Like all forms of fishing these days, technological advancements has changed the way anglers fish with tip-ups for pike. In its simplest form, tip-up fishing for pike meant using rudimentary tip-ups with wooden cross members and spools filled with thick, black Dacron line.
Anglers used a spud to chop holes and once the tip-ups were set, waited for a pike to hopefully cruise by. Tip-ups could be found at garage sales for a buck or two and were unceremoniously tossed in a five-gallon bucket at the end of the season.
Today, tip-ups are made from high-tech materials that make them more durable and less prone to freezing up.
They feature oil-filled spools that spin effortlessly and resist freeze up. They can be set to trip the instant a pike sucks in a minnow or adjusted to prevent tripping when using a giant sucker or dead bait is used to tempt even the biggest northern. When used in conjunction with a power auger and electronics, modern tip-up anglers can now trace contours and weed lines that winter pike travel setting up trap lines to intercept wanderlust pike instead of sitting and waiting. There’s no doubt that tip-up fishing has now gone hi-tech.
The conventional wood tip-ups were popular because they were affordable, when folded took up little space and it was the only game in town for years. Boy have things changed! Now you can get rail, round, straight line, stick and plank tip-ups and tip-ups that can tell you when you set the bait, how much line you have out and when your last strike was. Winter pike don’t stand a chance.
“Basically, when choosing a tip-up you have a choice between vertical and horizontal,” advised ice-fishing guru Brian “Bro” Brosdahl.
“The round tip-ups, like Frabill’s Pro Thermal, are great in lighter snow situations, you can fit a bunch in a bucket, by covering the hole they prevent freeze up and they block light from entering the hole. A lot of guys are sold on round tip-ups when fishing for pike.” When it comes to round tip-ups you have the option of insulated versions, like Frabill’s Pro Thermal or a more economical round tip-ups that are basically a tip-up with a hole cover. You can purchase the tip-ups rigged or unrigged. The Pro Thermal tip-up even comes in a lighted version for night fishing or for low-light situations.
Inventors of the original Polar Tip-Up, ice-fishing stalwart HT Enterprises has their own version of the round tip-up called a Polar Therm and Polar Therm Extreme that keeps holes open and ice-free in even the coldest temperatures. Each model also offers a lighted version. The Polar Therm tip-ups offer 200- and 500-foot spools.
Rail-type tip-ups are very popular with pike anglers.
They’re sturdy, but light weight, come in plastic or wooden versions and the spool extends below the ice to prevent freeze up. Horizontal tip-ups also come in snowshoe-style versions that are a little wider and offer more stability. One disadvantage of rail-type tip-ups is visibility, but some models are available with longer flags or extensions for use when snow levels are extreme. One plus for the classic vertical tip-ups is they can straddle holes when snow is deep and are highly visible.
Proof that tip-up fishing has gone hi-tech is Frabill’s Calibrator Line Counter Tip-Up. The Calibrator sports a digital LED that records the depth of your bait, the time since your last bite, the time of the bite and how much line the fish took out. The Calibrator has a light setting for walleye and a heavier setting that’s perfect for pike and big live baits. The backlit display is visible in low light situations. The state-of-the-art tip-up has an extra long 17-1/2-inch hi-vis flag and 200-foot spool capacity.
“The Calibrator is for that guy that needs to know everything,” joked Brosdahl. It’s nice to know you have the option if you need it.
Still other options for tip-up fishing are devices that use conventional rods, like the Automatic Fisherman tip-ups. The Automatic Fishermen and Slammers are not nearly as portable or self-contained as regular tip-ups, but having a rod and reel to fight a big gator with can be a real advantage. Both have trip mechanisms that set the hook when a pike bites and then you’re free to fight the fish using the rod. The Automatic Fisherman uses a shorter, ice-fishing rod; the Slammer uses a longer 5-foot spinning rod. Having a drag and a reel with a high-speed retrieve can be a serious advantage when battling top-of-the-line predators and can stack the odds in your favor.
In the old days, ice anglers used heavy, black Dacron line on their tip-ups.
According to ice fishing expect Tom Gruenwald of HT Enterprises, Dacron line might still be the best option today for tip-ups. “There are some big advantages to using heavier line when tip-up fishing,” offered Gruenwald. “It’s just easier to handle when it’s windy and cold and you have gloves on. With lighter line and a big pike, it’s possible to cut your hands or an expensive pair of gloves when handling thin line. Today, guys are even using level running fly lines because they’re subtle, don’t freeze and they’re strong.” Gruenwald said that coated braids are another option, but they tend to coil and have lots of memory.
One tip Gruenwald offered about line is to dry out your tip-ups between trips or at least before you put them away for the season. “Ice on tip-ups will melt and cause damp Dacron lines to mildew or rot,” he said. “Make sure you dry them out before you store them in a damp basement for the season.” Another tip Gruenwald offered is to spray the line with WD-40 or silicone. Both will soak into or coat the line and make them less prone to freeze up and rot.
Leaders can be made of wire or fluorocarbon.
“Wire is perfectly acceptable,” said Gruenwald, “but pike can be finicky sometimes. If you’ve ever been in a shanty you know there are times when I pike will zoom right in and engulf a bait, but there other times when they’ll ease up to a bait, hovering, holding themselves in place, and go up and nose the bait or just look at the bait before swimming off. That’s where using a fluorocarbon leader can make a difference.”
Gruenwald said there are a number of good brands of fluorocarbon on the market, but he especially likes Seaguar’s Blue Label fluorocarbon. “It’s not cheap, but I think it can make a difference, especially when the water is super clear or the pike are not really turned on.” Gruenwald recommends an 18 to 36-inch leader depending on water depth. “Obviously, you’re going to want to use a shorter leader if you’re in really shallow water early or late in the season.” Gruenwald pairs the leaders with 30- to 50-pound Dacron mainline.
“Have leaders and rigs tied up ahead of time,” advised Gruenwald.
Gruenwald said to have leaders terminated with a quality ball bearing swivel that you can quickly attach to a mainline. Have rigs tied with single, treble and quick-strike set- ups in different sizes. You can also add blades, spoon bodies and yarn as attractors. Gruenwald said wrap the rigs on a foam spool for easy storage and access.
One decision tip-up anglers have to make when chasing pike is to use live bait or dead bait. “Big pike like bigger meals,” advise Brain Brosdahl. “Pike like oily, high-protein fish like smelt, ciscoes, whitefish and tulibee that just exude oil. And they really don’t care if it’s dead or alive. If you think about it, when a pike approaches a baitfish it does one of two things 1) it flees or 2) it freezes. So pike are use to stationary baits.”
Pike, especially big northerns, are not above scavenging and won’t turn down an easy meal. Winterkills that cause adult gizzard shad to die off, injured panfish hooked and released by anglers or bait buckets dumped at the end of the day are all fair game for scrounging pike.
Dead baits have to be presented properly to entice pike.
“Making sure the bait is hanging horizontally is important,” advised Brosdahl. “Quick-strike rigs are a good option with dead baits. A 10-pound northern can eat a 1-pound tulibee so quick-strike rigs give you the best chance of hook-ups with over-sized dead baits.” And the best chance at trophy northerns.
A great option with smelt is to use Swedish-type hooks that are made for rigging dead bait. The V-shaped hooks looks goofy, but the idea is to insert the point into the vent of the smelt and out its mouth to hold it horizontally and provide a natural presentation. Veteran pike fanatics swear by the hooks.
“Late in the season is when dead baits definitely excel,” claimed Tom Gruenwald.
“That’s when you’re going to have shad die offs.” Big females are putting on the feedbag then and they’re not above picking up something off the bottom be it dead suckers, trout or ciscoes. Gruenwald agrees that quick-strike rigs are the way to go with dead baits. “Don’t limit yourself though,” he said. “I never go on the ice without both live and dead bait. Some days you need the action of a live bait to trigger strikes. Don’t put all of your baits at the same depth either. Put some on the bottom, some just under the ice, some in between.” The pike will tell you which depth they prefer.
Brian Miller used a dead smelt on a tip-up to catch this eatin’-sized pike.
Wind-driven tip-ups, like HT’s Windlass Tip-Up, excel with dead baits. “It’s like a dead stick that’s not dead,” chided Gruenwald. “The Windlass Tip-Up can be particularly deadly when you add some hardware, like spinner blades or a spoon, to the rig.” Friend Dave Bryant likes to use what he calls a “chandelier rig” for triggering big pike. He hangs a smelt from the hooks of a Lindy Darter so it sits horizontally in the water. The rig is deadly on wind-activated tip-ups.
There are some necessary tools for serious tip-up anglers.
“You definitely need a long pair of needle-nosed piers, side cutters and a hook remover,” advised Bro. “Pike have some serious dental work and an anti-coagulant in their slime so if you get bit, you’re going to bleed.”
Probably the biggest advantage modern-day ice anglers have for chasing pike isn’t new-fangled tip-ups, but electronics and power augers. “Don’t sit in one place and wait for the pike to come to you,” said Gruenwald. “Drill a few holes, set lines, and if nothing happens leapfrog and drill three more holes. It’s kind of like ice trolling. Use your electronics to target weed lines and drop offs to develop a pattern.” Underwater cameras can tell you if there are pike in the area and how they’re reacting to your baits and presentations.
Taking advantage of the new technology and products is key to icing more pike this winter.
- written by Mike Gnatkowski