The Fishing and Marine Industry Daily News Feed

Foolproof Flagging on the Ice

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Fishing tip-ups and deadsticks can really optimize your hardwater time while jigging with another rod. How many lines you can have in operation varies by state, however. In Minnesota, anglers are allowed two lines, so the practice is typically to jig one rod and set a tip-up or deadstick. In both Dakotas, however, an ice angler is allowed four lines, which really expands tip-up or deadstick coverage. On Wisconsin waters, ice anglers can fish three simultaneous baits.

The tip-up question most ice anglers ask is how long do you wait to set the hook? Old-timers will tell you to smoke a cigarette down to the nub after the flag trips, then set the hook.

Of course, this can lead to gut-hooked fish, making release practically impossible. Old school? Yes, but probably not the best advice. But it brings up a good point. With tip-ups and deadsticks timing is everything.

We asked veteran ice guide Brian “Bro” Brosdahl the same question.

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“Typically, when the fish hits you need to give them a little time, especially if you’re using bigger bait like suckers or large shiners or rainbows. Initially, walleyes kill their prey, but they don’t have crusher pads in their throats like bass or catfish. Their throats are just a soft membrane, so they take their time killing the prey before they swallow it—making sure it’s something they want. Often, during the killing process, they squeeze the minnow until it stops moving, turn it in their mouth, then swallow it,” offers Brosdahl.

Brosdahl observes that too many ice anglers set the hook when the walleye is still in the killing stage and the quarry swims away unhooked, leading to frustration. While the walleye fully intended on eating the bait, it was just going through its feeding routine, and the hook was set prematurely.

“The key thing to remember is to give the walleye enough time to kill the minnow before it turns it in its mouth and finally swallows it. This can take anywhere from 30 seconds to over a minute, depending on the size of the minnow,” advises Brosdahl.

However, with aggressive hits, anglers may only need 10 or 15 seconds before setting the hook or you’re digging out deep-hooked barbed metal.

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Walleye Tip-Up Hardware

On the line front, Brosdahl uses heavy 50-lb. braid that doesn’t burn your fingers when reeling it in hand-over-hand. To that, he attaches a barrel swivel, a 6- to 8-foot 5- or 6-pound Sunline fluorocarbon leader, and a neon-colored slip bobber knot to mark his depth positioning. He also employs a medium-sized split-shot to pin the bait in place.

At the business end, Brosdahl snells a Gamakatsu Octopus Hook for smaller- to medium-sized minnows; with bigger bait, he uses a Gamakatsu Walleye Wide Gap hook.

“I like fluorescent and red hooks,” shares Brosdahl. “Sometimes I’ll stick a little bead above the hook for added attraction. You’re fishing vertically, so you don’t have to tie the bead in. It just sinks down to the hook. Dorsal-hook a minnow and set it six-inches off the bottom. In gin-clear, zebra mussel-infested waters, I might run the minnow a foot-and-a-half off bottom.”

But walleyes don’t always feed near bottom. Especially if you’re using forward-facing sonar like Humminbird MEGA Live, you might notice that walleyes are 4- to 5-feet off the bottom just cruising, so you need to set your bait accordingly.

“You don’t want to fish under the walleyes,” advises Brosdahl. “You want your bait at their level or slightly above.”

“And here’s the kicker tip of the day,” shares Brosdahl. “If you’re fishing an 8- to 10-foot flat, don’t be afraid to set one of your tip-ups just off the nearest drop-off over the 30- to 40-foot water at the same depth as the shallower, adjacent flat. You’d be surprised how many walleyes don’t run along the bottom of the break into the basin. Instead, they suspend high in the water column at the same depth as the nearby flat.”

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Bro’s Walleye Deadstick Set-Up & Routine

“If I’m on Red Lake or Lake of the Woods—or darker-stained lakes – I’ll use a Northland Bro Bug Spoon and dorsal-hook a fathead or rainbow on the treble hook, letting it dangle firmly in place. My go-to colors are Sneeze, Purple Wonder, and Wonderbread,” notes Brosdahl.

Conversely, if Brosdahl is fishing a gin-clear lake where walleyes are fussy, he’ll rig his deadstick with a red #4 Gamakatsu Octopus Hook, often sizing down to a #6 or #8 if the fish are spooky.

In terms of a deadsticking routine, Brosdahl has used the same simple and economical technique for over 30 years.

“While deadstick-assisting devices and baitfeeder reels have become all the rage, I prefer to deadstick the cheap and old-fashioned way. I put a rubber band on the handle of my rod, flip the bail of my Daiwa QZ 750 open, and take a little bit of line out and tuck it under the rubber band—then, when the fish hits, it pulls the line out from under the rubber band and can run freely with the minnow. The system is foolproof,” offers Brosdahl.

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Pike Tip-Up Fishing

Brosdahl’s pike tip-up routine focuses on keeping fish healthy for release.

“While fishing big sucker minnows on a Northland Quick-Strike Predator Rig is proven and effective, I’m typically using a large 3/0 Gamakatsu Circle Hook. While I love catching big pike, I don’t keep any of them, so the circle hook allows me to pull on the line as the pike is swimming away, hooking them in the corner of the mouth every time,” offers Brosdahl.

So how does Bro hook big pike bait? He runs the hook barb just under the dorsal fin or slightly toward the tail.

When it comes to line, Brosdahl runs a 3-foot leader of 50- or 60-pound Sunline fluorocarbon attached to 50-pound braid. “Still, if there are massive, 40-inch-plus pike in the area, I will run a typical wire leader and 3/0 Gamakatsu Circle Hook. For fishing with giant, decoy-sized suckers, I just upsize the hook,” offers Brosdahl.

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High-Probability Tip-Up Locations for Pike

Brosdahl has observed over decades that early- to mid-ice pike will set-up on weed edges, as well as big, muddy, or shallow flats where massive weedbeds existed during summer.

“Right now, areas of weeds, creek channels, or neckdowns into the basin are going to hold big pike,” says Brosdahl. “Even if the weeds are dying off, these are the places where pike will congregate to root wintering frogs out of the soft bottom.”

He says these are the same general locations where pike can also snack on tullibees lingering after their fall spawn, as well as perch, which often hang out in the weeds before they dump down into the basin.

Parting Words

Bro also recognizes there are dozens and dozens of tip-up styles on the market. Newfangled reinvent-the-mousetrap offerings hit every season. But Bro’s a beans and wieners sort of guy, trusts proven gear, and keeps things simple. Afterall, the tip-up has only two jobs: alert a strike and not get tangled or seize when a fish runs. Pretty hard to beat the original Beaver Dam. There are cheaper options, too, but make sure their flags fly and spools turn effortlessly or you just wasted $20 on bait.

ABOUT Northland® Fishing Tackle

In 1975, a young Northwoods fishing guide named John Peterson started pouring jigs and tying tackle for his clients in a small remote cabin in northern Minnesota. The lures were innovative, made with high quality components, and most importantly, were catching fish when no other baits were working! Word spread like wildfire, the phone started ringing… and the Northland Fishing Tackle® brand was in hot demand! For 40 years now, John and the Northland® team have been designing, testing and perfecting an exclusive line of products that catch fish like no other brand on the market today. Manufactured in the heart of Minnesota’s finest fishing waters, Northland® is one of the country’s leading producers of premium quality jigs, live bait rigs, spinnerbaits and spoons for crappies, bluegills, perch, walleyes, bass, trout, northern pike and muskies.

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