Ice Fishing with Tip Downs, Tips and Techniques

Ice Fishing with Tip Downs, Tips and Techniques

This article will focus on ice fishing with tip downs. Tip downs are clever devices that hold a regular ice fishing rod and reel in place over a hole. They are an effective way for anglers ice fishing to present multiple offerings in different locations. Tip ups are mostly used by anglers targeting panfish and smaller game fish species, but can certainly be used on larger fish as well.

ice fishing with tip downs

Tip downs are devices used by anglers ice fishing that hold a rod and reel that presents a bait through the hole in the ice. Like tip ups, tip downs allow anglers to fish more than one spot at a time. When a fish strikes, the rod tip plunges down into the hole, thus the name. It is important to check local fishing regulations! They will vary greatly regarding hooks, baits, and number of lines allowed.

Anglers who would like to read more about ice fishing can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “A Complete Guide to Ice Fishing” by clicking on the title link.

Tip downs are advantageous because they allow anglers to fish multiple holes while still catching them on a regular ice fishing rod and reel. This is kind of the best of both worlds! Anglers ice fishing with tip downs are normally pursuing pan fish, crappie, and other smaller game fish species. These fish are better suited for tip downs as they generally don’t strike hard enough to pop the clip on a tip up.

ice fishing with tip down

Tip downs are excellent for anglers learning a new body of water. They allow multiple baits to be presented at different depths and locations. This will help anglers learn much more quickly the types of structure and depth that which fish are feeding. Tip downs are also very conducive to family fishing. Children can be distracted and play a bit in between bites.

Tip down options

ice fishing with a tip down

Tip downs are lightweight devices that are usually made of wood, plastic, or metal. They are very portable and set up quite quickly. As mentioned above, they use a conventional ice fishing rod and reel. One set, the rod is either horizontal or a bit above. When a fish strikes, the unit pivots and the rod tip dips down towards the hole. Thus the name “tip down”!

Click to read more about ice fishing tackle and gear

There are a wide variety of tip down units available to ice fishing anglers. Most opt for the type where any rod and reel can be used. This way, anglers can use the outfits that they already own. Sullivan ice fishing tip downs are an example of this. Some tip downs come with flags as well. However, it is very easy to tell when a fish takes a bait.

ice fishing basics

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Setting up an ice fishing tip down

Once the hole is drilled, the tip down is set at that location. Anglers can use a live minnow or nightcrawler on a small hook with a split shot or a jig head to get it down in the water column. This works well for crappie and yellow perch as well as a variety of other game fish species. Micro jigs with a meal worm or wax worm are best for anglers chasing bluegill and panfish. Artificial lures alone are generally not productive as they require manipulation by the angler. A brightly colored ice fishing jig with a live bait is an excellent all round combination.

Anglers ice fishing with tip downs should not neglect dead or frozen bait as well. These can be particularly effective on larger species such as northern pike, walleye, and lake trout. Minnows that have dies can be very effective. Game fish will at times not want to chase a live bait, but will readily take a fresh dead minnow. Cut bait can be productive as well. Suckers, ciscoes, and shiners work well.

ice fishing tip down

While the bait should be placed close to the bottom, anglers should vary the depth that they are fishing with the various set ups. This way, anglers can quickly identify the depth that which fish are holding and feeding. It is important to keep an eye on your tip downs! It is not unusual for a fish to take the bait off of the hook unnoticed by the angler. Fishing a hook with no bait defeats the purpose of covering a lot of water!

There are several other nuances which will help anglers ice fishing with tip downs be more successful. It is very important to keep the hole clear of ice. Most often, very light line is used in this application. Sharp pieces of ice will quickly cut this very thin line.

ice fishing basics

Also, wind can be an issue when fishing with tip downs. The best approach is usually two point the tip of the rod right into the wind. This results in the best line management when dealing with a stiff breeze. Also, it is often a good idea to pack some snow around the base of the tip down when the wind is blowing.

Strategies for drilling holes when ice fishing with tip downs

The primary advantage to ice fishing with tip ups is the ability to fish several different spots can be fished at once. Therefore, strategically drilling the holes is important in order to maximize tip up placement. Ideally, anglers will fish several different depths in a fairly small area. Sloping points are an excellent example of this, as are channel edges. Anglers can research prior to the trip to get current information and fishing reports. Many anglers have good GPS waypoints from open water fishing, these are good places to start.

ice fishing auger

While it is good to cover several different depths and even cover types, it is important not to place the holes too far apart. This will make it more difficult to get to a rod quickly. Also, anglers may miss a few bites. Most experienced anglers ice fishing with tip downs keep the rods a hundred yards apart or less. Again, anglers need to check local regulations regarding the number of rods and baits that are legal to use.

Ice fishing anglers have a couple of options when it comes to drilling holes. Hand augers work fine for those fishing a hole or two on ice that is not too thick. However, serious anglers opt for some type of power auger. Electric units work well up to a foot or so. Serious anglers will choose a gas powered ice auger.

ice fishing auger

Click the link to shop Amazon for ice fishing augers

Sonar units are very helpful for anglers ice fishing with tip downs. They will help anglers locate structure such as drop offs along with fish-holding cover. They will also show schools of fish. Several manufacture units specifically designed for ice fishing applications.

ice fish finder

Click to shop Amazon for ice fishing sonar units

Ice fishing with tip downs for panfish

Tip downs work very well for anglers ice fishing for panfish. The light rods and baits along with the more subtle takes work well in conjunction with tip downs. Most of these smaller fish will not trip the clip on a tip up, those are just a bit too heavy.

ice fishing for bluegill and panfish

Anglers ice fishing for bluegill and panfish will do well to use a micro jig tipped with a grub of some type. Mealworms and wax worms are easy to keep alive and are readily available. A piece of nightcrawler works quite well, too.

The other bait most often used by anglers ice fishing with tip downs for panfish is a jig with a live minnow attached. The advantage that this brings is the chance to catch larger game fish such as walleye and pike. Live minnows are very effective on crappie and yellow perch. Larger brown and rainbow trout will take them as well.

crappie fishing

Anglers seeking larger species such as walleye, pike, lake trout, whitefish, burbot, and more will need to bump up the tackle a bit to handle the larger fish. In reality though, tip downs really are better suited to smaller fish on light tackle while tip ups are best for pike and larger fish.

In conclusion, this article on ice fishing with tip downs will help anglers catch more fish using this technique.

Jim Klopfer

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay waters. Capt Jim has been creating an writing articles about fishing for decades, contributing to many regional and national publications. He also lives part time in the North Carolina mountains where he fishes for trout and other species. Capt Jim Klopfer is a wel rounded angler with 50 years fishing experience, and he loves to share what he has learned with other anglers!

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