So what exactly is a “Tip Up?”

By Andy Whitcomb

Jan 30, 2017

Tip ups are ice fishing devices that help anglers cover water. Here is what they are and how they work.

A tip up is an ice fishing device with two main components: a spool of line, and a flag to act as a strike indicator. Designs vary from two wooden pieces forming an “X,” to a plastic one-piece unit, long enough to cover the expanse of a hole in the ice while the spool of line hangs submerged in the cold water, above the bait presentation.  

My ice fishing tip ups are plastic and have a trigger mechanism with two sensitivity settings, for windy days and active live bait, and a built in measuring board. Tip ups allow you to be several places at the same time. Check your state regulations because the number of tip ups allowed varies. For example, Pennsylvania permits five tip ups, while Michigan restricts to three. Space the tip ups apart so you can learn where the fish are biting, such as in a line of increasingly deep water. Once you think you are in a good area, set your tip ups at varying depths to determine where active fish may be suspended. (Sometimes ice fishing with tip ups seems like playing the board game, “Battleship.”)

When a fish pulls the line it releases the trigger and the flag springs up to alert the angler. Walk quickly but quietly and cautiously across the ice to the tip up.  Lift the device out of the water, grab the line, and give it a little tug to set the hook. Then the fish is slowly played in, without a rod, all by cold hands.

With minimal investment, ice fishing tip ups can be helpful for covering water, and yet letting you keep your hands warm in your pockets until there is some action. Ice fishing tip ups are especially popular with pike anglers that may want to use large live minnows and check different depths and locations.  With these tip up tips, you’re ready to tackle ice fishing! Just make sure your fishing license is up to date and you stay safe on the ice.

Andy Whitcomb
Andy Whitcomb
Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.