Jan 10, 2016

Tip-Up Traditon And High-Tech Tactics


If you’re a Wisconsin ice angler, part of your experience has undoubtedly involved tip-ups.  It’s a classic tradition, a culture, an epic part of our heritage that’s been passed from generation to generation.

We meet friends, set a spread on favorite waters and sit back with a preferred beverage, squinting at distant flags while gathered outside in folding chairs on pleasant days, or, after scraping accumulated frost off windows, from inside the truck or ice house during colder ones.

Such classic approaches incorporating tip-ups have always been effective and will continue to be enjoyed, as they should be.  Yet along the shadowed fringe, a new generation of somewhat contemptuous aficionados boasting new gear and strategies have appeared, destined to evolve tip-up angling into a science.

Led by savvy manufacturers specializing in advanced tip-up design, innovations such as adjustable tension settings, lubricated trip mechanisms guaranteed against freeze-up, wind-proof magnetic trips, freeze-proof centralized mechanisms surrounded by thermal covers to eliminate holes from freezing, and select models incorporating exceptionally tall bodies and elongated flags, highly visible from a distance or in deep snow, have all appeared on the scene. 

There are wind tip-ups designed to use winter gusts to jig your presentations, automatic hookset models that set the hook when fish bite, electronic designs incorporating lights and buzzer systems to reveal strikes—even optional equipment that will send signals to receivers, or through Wi-Fi capabilities, transmit alerts to your cell phone or tablet whenever a fish strikes!

There have been some technological advancements offering substantial advantages in rigging options, too.  In fact, today’s wide spectrum of specialized tackle makes this job many times more effective than ever before. 

Tip-up line is available in just about every conceivable style, diameter and color imaginable; ditto for a vast array of leader material.  Hooks come in a wide range of styles, designs, sizes and colors, along with a variety of flashy attracting blades, beads, sequins, scent capsules, rattle chambers and other additions that can be incorporated into all sorts of customized rigs, each designed to enhance presentations based on the environment and species you’re seeking.

Still, while every serious ice angler knows these things are critical to success, they also understand the foundation to consistency is putting it all to work in high-percentage locations.  Rather than randomly setting a few tip-ups and sitting in place waiting for flags to fly, modern tip-up masters start by carefully researching their waters and selecting those sustaining healthy populations of the species they’re seeking. 

Taking this one step further, if they’re introducing kids or someone new to the sport and looking for action, they choose lakes offering quantity over quality; or, should the quest involve hopes for a truly big fish, waters historically proven to produce--and managed to sustain--trophies.  And efforts are focused during what have historically proven to be the most productive times to fish.

Primary forage is studied as well, to glean hints for areas where the most productive action might take place.  If the intended target is early ice northern pike and their primary forage base is known to be yellow perch, wise tip-up anglers research the habits of the perch in those waters, and if they discover perch relating mostly to shallow weed flats, they won’t have their tip-ups set too far away.

Likewise, if they’re seeking mid-season walleyes identified as feeding primarily on ciscoes suspended high over deep, main lake reefs, lake trout foraging on sculpins directly off bottom at the base of steep ledges, or giant, late ice pike stalking suckers congregating along the edges of an elongated main lake point extending from a shallow, vegetated spawning bay into an adjacent deep water basin.  They’re always dialed in!


Finding such locations might seem rather daunting at first, but today’s hydrographic maps minimize that challenge by helping anglers identify them.  Paper maps are great, but modern electronic charting and mapping applications take things to all-new levels by integrating GPS capabilities with astounding 3-D imaging. 

Many of these packages even allow you to run transects in summer, combining GPS capabilities with functioning sonar, record customized charts of enhanced definition by creating or updating existing maps with your personally collected data to provide superior levels of relevant precision and detail.

These can then be studied within the comfort of your own home, with waypoints established and saved so after the ice forms, you can travel directly to these predetermined locations--and by numbering them in priority, plotting pre-planned routes.

Once on location, you can use sonar to fine-tune your position even further. You can search out subtle anomalies in bottom topography, and by paying attention to signal strength, confirm bottom content hardness and transitions shown on your electronic maps.  You can search for secondary forms of cover like weeds, wood, boulders or other potential fish holding features--even determine specifically which ones are attracting and holding the greatest concentrations of forage—and most importantly, whether or not they’re drawing fish.

From here, you can use an underwater camera to review water clarity, and when clear enough with sufficient light penetration, note specific details.  Sonar might have indicated a hard bottom, an underwater camera will reveal whether it’s comprised of sand or rock.  Sonar might have indicated the presence of vegetation, an underwater camera will tell if it’s healthy and green or dead and brown.  And if you know your aquatic plants, you’ll even be able to decipher if it is cabbage, coon tail or skunk grass!

Using sonar, you’ll know if the forage you found suspended 10’ off bottom is shiners or shad, and whether the bigger marks relating to them are perch or walleyes.  And now, using the combination of electronic mapping, GPS, sonar and underwater camera capabilities, you’ll be able to identify, with uncanny precision, locations offering the best combinations of features. Then, efficiently position your tip-ups right over them, and by adjusting your line, leaders, hooks, rigs, and baits to the conditions, set these refined presentations at precisely desired levels.

As you continue this process, noting specific structures, depths, types of bottom content, cover, forage, rigs and baits drawing the most fish, you’ll soon be able to pinpoint the most productive combinations, fine-tune your tip-up placement and sharpen your presentations to best suit the situation.

Some anglers even use multiple Wi-Fi enabled underwater camera systems and their cell phones to continually monitor and identify which tip-ups are attracting the most attention—and often surprised just how frequently fish appear to inspect their baits, but won’t actually strike!

While this can be somewhat humbling, such information also allows you to adjust your tip-up positioning and depth placement while experimenting with highly detailed presentation wrinkles. When integrating this knowledge with the powerful combination of today’s electronics, advanced tip-up designs, specialty lines, premium hooks, fine-tuned rigs, select terminal tackle and accessories--lock onto specific patterns more efficiently than ever before.

That equates to more and bigger fish, and all thanks to today’s high-tech tip-up tactics.