How to reel in more fish with tip-ups

1. Double your odds

How would you like to double not only the quantity of fish you catch this winter, but also the quality of trophy-sized goliaths? Well, you can do it by properly deploying a second line in a second hole using a tip-up.

Now, stick with me here, because I suspect there’s some disappointment out there. You probably thought I was going to tell you something revolutionary, but all you read was to use a tip-up. And you already knew that, right?

Well, having ice fished with some of the top tip-up anglers in the world—and I am not ashamed to say I have been properly schooled myself—I can just about guarantee you haven’t even scratched the potential of these amazing tools. Every province and territory, to the best of my knowledge, allows you to ice fish with two lines during the winter, yet very few ice anglers take advantage of the opportunity. For most, the second line they set out, if they set it out at all, is roughly akin to a Hail Mary pass—if they get lucky, they might catch an extra fish or two.

But luck doesn’t even enter the equation if you play the game properly, and that means using the right tip-up for the job at hand. Indeed, you can buy more than two dozen different styles of tip-ups for various applications. Just as you have a selection of different rods and reels rigged and ready on the deck of your boat, you should always have a second line option matched to the fish you are seeking, as well as to the weather and water conditions.

Believe it or not, there are many days I expect to catch as many or more of a particular species on my second line than by using my primary presentation. Tip-ups aside, deadsticking big-pig walleye is a perfect example.

2. Target two species

Using a tip-up also lets you fish for two completely different species at the same time. This is a strategy I adopt throughout the winter using a Windlass tip-up, which harnesses the breeze to add motion to your lure or bait. I also use underwater Polar-style tip-ups, which are best for hanging big, dead baits on quick-strike rigs.
When my fishing partners and I are jigging for walleye, perch, crappies or whitefish, there’s rarely a time we don’t set up a second line on or around the structure for giant, prowling northern pike. Often, the biggest fish of the day comes on the tip-up.

To ensure success with a Windlass tip-up, though, you need to work it properly. In particular, I’ve yet to meet an ice angler who knows the purpose of the two springs on the backside. Most believe the second one is there in the event the first one breaks. Not so.

If you look carefully, you’ll see that one of the springs is slightly thicker than the other. So, if the breeze is gentle and you’re using a light lure, you can fine-tune the rocking motion by carefully stretching the thin spring. But if it’s breezy and/or you’re using a heavier lure or bait, you can remove the light spring, attach the stronger one and apply the appropriate tension.

Of course, if it’s windier than hell and you’re ice fishing with a one-pound-plus dead sucker, you’d better attach both springs, stretch them to their maximum and slide the adjustment bracket sideways for maximum tension. Now we’re talking fine tuning.

3. Fight the freeze

What’s that you say? You can’t use an above-the-ice Windlass tip-up in sub-zero temperatures because your line will freeze in the hole? Have I got a tip for you. Either buy one of HT Enterprises’ thick, soft-foam hole covers (pictured) or make your own. The key is to cut a single, razor-thin slit from the outside edge to the tiny hole in the centre.

Next, get an 18- to 24-inch-long piece of clear plastic gas-line hose and slice it up the entire length with a sharp knife. This will let you slip the tube over your tip-up line once you’ve baited up and are ready to start fishing. Slide the plastic tube into the centre of the foam hole cover so that half the tube is below the waterline, then fill the hose with light mineral oil from your local pharmacy. This will prevent the line from freezing in the hole, so that even on the coldest day, the weather vane on your Windlass will still be able to rock your dead bait up and down, making it quiver like a frantic prey fish.

What’s that? Flag! Fish on!