When ice fishing, it’s hard to beat the adrenaline rush that a triggered tip-up flag brings. The quick response that follows can be quite entertaining as well. Watching your buddies run to the hole, performing an uncoordinated ice skating routine the entire way. I don’t know what’s more amusing, watching someone fall on their rear or watching them pretend nothing happened after getting up. Regardless, tip-up fishing can be a blast. As long as the proper tactics are used, this style of fishing can be very productive, especially when targeting the notorious Northern Pike. Having the proper equipment, knowing where pike hang out, and understanding their feeding habits will significantly increase your odds of catching these awesome fish.
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, stainless 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.
Given that many pike cruise the shallows year round, they can be fairly easy to locate. We typically target pike in water depths between 2’ and 5’. Pike prefer cover to ambush unsuspecting prey, so areas with weeds present are preferred. During first ice, weeds can still be reasonably thick in the shallows, but many will die off as the season moves on. As long as weeds act in their advantage, pike will be there whether weeds are thick or sparse. Open areas within these weed beds or areas along the weed edges are excellent spots to place tip-up sets. The first ice on many lakes is clear enough to see the weeds below. In these cases, look for channels running through the weeds. These natural highways are perfect locations to place tip-up sets. If unable to see through the ice, underwater cameras can play a huge roll in locating prime spots. The new 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, ensure 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 fish a large muddy bay that transitions into marsh area. 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 exciting and rewarding. The unknown a tripped flag brings, the anticipating of a possible trophy fish, and the fight to the hole are all something other ice fishing opportunities don’t offer. Ensuring proper equipment is used along with understanding pike behavior will hopefully help you land your trophy this season.
Adam Walton is the owner of Pikepole Fishing Guide Service and specializes in multi-species angling. He is a licensed United States Coast Guard Charter Captain and a certified State of Wisconsin Paramedic. Along with guiding, Adam participates in professional walleye tournaments and is a contributing writer for Badger Sportsman Magazine, Lake-Link, and ODU Magazine. To contact Adam, call 608-290-3929 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.