Identifying the ideal tip-up

Post-season thoughts on ice fishing equipment

Posted 4/6/22

Although by the time this magazine is printed, ice-fishing season will be either over or close to it, it’s been on my mind for a few years now to talk about the particulars of this chilly …

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Identifying the ideal tip-up

Post-season thoughts on ice fishing equipment


Although by the time this magazine is printed, ice-fishing season will be either over or close to it, it’s been on my mind for a few years now to talk about the particulars of this chilly pastime.

Upgrading or investing in new equipment is one reason to think about ice fishing at this time of year.

Often at the end of an annual season, you can find deals online from retailers as well as fellow fishermen looking to clear out what they have for one reason or another. Sometimes you may find yourself a good deal in the wake of overstock or even in light of the misfortune of a veteran claiming they’ve spent the past year on the ice only to be skunked.

Whatever the case, there’s no shortage of gadgets and tools needed to thoroughly enjoy ice fishing.

In fact, I’d argue that ice fishing relies on its paraphernalia to make it a pleasurable experience.

I’ve grown up ice fishing, and after a few years of fighting with a dull hand-driven auger, I hesitated to go out and continue to punish myself. That being said, as an adult I’ve been out with friends who spent the money on toys to cut the bulk of work out of the endeavor and had a much different experience as a result.

Gas-powered augers and even power-drill augers make the old ways seem archaic at best.

Now, I like to work hard when it comes to a lot of the things I do, but for something that is supposed to be relaxing, like fishing, I draw the line at unnecessary effort.

Taking a small amount of effort and spreading it out to collect better results is, of course, the idea behind tip-ups. Why fish out of one hole when you can fish out of five at a time, or even more if you aren’t the only one fishing? But just as with the auger, it’s important to have the right kind. To some, anything will do; to others, the devil’s in the details.

The first kind of tip-up I would mention isn’t really a tip-up at all, but rather a rod holder with a flag release.  This kind of tip-up utilizes ice fishing poles and is ideal for those who prefer to actually reel in their fish rather than hand-line them. The cons of this style are that they can be somewhat more difficult to set up and in some cases, depending on the weather, are prone to tipping over or falling into the hole in the ice if not properly mounted.

This type of tip-up is slightly more modern than the other types in terms of design, but at the same time, it’s based on the principle that every lazy fisherman comes up with solutions for at some point in their life—to prop up their pole with a crate or a chair or anything on hand to keep the line in the water and your hands free.

Traditionalists and old-timers commonly think of the wooden folding tip-up. This kind of tip-up could be crafted by the ambitious hobbyist, but has remained available as a retail option over the years. Wooden folding tip-ups are ideal for those on a budget, as they can often be found for about $15 apiece. Rods of steel run up the main shaft from the reel at the bottom to the flag trigger at the top. The flag is mounted at the end of a thin piece of metal, much like the metal in a clock spring coil. As the bait is taken and the reel begins to spin, it spins the steel rod at the bottom, which trips the flag trigger at the top, releasing it to indicate the line has begun to go out.

The advantages of this type of tip-up are mainly that mechanically it is tried and true, and it is nearly impossible for it to fall into the ice hole, as the cross pattern of wooden legs keep it securely where it should be.

A newer and perhaps more efficient version of this style, however, would be what I call the straight folding tip-up. These are typically made of plastic with a center steel rod and a spring-loaded flag. While not new, they have not been around as long as the classic folding wooden tip-ups, but function similarly.

Straight folding tip-ups fold flat for storage and when triggered, the spring-loaded flag is released when the catch slips off the rotating steel rod in the center. These are currently what I keep in my arsenal, as they are super-quick and easy to use and typically don’t malfunction other than the flag creating a false alarm on a windy day.

Perhaps in its own category is the thermal round tip-up. These tip-ups are my least favorite, as they rely on additional mechanics to trigger the flag and are not as friendly to store when not in use. However, there are advantages. They are intended to cover the hole and insulate it to prevent the accumulation of ice on the water’s surface. While this is appealing to some, I find it important to check lines and clear ice, and that keeps you from not attending to your lines as often as you ought. These round tip-ups can be so insulative, in my experience, that they cause the ice to melt at their edges, and the ice then re-freezes and traps the tip-up in the ice. That, of course, makes responding to them very difficult.

All in all, these different styles of tip-up all work the same in most ways, but hold subtle variations that come down to the preference of the individual fisherman. As the ice fade from our local waters, perhaps now is the time to reconsider which will be your weapon of choice in the year to come.

fishing equipment, ice fishing, auger, tip-up, fishing


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