Whether you’re a nomadic ice fisher, moving from place to place, or whether you have your own dedicated ice house, tip ups can be a great, fun aid to your fishing game.
They’ll add to the effectiveness of your main fishing holes, but can also help you cover more water on the chance of finding more fish and better bites.
They also, let’s face it, add some exhilaration to your ice fishing – the moment your flag goes up, everything turns from a routine afternoon on the ice to an excited scramble to see what you’ve caught.
They’re the ice fishing equivalent of Christmas morning when you’re a kid – you can’t wait to see what Santa Claus brought you.
Maybe it’s that sense of anticipation, that thrill, that uncertainty about what you’ve got that turns so many ice fishers into hardcore tip up fans.
The weird thing about tip ups is that they’ve been around for years, and look almost exactly like they did when they first appeared, but yet they’ve been improved and refined many times, to be more effective and efficient as an aid to ice fishing.
They’re like 21st century smartphones that still look like two tin cans tied together with string.
These days, beneath the simple-seeming exterior, they’re refined ice fishing traps, with sensitive, reliable bite triggers, and several extremely efficient styles to choose from. Here, we’ll run you through the best modern tip ups to add to your fishing kit.
Whichever style of tip up fits your fishing lifestyle, there’ll be one which excels at its job. We’ve gathered the five we consider are the best of the best.
5 Best Ice Fishing Tip Ups - Comparison Table
5 Best Ice Fishing Tip Ups - Reviews
Holes that freeze over with regular tip ups are just disappointment and misery delayed by freezing time.
The insulated HT Polar Therm Extreme banishes that misery and disappointment from your life, while doing everything else you need a tip up to do for you.
Its plastic base is 12” in diameter, so it will completely cover a 10” hole, keeping it snow-free and ice-free.
Want extra neat tricks? Sure, no problem – the Polar Therm Extreme includes a small tackle box in the top, for extra hooks, leaders, and terminal tackle. It also includes a holder for a light stick, so you can find it easily during night fishing. It gives you the things you need, where you need them.
The Polar Therm Extreme is also easy to store and transport – the flagpole telescopes down and clips to the base. That means you can fit half a dozen tip ups into a 5 gallon bucket. An easier tip up than that doesn’t exist on the commercial market right now.
The Husky DLX combines a wooden base, coated with water-resistant polyurethane. All its metal parts are resistant to corrosion. The line trigger has two velvet-smooth settings. And it comes with a 200 feet line capacity spool with a built-in winder.
That’s a lot of techno tip up for your money.
It’s a tip up that’s designed to operate well in low temperatures and that pays off in the user experience – many ice fishers have reported the Husky DLX gives no issues but delivers smooth spinning ever when the temperatures go sub-zero.
The Husky DLX is ruggedly built, using quality materials, and should give you years, if not decades of successful ice fishing – and importantly for your tip up budget, it’ll do that for half the price of a Beaver Dam tip up.
Half the cost means twice the number – twice the ice fishing Christmas gifts. That’s more than enough to earn a top value for money recommendation in our list.
If you prefer the look and feel of traditional hardwood tip ups, you’re going to want to make friends with the Frabill Classic.
It’s based on a hardwood board, but coated with urethane for durability for water-resistance at low temperatures. The shaft and trigger have two settings, which allow you to prime the sit up for either light or medium bite detection.
Meanwhile, the shaft and bearing surfaces come lubed up to cope with the cold weather and help you maintain the tip up in peak condition
The flag is made of traditional cloth, rather than plastic. So what? So it flutters in the breeze when it’s triggered, and you’ll notice it much faster.
The line spool, sized for 200 feet of line, can be quickly retrieved by using two knobs on the bottom.
If you’re keeping it traditional, but still want a cheaper option than a Beaver Dam, the Frabill Classic is likely to be your new best friend.
On the other hand, if you’re not worried about tradition, but you want cheap effective tip ups by the bucket full, go with the Frabill Arctic Fire. It gives you all the best elements from classic tip ups, in a bright, hardwearing, budget-conscious new identity.
Temperature-resilient polypropylene is your base here, with a ruler built-in on the side. There’s a wind-up handle on the spool for ease of use when setting up your bait too.
All in all, the Arctic Fire proves that cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. It doesn’t have to mean flimsy. And it doesn’t have to mean basic.
The Arctic Fire is cheap in the best way – delivering an effective, resilient tip up in a way that allows you to buy in bulk and give yourself more chances of ice fishing success.
If you’re a long-time ice fisher, there’s a strong chance you’re going to have a taste for tradition in your veins. There’s a glorious stubborn streak you need to sit and fish on ice year in, year out, a purist, tough-as-nails determination to pit your will against the elements, and win.
If you’re that kind of purist when it comes to your ice fishing kit, you probably already know there’s nothing to beat the original Beaver Dam tip up.
The company was one of the first to figure out how to replicate a reliable trigger and flag trip combination, and it has a place in the hearts and memories of many an ice fisher.
Today, the Beaver Dam Original combines all that heritage with the fundamentals of what you need to have a successful ice fishing trip.
You can set your line quickly with a simple loop, and the line spool is as smooth as you’d expect from a company with so many decades of expertise in the game.
Yes, the Beaver Dam Original tip up is a pricy product. But it’ll give you decades of reliable ice fishing, and the company’s still based in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.
Excellent, market-topping, durable products from an American company with a strong heritage in building that market from scratch. That’s why the Beaver Dam Original is our best classic wood tip up.
5 Best Ice Fishing Tip Ups - Buyers Guide
There’s a wide variety in the tip up market, but they all come down to a handful of essential elements.
You need a base sitting over an ice hole. You need an arm with a spool of line. You need a trigger bar. And you need a spring-loaded arm with a flag attached, to show you when you’ve got a bite.
When a fish takes the bait, the tug on the line turns the arm, the arm triggers the flag, and you run over like a kid at Christmas, to see what the Santa Claus of ice fishing has brought you.
Simple, effective, quite good fun – where’s the bad?
Nowhere. Except while having one tip up is quite cheap, once you know you can have more than one, nobody ever uses just the one. After all, why would you? Why have just one Christmas gift, when you can have four or five?
Naturally, the answer to that is because Santa Claus is a little too busy to ice fish. If tip ups are Christmas gifts, then the important difference is you have to buy your own. That can get expensive if you want to have a whole line of flags to watch.
Add to that the fact that the mechanisms vary between styles, materials and makers, and that the sensitivity of each mechanism depends on how it’s made, and you end up with a lot of variables to choose between. So be sure you know what features belong to which tip up before you click the ‘buy’ button.
Types Of Tip Up
Hardwood – Most ice fisherman are familiar with hardwood tip ups, because they’re traditional and have been around as long as tip ups themselves have been around.
A hardwood tip up combines a plank of hardwood, a pivoting arm and a spool of line. They have a simple bite trigger, which makes them both simple to use, and reliable – the flag doesn’t fly unless the fish has taken the bait, meaning there’s a good degree of certainty to using them. The down side of that is that certainty costs – and so does hardwood, compared to cheaper plastic options.
Thermal – One of the problems with traditional hardwood tip ups is that there’s a chance the hole will freeze over while you sit there, waiting for your flag to fly.
Thermal tip ups completely cover the ice hole with an insulated base. Boom – no more freeze-over. Another issue with traditional tip ups is that if you have an ice hole, you’re letting in light where there was less light before, which can freak out early morning fish.
But thermal tip ups cover the hole completely, meaning you don’t disturb the early fish, meaning they’re more likely to catch your worm – and to come home with you for breakfast.
It’s also a massively attractive feature of thermal tip ups that they’re round, and stack like donuts in the 5 gallon buckets ice fisherman habitually use.
Windlass – This is where the technology of tip ups starts to get more complicated – and less reliable. To convince the fish that your bait is real and alive, movement is useful. In windlass tip ups, a small sail sways in the breeze, and makes your bait bob and jig, simulating life.
It’s a great idea in theory, but it suffers both from a lack of reliability – it’s not like you can program a wind to move with the instincts of a bait animal – and the fact that you need just the right amount of wind to make it work.
Too little wind and it’s useless. Too much wind and it overdoes it, and the gentle jigging of your bait becomes a full-on can-can which fools – and therefore attracts - nothing.
Rod Holders – A rod holder is a great low-energy, low-effort alternative to tip ups, especially if you’re after sluggish, more subtle biting fish. You just hang your rod over the hole. Your bait will dangle in the water.
When the fish takes the bait, the rod dips down. You gently pick it up and reel, and there you are – sluggish fish for supper.
Did you Know? The first of the Beaver Dam tip ups were known as Arctic Fisherman tip ups. First made in the 1930s, these days, they’re a collector’s item. Beaver Dam tip ups are still individually handmade in the US to this day.
The Features Of A Tip Up
Materials – This depends on which type of tip up you’re dealing with. Traditional tip ups are made from hardwood planks. Plastic tip ups work well too, and are a lot cheaper than wooden ones.
Be aware though – plastic tip ups are known to bend and break much more easily than the wooden versions. Also, lots of ice fishermen are doing their bit for the environment by cutting back on the amount of plastic they use.
All About The Base – It doesn’t matter what kind of tip up you choose, they all need a long, wide base. The base needs to sit stable over the hole, because it’s doing the job your bodyweight would do in river fishing – when the fish takes the bait, it’ll jerk the line.
Where you would normally act as a brace to stop the fish getting away with the bait and snapping the line, here, the base in doing that job for you.
Naturally, thermal tip ups, which are round, give you a more stable base than the likes of planks. If you’re going to use planks though, go for something shaped like a bow tie for extra stability, rather than simple narrow planks.
Trigger Bar – The trigger bar is responsible for the tension on your flag and your spool. Tip ups can usually be set with the tension you want – light, medium, or heavy – depending on the type of fish you’re trying to catch. The bigger the fish, the heavier you should set your trigger tension.
It’s also a good plan to set the tension higher if the wind is heavier, because while it might not sound likely, a trigger bar set too lightly can be activated by a strong wind and give you a false flag event, which is like tearing open a Christmas gift only to find it’s empty.
Bottom line, the better your trigger and your tripping mechanism, the more effective and reliable your tip up will be.
Flag – Flags are all about being seen from a distance. When the trigger is tripped, it’s the flag that tells you you’ve had a bite. So choose a flag in bright colors that you don’t have to strain to see. Beige flags, grey flags, cream-coloured flags – no good, ditch them.
You want a flag colored so it YELLS at you when you get a bite, otherwise they’re just an exercise in irritation and eye strain.
Some ice fishers even customize their own flags with sports team colours, political affiliations, you name it – if it’ll help you see the flag, go wild, but never go subtle.
Bait Keeper Clip – This does very much what it says it does. It’s a clip to use with heavier weights and larger live bait like sucker minnows, that move around a lot. The clip keeps your line under your board to prevent the movement of the bait from causing false flag alerts.
Storage – If you’re going to use multiple tip ups at any one time – and you are, you know you are – you’re by no means alone. Ice anglers have been using multiples for decades. Manufacturers have taken note of that, and increasingly made their tip ups storage-friendly.
Traditional board tip ups usually have slots into which you can fold all the working parts, like the flag and the spool. Thermal tip ups are usually round and stack neatly in a 5 gallon bucket.