on ice. Made to hold large live bait, such as 6"-10" suckers, this steel "Y" type rig has dual leaders and treble hooks with added attractor blades to help lure fish. If fishing an area with an abundant small pike population, the "Predator Rig" will help keep them at bay so you can focus on the larger fish.Aqua-Vu Micro series, which is small enough to fit in your pocket, offers anglers a compact camera with recording capabilities. After drilling several scout holes, we drop the Aqua-Vu down and pan the area. Holes that do not look promising are filled back in with slush and good holes are marked with ice shaving piles or sticks. Since fishing shallow increases the likelihood of spooking fish, be sure to drill and mark plenty of areas right away. This allows you to quickly and quietly move tip-ups out of unproductive locations later. However, before moving a tip-up set, trying a few simple steps before pulling the plug on a hole. First, simply check your bait and make sure it's very lively. The key word here is "very". Many anglers fish with the same bait all day long, even though it lost its spunk hours ago. Shiners seem to be more sensitive than chubs or suckers, meaning they may need replacement more often. Secondly, try suspending the bait at different locations before moving a tip-up. Some pike cruise just below the ice and bait suspended below them will go unnoticed. A simple height adjustment could make all the difference.
Later in the season, bay areas that transition into marsh can also be very productive. Pike spawn in shallow marsh grass soon after the ice begins melting. They will congregate and stage in these near-by bays weeks before the spawn. During this time of year, weed cover is not as important since the pike are moving in to prepare for spawning rituals. In February through March we have had the most success fishing a large muddy bay that transitions into a marsh where the water depth is 3 feet or less and there are no weeds present. This location gives us consistent action area year after year.
Chasing pike can be very exhilarating and rewarding. The excitement not knowing what tripped your flag, the anticipation of a possible trophy fish on the line, and the hand to hand fight to the hole are all things you really don't get to experience in other types of ice fishing. Using the proper equipment and understanding pike behavior will increase your odds of landing a trophy this season.
Adam is currently a pro staff member with Crestliner Boats, Mercury Marine Motors, Northland Tackle, and Hard & Soft Fishing. He also a member of the Pure Fishing Select Angler Program and St Croix Guide Program.