What is an Ice Fishing Tip-Up ?

There are a variety of ways to go about ice fishing, each exciting and effective in its own way. But with so many different techniques touted by experts and enthusiasts, it’s easy to dismiss or overlook tactics that will help you fill up a stringer. Tip-up ice fishing is one of the most effective techniques used to angle on the ice, and in this article, we cover what it is, how it works, and when to use it.

Tip-up ice fishing allows anglers to drop in multiple baited lines at once without having to be hands-on with each reel. In fact, you don’t even have to be near the equipment to know when a strike has occurred. A trigger mechanism is raised when a fish takes the bait, notifying the angler, who can pull up the fish.

A great technique to use, tip-up ice fishing can enhance an angler’s capability to bring in more fish at once without their hands being full. But there is more to tip-up ice fishing than meets the eye. How does it work, when should it be used, and how does one set up a tip-up system?

If you’re looking for the answers to all these questions, read on.

What is Tip-up Ice Fishing ?

The tip-up ice fishing technique utilizes a device that locks a reel in place, keeping bait suspended in the water at a certain depth through the fishing hole. This device detects fish strikes without requiring anglers to be holding their reel. When the strike occurs, a flag tips up or down, signaling to the angler that a fish has bitten the bait.  Utilizing this technique, anglers can fish multiple lines in different holes at once, allowing them to cover more water than with a single line.

This strike-triggered system brings attention to lines that have a bite on them, causing them to stand out from the other lines in the water. This system does not reel the fish in for the angler; instead, it alerts them to the presence of a fish on their line. Like an early warning system, a tip-up for ice fishing is a bite indicator for anglers looking to increase their chances of filling up their icebox.

How does a Tip-Up system work ?

The type of system uses a flag indicator to notify anglers that a fish has taken the bait. A flag attaches to the line spooled in the reel and dangling in the water. The pressure of a strike causes the flag to be released, poking it up into the air or causing it to fall, depending on the model.

The full system works when an angler suspends bait into the water column through the ice hole from which they are fishing. Once the bed is broken at the set depth, anglers will set the reel and attach the flag so that the pressure trigger is directly in contact with the line. Its anglers convention to walk away from this system, knowing it will alert them of a potential bite or strike.

Depending on the model, of which there are four major ones, each tip-up design functions differently.

Wooden Cross Stick: comprised of two sticks that crossed a foreman ask, a third stick is fastened at a right angle to maintain the line spool in place. The line spool and stick are inserted into the ice hole with a Spring-loaded metal flag affixed to its opposite end.

Rail Style: a rail is placed across an ice hole, with a flag affixed to one end. On the other, the line spool is inserted into the ice hole. The flag is attached to a trip bar that rotates, triggered when a fish strikes, causing the flag to spring upwards.

Round Thermal: a round, flat board completely covers an ice hole, preventing it from freezing. The tip-up is similar to that of a rail system, the only difference being that it contains the hole from freezing up entirely.

Wind-Powered: Designed to hold the spool of line out of the water, a sail mechanism that harnesses wind power actively jigs the line vertically in the water, triggering more bites.

Rail styles of the more prevalent tiptop systems are used to date, but each has its own merits. In particularly cold environments, the round thermal system can prevent anglers from having to frequently re-auger their ice fishing holes. At the same time, Wind-powered Systems can provide a little more action to the beat suspended in the water column.

This system is not for those using a fishing rod and instead requires the angler to only reel in the line or pull it in via hand. The pressure trigger systems are adjustable for many tip models, meaning the sensitivity of a bite may be variable depending on the model.

When angling for larger fish, tip-up users should set the sensitivity much lower versus angling for smaller fish, where the sensitivity should be raised to increase the chance of a tip-up. If the settings are incorrect, the tip-up may be triggered falsely when a fish is inspecting the bait instead of swallowing it.

When should you use a Tip-Up ?

There are two criteria for using a tip-up when angling.

The first is that it has to be used for ice fishing. The setup of a tip-up requires a hole in the ice for the bait and line to be suspended along with a solid position on the ice, which the reel, flag, and trigger can all be fastened in place and left by the angler. A tip-up requires the bait to be suspended nearly vertically beneath the device so that a direct pull will trigger the flag.

The second criterion is that multiple lines are in the water. While this may be used on a singular reel, this device is most effective when multiple tip-ups are each attached to a reel and spread out over a moderate distance. This increases an angler’s chance of getting a bite and allows them to divide their attention between multiple locations rather than solely focusing on a single ice hole.

Anglers who have the means to employ multiple reels and tip-up devices not only save themselves the boredom of staring into a singular ice hole but also provide the fish with a myriad of different baits and locations depending on how they choose to employ this device. Because this is a line of sight system, anglers should not use a tip-up system out of eyeshot as they will be unable to detect when a flag is raised.

Rigging a Tip-up

The following is a rundown of the process required to effectively and efficiently set up your ice fishing tip-up.

  1. To begin, ensure that the line used is the appropriate pound test for whatever species of fish you intend to catch.
  2. To easily swap out leads, later on, attach a snap swivel to the end of your main line. Most anglers use braid for the main line, but monofilament can be an excellent alternative.
  3. Next, connect the leader, most likely fluorocarbon, with the hook. Add a split shot weight approximately a foot above the hook or a stronger, sliding sinker for larger bait fish to ensure the rig stays at the appropriate depth.
  4. If a hole has not already been previously ordered into the ice, ensure that this step is complete while taking the proper safety precautions and correct measurements.
  5. Next, the baited hook should be lowered into the ice hole at the desired depth and the spool inserted into the water with the tip up so that the ice hole is straddled or covered by the device.
  6. Attach the flag of the tip up to the rotating trip bar on the spool.
  7. Set the trigger to the desired sensitivity, taking into consideration the species you’re angling for. Remember, the bigger the fish, the lower the sensitivity.
  8. Rinse and repeat this process on each line and ice hole you plan to fish.


Tip-up ice fishing can be an incredibly successful technique that not only enhances an angler’s ability to detect a bite but also allows them to keep multiple lines in the water at once. Using a triggering system that sends a flag up upon a fish taking the bait, the tip-up system allows anglers to maneuver around on the ice and be alerted to a bite as long as they are within line of sight.

Any angler looking to come home with a full stringer or icebox after a long day on the ice should look into purchasing tip systems for their next fishing excursion.

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