“Tip” The Odds In Your Favor For Big Pike

 By Steve Mattson


Nothing gets the attention of nearby anglers more than hoisting a huge pike through the ice. It has the same effect as the 15 clowns in the clown car, as onlookers wonder how it fit through the hole. Tip-up fishing and big pike go hand in hand, and it is a fun, effective way to target these underwater predators. As with anything, it helps to pay attention to the details in order to routinely taste success.


Always be aware of the conditions. Deep-water sets, say 20 feet or more, are less susceptible to noise and spooking of the fish. If this is the depth you are targeting, then you can get away with throwing the football around and getting a little rowdy. However, if you are targeting the edge of something in say 10 feet of water, then clowning around isn’t an option if you want to be successful. Shallow-water sets demand that you be stealthy and quiet. Walk slowly unless you have a flag, and talk enough to just be heard. We are not talking about hooking “hammer handles,” we are looking for the big, burly predators that have been around awhile.



A lot of anglers use their ATVs and snowmobiles to check flags and it obviously works, but it can also spook the fish. If a fish hits with reckless abandon then a lot of times it doesn’t matter, but some hit and remain nearby. The quick rush over to the hole may cause the fish to drop the bait and move on. It happens for a lot of reasons but it’s better to not push it. I know it’s exciting, but you won’t regret being stealthy.


The great thing about tip-ups for pike is live bait is not needed. You can use it if you want to, but it probably won’t produce more. Frozen ciscoe, herring or smelt are all good choices that you can find pretty easily. If you are after the truly big ones, then a good-sized ciscoe fits the bill nicely.

There are many different styles of tip-ups. All have merit and will do what you need them to do, and that is tell you when a fish has taken the bait. What is critical is how you have set up the business end of the setup. Line, rigging and bait condition dictates whether success becomes a reality.


Some anglers use the single hook method and every time a fish hits, they feed line until the fish stops, assuming that the fish has taken the bait. This works occasionally but will leave you frustrated and searching for a better option. Enter the quick-strike rig. This rig is designed with treble hooks so that you can in fact, make a quick strike after the telltale flag is up. One of the problems of the single hook method is a lot of fish drop the bait. This could be because of the line getting caught in the weeds or the bottom and creating extra tension that the fish can feel as it pulls more and more line out. The quick-strike setup allows you to set the hook as soon as you get there. The extra hooks and quick-set both improve the odds of making good contact.


Jeff Gustafson of Kenora, Ontario, spends a lot of time in Ontario’s Sunset Country region pursuing big pike underneath the ice. Jeff is a big fan of the quick-strike rigs. “All the features you need in a quick-strike rig are incorporated in the Northland Predator Rig. Good hooks, flexible wire, swivel, flash and the ability to hang the bait level in a natural state. It is well thought out and works wonders on pike,” Gustafson concludes.

High-quality tip-up line is vital. Being able to set the hook and fight a giant fish hand over hand can’t be done with just any old line. You need to keep tension on the fish at all times and give the fish the opportunity to run when it wants to. Lines like Sufix Performance metered Tip-up Ice Braid provide all the features needed to get the job done.


When it comes to using dead bait, it is important to remove any air that may be trapped inside. A good thing to do is set up the Predator rig on your bait and drop it in the hole to observe how the bait sits. If it wants to float up or on its side, then make the necessary adjustments. Squeeze out any excess air. The end product should be a bait that hangs horizontal a few inches off bottom. Anything less than that will diminish your results. “There is no better method for catching BIG pike under the ice than with these rigs and big, dead ciscoe,” says Gustafson.

Are you ready to hoist that lunker pike? You should be! Tip-up fishing has been around for quite some time and for good reason—it flat out works, and allows you to cover some water. So gather up your gear, some company and get after it.