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Brad Laabs: These are not your grandfather's tip-up rigs

Even the higher end tip-ups, with thermal insulation to keep the holes from freezing, and ultra-sensitive bite adjustment settings for tripping flags, are affordable for everyone.


This week we start the discussion of one of the winter fishing strategies that went from a mainstay years ago, to one that has started to take a little bit of a back seat the last few years.

The use of tip-ups has become a little bit of an afterthought now, because of the significant improvements in ice rods, reels, and electronics. They get used by some as an exploration technique, and others have more of a “hope for a bonus fish” attitude about using tip-ups.

They have also been pigeon-holed over the last few years to certain situations, like the big northern pike approach on late season ice on Lake of the Woods, as an example.

With all the progress over the years in the ice industry, tip-up rigs have also improved dramatically from what you experienced with grandpa. Even the higher end tip-ups, with thermal insulation to keep the holes from freezing, and ultra-sensitive bite adjustment settings for tripping flags, are affordable for everyone.

Upgraded variations now include tip-downs and snare rod set ups that provide the same opportunities, with the ability to reel the fish in on a rod instead of a “hand-over-hand” retrieval.


They are easy to use and can offer large live bait to major lake predators. They are great to use this time of year as a search method, and for larger groups fishing together on the ice. They can be spread along the edge of a flat, and can be placed from shallow to deep on a break to help identify biting fish locations.

It can be very fun for the kids to chase and race to a tripped flag to discover what is on the end of the line. When we get the thaw days or warmer sunny days more common at the end of January and February, fishing with tip-ups can be a great way to enjoy being outside on the ice during the day, and still get some fishing in, along with grilling or playing tag football as part of the on-ice winter activities.

With half a dozen guys (or guys and gals) or more on the ice together, you can cover a large area with tip-ups with the opportunity for fishing two apiece. Even if everyone is hole-hopping with jigging rods, having the other half dozen tip-ups out can cover more water and can improve the fish catching success for the day.

They offer the chance to fish multiple depths, with multiple combinations of jigs and baits. Kids aren’t the only ones that enjoy the friendly race to a tripped flag.

Depths of bait presentations can also be varied to help discern the bite preference. I like to use a clip-on weight as the bottom can easily be determined, and baits can be set at exact inches off the bottom where you want the bait located.

Varying from inches to feet can help determine what is working for the day. The use of a bobber stop at the surface can help make depth adjustments, and return the presentation to the right depth after catching a fish, losing a bait, or checking on the bait.

Some anglers use electronics in the hole to locate the bait at the desired depth. Some units are a little different with clear distance of target separation, especially with soft bottom areas, that is why I like the clip-on weight.

Both work, it is only a matter of preference. A camera in a close-by hole can always be used. Vertical hanging jigs or lures, or horizontal jigs or quick-strike rigs, can all be used at the business end of the presentation with a good large lively minnow that can call the fish in from some distances when they are roaming the flats. This is a great time of the ice season to get back to practicing tip-up (or tip down!) fishing as an option for icing a few more fish.


(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)

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Brad Laabs

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