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Catching Fish on a Frozen Lake

With decent ice forming on a number of area lakes, the hard water gang is out in full force. Last week we took a look at how we hard water anglers penetrated the ice barrier just to access the fish, but now I want to zero in on how to hook and land a fish

With decent ice forming on a number of area lakes, the hard water gang is out in full force. Last week we took a look at how we hard water anglers penetrated the ice barrier just to access the fish, but now I want to zero in on how to hook and land a fish under these icy conditions. The equipment used in taking fish through the ice is often not at all like the rods and reels used in a typical day out on the lake in your boat. While we do use modified rods and reels for ice fishing, the fact is sometimes rods and reels are not used at all.

Let me explain. In my early days of ice fishing in western Pennsylvania, almost nobody used any kind of rod or reel to take fish, but rather, the most commonly used device was something called a tip-up. Simply put, a tip-up is a type of “fish trap”; it’s a baited device that signals the angler when to move in and bring the catch up through the ice hole.

Early tip-ups were quite simple in construction; basically, two squared off wooden sticks about 15 inches long, and a half-inch in diameter are connected with a little bolt and wing nut. When at right angles, the device can be set over an ice hole supporting other apparatus. Another wooden rod of about the same length is attached with a wing nut near the center of the other two, but this one is perpendicular to the other two. A simple round reel is attached at the end that will be lowered into the water, and at the upper end that sticks up above the frozen ice is a spring-loaded flag. When a fish takes the bait, the reel turns, setting off the spring-loaded flag that pops up, telling the fisherman to spring into action.

Tip-ups can be used for almost any type of hard water fish; you simply adjust the line size, hook size, and type of bait to suit the fish you are after. For example, if it’s trout I’m after, I’ll use a size 12 hook, 4- or 6-pound test line, and a small minnow or some other appropriate trout bait; the same size hooks and line works well for most panfish. If you are after bigger fish like pike, pickerel, and bass, go to larger hook sizes, heavier line, and larger bait offerings.

Of course, like all fishing equipment, even tip-ups have been altered and revamped. Instead of spring-loaded flags that pop up, some are triggered by the release of a magnetic device that allows a metal rod in the upright position to move up higher, indicating a strike. Other newer types of tip-ups are plastic disks that cover the ice hole; the flag and reel system work similar to the older wooden tip-ups, but the covered hole doesn’t fill with snow on a windy day, and they freeze over less quickly.

I like to start with the bait on my tip-ups about a foot off the bottom. To set for the proper depth, simply attach one of those clip-on weights to the hook on your tip-up and sound out the bottom. Once I sound the bottom, I wrap the line back on the reel until it begins to tighten then I go five more turns on the reel. I also have a button (almost any old button will do) on the line that I slide to the top-of-the-line spool — now I know exactly where to set the rig after every strike. Also, after a strike, I can look down the hole to see how far a fish may have run by the location of the button.

Tip-ups are still very popular, and over the past couple of weeks, I and a number of my ice fishing buddies have already taken some good fish with them. Each fisherman can have up to five devices, including tip-ups, and they should be under reasonable control. These days I use both tip-ups and the other very effective equipment — ice fishing rods and reels, so next week we’ll take a closer look at that equipment.

I should also take a moment to mention another ice fishing device that goes by the name Jaw Jacker. I have not seen one, but it’s my understanding that they are available for purchase. The Jaw Jacker automatically sets the hook when the rod snaps up when a fish takes the bait. It’s my understanding that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has declared them illegal for use in our state. I thought it might be a good idea to pass this information along.

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