A Beginner’s Guide to Tip-Up Ice Fishing & 7 Pro Tips To Level Up!

Tip-up ice fishing can be classified as the most interesting form of ice fishing. Its simple yet complex procedures give the angler the most fun on ice when they rush every once in a while to pull that fish when the flag pops up. 

But what is tip-up ice fishing? Tip-up ice fishing is a form of fishing that uses a device to suspend live bait or lures in different depths using multiple rods in order to cover a wide range of water as well as different potential depths.

Keep reading to know more about tip-up ice fishing through this complete and helpful guide!

What is Tip-Up Ice Fishing?

tip-up ice fishing example

Tip-up ice fishing is a method used by lots of anglers due to its convenience when they want to cover large areas with multiple rods at once. A tip-up is used to suspend live or frozen bait at a certain depth in the ice-hole during ice fishing. The flag can be detected when a fish hits a flag or the flag can announce that a fish has taken the bait by tipping up or down. 

Tip-ups are exceptionally effective in finding schools of fish roaming around more than deadsticking or actively jigging with one rod. The trick is to spread out in an efficient way and drill a hole in every prime spot in order to maximize your chances.

To increase your chances of success with Ice Fishing, you can check out my picks for the best Ice Fishing Rods here.

Types of tip-ups

  1. Hardwood tip-ups

It’s the most traditional type of tip-ups. From its name, it’s made of wood that is heavy enough to stay stable on the ice. It features a large, high-visibility flag that will help you easily locate your rod, therefore help you detect if a fish bit your lures. 

  1. Pro-thermal 

It consists of an innovative thickly insulated, round cover that goes over the ice fishing hole to prevent it from freezing over. That’s why it’s great for really snowy days out on the ice as it keeps snow out of the way. 

It’s also helpful for blocking out unwanted light that may spook the fish roaming around the shallows. They feature high visibility flags, so you’ll know when the fish are biting and in which location. 

  1. Wind tip-ups

The setting and trip mechanism on these is similar to any of the other tip-ups listed above. However, they are distinct in that the spool is elevated above the water and a small sail uses the wind to softly jig the lure up and down.

  1. Flat-board tip-ups

Its mechanism is made up of a shaft that runs perpendicular to the board and has a spool of line on one end and a trip bar on the other. A spring is fixed to one end of the frame, and a metal “flag post” to the spring.

Setting the flag involves putting the flag pole under the trip bar. When a fish bites, pulling the line spins the spool, which spins the shaft, which spins the trip bar. With nowhere to tie it back, the flag springs up, alerting the angler to the strike.

Is Tip-up ice fishing effective?

So, is Tip-up ice fishing effective? Yes, tip-up ice fishing is effective. It allows the angler to use multiple rods and baits suspended at various depths to cover a wide range of water while not having to maintain direct contact with the rods. It helps in detecting fish schools roaming around.

Tip-ups are beneficial for covering these vast spans because once set up, you can move to another area of the lake and continue fishing simply by watching them from a distance. You can also adjust your bait to be suspended at different depths to ensure a bite no matter where the fish are.

Pike, walleye, and panfish can all be caught on tip-ups with only a few small changes to the leader and fishing hook size required by each species. If you are not an experienced ice fishing angler, I definitely recommend checking out these Ice Fishing Safety Tips and this complete list of Ice Fishing gear, and even if you already have some experience under your belt, I think you will find these guides useful as well.

The Best 7 Tip-Ups you can find.

Knowing how effective it is, it’s essential for you to consider your choice of tip-ups really well in order to get the best of the experience. Choosing the correct tip-up depends on your ice fishing style and where you want to fish. Here are my favorite tip-ups of all time for you to choose from:

Beaver Dam Original Tip-Up

This one works exceptionally well in extreme conditions. The reason is that it has a freeze-proof and windproof finish that makes you use it on the coldest days with no problem. You can ensure that its handcrafted finish will fulfill your needs with efficiency and will stand against harsh conditions.

The only disadvantage it has is that it is more expensive than other tip-ups. However, if you think about it, it’s a great value for money considering how it long lasts and needs no maintenance for a long time.

You can check it on Amazon here.

Frabill Arctic Fire

The keywords are easy to use and durable! With its simple highly sensitive design and several qualities, Frabill tip-up allows for easy and fast implementation and removal. It features a tapered rail design, dual trip mechanism, and removable spool shaft with a high visibility flag.

It’s not freezing-proof though, which makes it not the ideal choice if you are heading fishing on an extremely cold day. Also, they are a little short in a way that makes you worry it will fall off.

You can check it on Amazon here.

Frabill 1664 Classic Tip-Up Wooden

This traditional Frabill design employs design elements that can be regreased to save anglers time and effort. It’s surprisingly simple to tailor this device to meet your fishing style and conditions.

Some of its advantages are that it serves a friction-free performance with large-capacity metal spools and dual counter-balance crank knobs to prevent wobbling and false movement, hence fake strikes. It also has a removable spool shaft, Sub-zero low-temperature lubricant, and dual trip settings.

Disadvantages include not being freeze-proof and the flag won’t set if there’s much wind. They’re not the easiest to use either.

You can check this one on Amazon here.

HT Enterprise Husky Deluxe Tip-up

A great quality of wooden tip-ups built with high-quality materials for use in freezing temperatures. With an easy flow spool that moves freely underwater and in sub-zero conditions which are required in order to catch fish, this model also offers dependable lunker-landing performance year after year without freeze-up. 

This great tip-up has only one shortcoming which is having no frictionless spool so that it won’t rotate under heavy pressure. That’s why it’s not very durable in catching big fish.

You can check it on Amazon here.

Hayabusa Heritage Deluxe Wood Tip-Up Drag Reel

Despite its simple design, this tip-up has an impressive line capacity of 500 in. of 36-lbs test. It works best in harsh weather conditions and stands tall in deep snow. It has great reliability and durability when it comes to catching big fish.

They may be a little more expensive than other competing models, However, I believe their pros will contribute significantly to making your fishing experience a better one.

You can check this one on Amazon here.

Eagle Claw Ice Fishing Arctic Tip-up

It’s hard to believe that this simple and light model can really put up with 65-yard line capacity! However, it’s true and it’s not the only pro it comes with. Its high versatility allows you to use it in various fishing styles with various depths under the ice. It also has a highly visible flag that ensures you don’t miss a single strike.

One of its cons is that it doesn’t perform as well in shallow waters, and it lacks the customizability you may need. The plastic is also a bit fragile and does not do well in extremely cold temperatures.

Check it on Amazon here.

Celsius Heavy Duty SBTU-50 Tip-Up

With a heavy-duty abs frame, variable tension release freeze-proof, and high visibility flag, Celsius made this model with high-quality material and easy-to-use mechanism. It comes pre-spooled and ready to use so it’s more convenient for kids and beginners.

It does not, however, include many variables that can aid in having the most long-term durability. What it loses in longevity, more than makes up for the inconvenience, impressive performance, and reasonable price.

You can check it on amazon here.

How to select Ice Fishing tip-ups?

Picking the right model of tip-up can be tricky. It depends on what fish you’re reeling in and their habits, as well as the fishing style and weather conditions. Found below are common tip-up types and what conditions they’re best used in for you to decide which one fits you best.

Thermal tip-ups

They’re made with an insulated foam insert and, when covered with snow around the sides, they can protect holes from freezing for hours in sub-zero conditions. They’re practical in both deep and shallow water.

By blocking unnatural light from getting into the hole, baits appear more natural. This can be especially beneficial when you’re targeting a fish that can be easily spooked by light such as walleye, pike, and trout when they roam the shallows.

Pop-up tip-ups

When you’re fishing in windy conditions, this model is your go-to. The flag is wind resistant and eliminates the chances of false calls of strikes. Since the minimal amount of force is needed to turn the spool and trigger these tip-ups, it’s ideal for light-biting fish, such as bluegill and panfish. 

Aside from their highly visible flag, they still have a high profile, which helps them stand out in deep snow. Many versions have a 1,500-foot line capacity spool and a built-in circular black tarp that helps to maintain the hole free of snow and ice by retaining heat from the light. The same cover is used to keep unwanted light from entering the hole and spooking the fish.

Wind tip-ups

These are especially favorable to anglers who prefer dead bait or those who choose to fish mid-to-late winter when fish aren’t active enough to chase live bait. While the action on the bait is not constant, occasional erratic movement on dead bait can be enough to attract them and can trigger strikes.

Wind tip-ups can also be used to cast light flutter spoons with vibrant minnows for walleyes, trout, and crappies. These fish can get a bit lethargic during late winter and best caught on spoons. Wind tip-ups can be a great help then.

Cross Style

Yes, the traditional one that has been going on for ages. Cross-style tip-ups are still used due to their effectiveness in catching almost any fish species out there. It’s light-weighted, easy to use, and inexpensive. It can be great to use on ice if you’re a beginner in tip-up ice fishing. However, they can freeze over and become less efficient on extremely cold days so make sure not to rely on them then.

Auto-set rail tip-ups

This could be your solution to increase your catch rate. Many fish drop the bait as soon as it feels resistance, while auto-set tip-ups really offer the solution by setting the hook immediately after the fish bites the bait.

7 Steps to Fish with a Tip-Up correctly & effectively

  1. Find prime spots and stick to them

Prime spots are different depending on what fish you’re planning to catch. So make sure you made the right research on where your fish are going to be. Plenty of fish will stick to places like points, drop-offs, reefs, and submerged humps. Use GPS devices or online maps to locate these places.

  1. Drill your holes the right size

Holes are inseparable parts of tip-ups so make sure you do it right. Apart from the fact that you need to drill multiple holes with the distance between them, you also need to make sure they’re the right size.

An 8-inch (20-cm) auger is most commonly used by anglers using tip-ups. It’s safer not to go for something any less than that. Everything from perch to fat northern pike can fit through an 8-inch (20-cm) hole. Believe me, it’s not fun to lose a fish because the hole is too small.

  1. Measure the exact depth

The fastest way to measure the exact depth right is to do it with a fish finder. Determine how far off the bottom you want your bait to be suspended, and then pull up just enough line to get there. Now, unspool the line to the point you marked and press the button to lock the depth in place.

  1. Pick the right bait

Just like location, bait also depends on which fish you’re targeting. It’s always safer to go with live bait in such freezing conditions. A more specific recommendation would be minnows. It’s hard to resist by lots of fish in the winter.

To successfully rig a minnow, hook a wiggly one under the dorsal fin then add a small split shot to the leader about 12-14 inches (30.5-35.5 cm) above the hook. Using scented bait is also as effective in drawing big hungry fish to you. 

  1. Check the trigger sensitivity 

Pick a tip-up model that comes with adjustable triggers to be able to customize it according to the fish you’re after. Set it to the bare minimum of resistance so that you don’t mess up the whole process by making it too tight or too light. Don’t hesitate to measure the trigger stiffness before inserting the tip-up.

  1. Move whenever the flag moves

It’s essential to keep the path leading towards each hole as clear as possible, you don’t want to trip over while heading to the hooked fish. You don’t want to keep the fish biting on your bait because it might simply spit it out. It’s also important to be cautious when rushing on slippery ice not to injure yourself.

  1. Pull the fish carefully

You need to set your hook first to ensure you got the fish. Pick up the line gently and carefully until you feel the slightest resistance from the fish. A quick, smooth lift of the line is all you need so make sure not to overwork it. Then, pull the line in with your hands until the fish comes to the surface.

Looking for something with a bit more visuals? Check out this guided video:

Where do you put tip-ups at Pike? 

So, where do you put tip-ups at pike? Put your tip-ups for pike in the shallows near healthy weed beds. Drill your holes 20-30 yards (18-27 meters) apart and place your bait halfway down in the water column. That means in a 10-foot-deep (3-meters-deep) lake, the ideal spot for bait is 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep. 

For maximum results, try this spread-up method: four flags in 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8 meters), four in 7-8 feet (2-2.4 meters), and four in 9-10 feet (2.7-3 meters). When we begin drilling holes and installing tip-ups, we will space them evenly 20-30 yards (18-27 meters) apart. The aim is to cover as much of the weed flat as possible in order to successfully locate the northern pike.

How do you tie a leader to the tip-up line? 

So, how do you tie a leader to the tip-up line? To tie a leader to the tip-up line you need to strap a swivel to the end of your line, then clip either a fluorocarbon or clear monofilament leader before adding your preferred ice lure or bait depending on the fish you’re catching.

This is essential for when your line isn’t clear. You’ll want to attach a leader before you add your bait and hook. A clear line is ideal so the fish cannot see it; this is why fluorocarbon is a common leader material; it has the same refractive index as water. A strong leader will eliminate any line-detection problems with fish.

I have made a complete guide on the best ice fishing lines here which you should definitely check out.

How long of a leader on a tip-up? 

So, how long of a leader on a tip-up? Your leader on a tip-up should be 6-to-8 inches (around 15-to-20 cm) longer than the thickness of the ice you’re fishing on. Tie the mainline to a small swivel, then add a 17-pound monofilament or 15-pound fluorocarbon leader with a snap at the top.

When you use that method you ensure that you can clearly see the swivel. Then, instead of horsing it up and losing it on the side of the ice, you should take your time getting the fish’s head into the hole.

How to use Frabill Pro Thermal Tip-Up? 

First, you need to understand that each thermal tip-up brand has its own distinctive features. In the case of Frabill tip-up, it’s molded with a built-in compartment for gear like spare hooks, split shots, line markers, and a depth finder. 

To use it properly, make sure to follow these steps:

  1. Drill a hole that is at least 9 inches wide.
  2. Extend the spool on the underside of the tip-up. 
  3. Cut the line until it’s appropriate for the depth you want to fish and bait your lure.
  4. Tie your line to the Bait Clip at the desired tension and keep it to the minimum.
  5. Release the flag shaft from its top-side holder then extend it to the end of the shaft. 
  6. Fold it back down and tuck it under the black Trip Bar. 
  7. Set it to either heavy or light mode depending on your fishing style.
  8. Drop your lure into the hole at the desired depth. 
  9. Finally, place the Frabill Tip-Up over the hole and wait for a flag to announce a strike.

7 Pro Tip-Up fishing tips

  1. Use devices. There’s no place for guessing! Use the GPS and contoured lake charts, locate the best structures likely to hold fish. While the sonar is used to find weed beds, weed margins, break lines, points, and reefs. You can find the best Ice Fishing Fish Finders here.
  2. Go back to the same spots. You should consider setting up in the same areas where you had luck before during open water seasons. This is particularly true during the early stages of ice when depleted oxygen levels force fish into shallow water.
  3. Keep an eye on your set. It’s always a good idea to inspect your lines on a regular basis to ensure your bait is alive and your line hasn’t been entangled in the weeds. 
  4. Use an LED flag. The flag that comes with your tip-up is fine but sometimes you need to maximize their visibility especially in times like dusk and dawn.  
  5. Align your tip-ups so that you can detect flags. Again, to increase visibility you have to make sure you can see when any flag pops up.
  6. Focus on the hour right before and after dusk. This is when fish become more actively feeding and will catch your bait in no time.
  7. Use a fluorocarbon leader. Cut 8-to-10 feet (2.4-to-3 meters) of 10-15lb fluorocarbon and secure one end with a swivel. Then, from the tip-up line to the swivel, tie a Palomar knot. This way you ensure that fish won’t see your line. You can check the best fluorocarbon lines here.

Don’t forget your fishing license!

As a final reminder, don’t forget to get a fishing license. In most states, a standard fishing license is required to go ice fishing. You can find out how much is a fishing license in your state and where to get it here. Getting an ice fishing license will cost you much less than the fine you’ll pay, so it’s definitely something you should keep in mind.

Related Questions 

How much line do you need for ice fishing? 

You need about 25 yards (22 meters) of line for ice fishing. Ice fishing line is often sold in 50-to-110 yards (45-to-91 meters) spools. This means a 50-yard (45-meter) spool can be used on two reels. That’s 25 yards (22 meters) each and that’s exactly how much you need.

Do you use a leader for ice fishing? 

Yes, you may need to use a leader for ice fishing. Sometimes your line is highly visible in the water especially the murky one. A clear line is suitable because it is invisible to the fish; this is why fluorocarbon is a common leader material since it has the same refractive index as water.

Helpful Resources 

Ice Fishing: The Ultimate Guide by Tim Allard ( A great book which you can even get on Amazon here)

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