Ice fishing tip-ups are simple in design and have proven to be highly useful in catching northern pike, lake trout, walleye, and other popular fish through the ice. Some anglers will also fish for steelhead and salmon through the ice utilizing tip-ups.
The best ice fishing tip-ups are ones that angles have tested in the harshest conditions, and our top picks are:
- HT Enterprise PTE-200 Polar Therm Extreme: Best Overall
- Frabill Arctic Fire Tip-Up – Best Heavy-Duty
- HT Enterprises Deluxe Polar Tip-Up: Most Popular
You can set up one or more tip-ups and relax inside a shanty or a lakeside cabin while keeping an eye open for the telltale sign of a fish taking the bait or lure – a small flag flying in the air.
Tip-ups make it possible to fish more water while on the ice by spreading them out over an area. You can use a traditional ice rod and reel at one or two holes and a tip-up or two and one or two more holes.
Their only limits are how many lines a state allows while fishing.
The basic ice fishing tip-up remains generally the same as it always has with a simple but highly effective design. Technology, though, is giving ice anglers more options for ice fishing tip-ups.
What is an Ice Fishing Tip-Up?
Ice fishing tip-ups have been around for as long as people have been drilling holes in the ice to catch fish. The general design which is a plank with a hole in it that lowers a spool of line into the water with the hook and either bait or a lure at the business end.
The tip-up has a small fluorescent orange flag that you pin down which is then released when a fish takes the lure or bait. When a fish takes the bait, the flag tips up so you know something has hit the line. Then you go out and set the hook if the fish is still there and pull it up through the ice.
Modern versions of the ice fishing tip-up include ones with a light that illuminates when the flag is tripped so you can see it at night or in poor visibility during bad weather.
Other versions incorporate ice fishing rods and ice fishing reels so you can do more than muscle the fish through the ice and have a better chance of catching a larger fish using the drag and rod action instead of muscling the fish with a straight line.
Top-Rated Ice Fishing Tip-Ups: Comprehensive Reviews
Here’s a quick rundown of the best ice-fishing tip-ups that you might consider for your ice fishing adventures.
1. HT Enterprise PTE-200 Polar Therm Extreme Tip-Up
This could very well be the best ice fishing tip up on the market with a lot of great features. It gets a lot of positive reviews.
There are two models, the standard as shown in the image, and the Extreme which is heavier duty and has the added mini tackle box attached.
- They stack together and fit in standard buckets for easy transport.
- The onboard tackle box is handy to have so you always have extra hooks or jigs at each hole.
- It is very visible on the ice, which is great if there is a lot of snowmobile traffic on your lake.
- The antenna style flag sets it apart from other tip ups of this type.
- You can really see that flag from a long distance when you have multiple tip ups spread out over large areas.
- It also has a 200 foot spool with enough line capacity for deep water.
- Overall, a great product with excellent innovations from a good ice-fishing company that shows it was designed by people who spend a lot of time ice-fishing.
2. Frabill Arctic Fire Tip-Up
This is one of the most popular tip-ups on the market and one of the best ice fishing tip-ups available. It comes in a yellow base or orange base.
I really like the build quality of this durable heavy duty tip-up and how easy it is to use. the flag is very bright and is a good length at 17.5″.
With its dual settings, this is suitable for smaller panfish but will also hold larger lures and big baits for large fish.
I like the molded-in 19″ ruler with tapered rails for for snow and ice removal.
The metal spool has a large capacity with counter-balance crank knobs for a wobble-free performance.
I like how well it folds up and packs away and I can easily tuck the flag away for storage.
3. HT Enterprises Polar Ice Tip-Up: A Lightweight Champion
The Polar Ice Tip-Up by HT Enterprises is a traditional design made with modern materials.
It uses composite instead of wood with a trip flag held in place by a shaft or lever that is connected to a 200-yard spool of fishing line. An axle connects the shaft and the spool of line so the flag goes up every time.
The composite plank is more durable than wood. The Polar Ice Tip-Up is a very basic and highly reliable design that can last for decades.
Other Good Tip-Up Options To Consider
Beaver Dam Original Tip-Up: The Legendary Choice
When I refer to the traditional tip-up, the Beaver Dam Original Tip-Up is the one I am talking about.
It has a wooden plank or rail that is varnished to stop water saturation of the wood. It lowers a spool of fishing line into the water so it won’t freeze and uses an axle attached to a small shaft above water that pins the flag in place.
When a fish strikes and the spool unwinds by a half turn, the spring-loaded flag tips up and tells you a fish has hit the line.
The Beaver Dam tip-up has been around for more than 50 years and still catches fish through the ice as well as any other tip-up. It remains a strong candidate for the best ice fishing tip-up on the market with decades of success to back up that claim.
Frabill Dawg Bone Tip-Up: Unique Design with a Strong Fan Base
Frabill’s Dawg Bone tip-up is the same as the original tip-up with a twist. The plank or rail is made from light and durable polymer materials and is thinner along its length than it is at either end.
The unique shape makes it look similar to a dog bone, which is how the ice fishing tip-up earned its descriptive name. The Dawg Bone is very affordable, light, and fast to deploy while fitting holes that are up to 10 inches in diameter.
Frabill Pro Thermal Insulated Tip-Up: The Cold-Weather Warrior
The Pro Thermal Insulated Tip-Up by Frabill is round and covers the entire hole to keep slush and snow from piling into it. The insulated tip-up prevents the line from freezing up in temperatures as cold as minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
The tip-up’s round shape blocks light from getting into the hole to prevent spooking fish away from the bait or lure. It works the same as a traditional tip-up in every other way, but its unique design makes it a sure candidate for the title of best ice fishing tip-up. You can carry them stacked inside a bait bucket while crossing the ice.
Heritage Laker Ice Traps: The East Coast Favorite
Heritage Laker’s Ice Traps are another traditional tip-up design that has worked great for many decades. They have been around for as long as any other tip-up and is still around because you can’t beat a nearly perfect design.
It’s made from three pieces of wood, two of which cross over to create an X pattern while a thicker piece holds the flag and a spool of line that lowers into the water. When a fish pulls on the line, a lever trips the flag so it tips up.
The Heritage Laker Ice Traps have decades of success, making the design a candidate for the best ice fishing tip-up on the market.
HT Husky DLX: A Blend of Tradition and Quality
The HT Husky DLX is virtually identical to the Beaver Dam tip-up and works in exactly the same manner. Its design and build quality make it a sure winner with its traditional wooden frame construction. It won’t freeze up and lets the line flow easily from the spool while the flag signals a bite on the line.
HT Enterprises Polar Thermal Extreme: The Ultimate in Thermal Design
The Polar Thermal Extreme is another tip-up that is round to cover the entire hole and keep slush, snow, and light out of the water. It works similarly to the Frabill Pro Thermal Insulated Tip-Up and is just as effective.
Different Styles of Tip-Ups: A Comparative Analysis
Traditional Tip Ups: The traditional tip-ups are proven winners and on numbers alone have a solid claim to the title of the best ice fishing tip-ups. They are simple in design, so there is very little that could go wrong. If something does, it should be easy to fix. You also could use the parts from two broken ones to make one good one.
Round Tip Ups And Thermal Tip Ups: Thermal tip-ups are slightly different and make it easier to place the round tip-ups over a hole and forget about them until the flag flies when a fish bites. You won’t have to worry about the hole icing over and continually clearing it to ensure it works.
Pop-ups: Pop-ups are another newer type of tip-up that uses magnets instead of friction to keep the flag in place. The flags on the older styles sometimes trip when a crosswind blows them loose, but pop-ups won’t do that. They only fly the flag when a bite occurs.
Cross Style Tip Ups: The cross-style tip-up is another traditional style that is best exhibited by the Laker ice traps. Because they have a center post that extends from below the water to a foot or so in the air, it’s easier to see the flag when one tips up to signal a bite.
Key Features to Consider When Buying an Ice Fishing Tip-Up
Quality: Quality and durability are two hallmarks of the best ice fishing tip-ups and apply to each tip-up that is listed above.
A simple but effective design made using quality materials ensures the tip-ups can be used winter after winter for many years and even decades.
Spool: You’ll want to ensure the spool will hold enough line that is strong enough to haul in whatever species of fish you are trying to catch.
Flag: The flag generally needs to be blaze orange or a similar bright color that is easy to see against the white snow or grayish ice covering the lake. If you do a lot of night fishing through the ice, a flag that has a light attachment that lights up when the flag is deployed will make it more visible.
Adjustable: You can adjust the trip bar on many tip-ups so that it won’t trigger the flag without an appropriately sized fish taking the line. That way, you won’t have to waste time responding to a false flag caused by small baitfish bumping the line.
What Is The Best Line For Tip Ups
Everyone I talk to and even when researching online the consensus is the best line for tip-ups is a Dacron line. Coated and uncoated dacron lines are best.
Some great options are:
- Sufix Performance V-Coat 50-Yards Spool Size Tip Up Braid Line – This coated braided line gets a lot of great reviews from ice anglers.
- Sufix Performance 50-Yards Spool Size Tip Up Ice Braid Line – Another well likes line that is fast sinking with low memory and exceptional cold-weather handling.
- HT Enterprises Polar Ice Braided Tip-Up Line – A good line that has been around for a while and is liked by anglers.
Tip Up Line Size
Depending on the species, most anglers will use 20 to 50 pound line. And most spools of line come in lengths of 50 yards which is enough line for most lakes. If you fish very deep lakes, you can get 150 yards in some brands.
Expert Tips for Maximizing Your Catch with Tip-Ups
You need to know what kind of fish you want to catch, the approximate depth where you can find them, and what types of bait or lures are most likely to draw its interest. Studies suggest that some fish are more active while others are less active but with the right approach, more fish can be caught with these tips.
Use Electronics: You could help your efforts by using a fish finder to see where baitfish might be located and at what depth when you want to catch a pike, walleye, or lake trout that is more likely to feed on them.
Know Your Lake: You could also use a contour map of the lake you are fishing to see where the drop-offs, flats, and pinch points are located and target your fish by placing your tip-ups in the best location where they are most likely to swim while feeding.
Gear Up: Having the right gear whihc includes good ice augers, ice fishing line, shelter and proper clothing can make all the difference. See Best Ice Fishing Gear List.
Traditional vs. Thermal Tip-Ups: Which is Best for You?
Traditional tip-ups are proven designs and fast to deploy when moving from hole to hole. The only real downside is the wind can blow the flag loose and give a false indication of a strike. The design also enables snow and slush to enter the hole, which might freeze over even if no snow or slush enters it.
The thermal tip-ups are a little bulkier but require less maintenance of the hole while you are on the ice by stopping snow and slush from entering the holes. They also stop the holes from freezing over so you can be certain the line will deploy when a fish strikes. If you are worried about sunlight entering the hold, the thermal style stops that from happening, too.
When the wind is relatively calm, snow isn’t falling, and the ice isn’t freezing over, the traditional style works fine. When the conditions are worse, though, you might find the thermal style to be more beneficial.
Common Challenges with Ice Fishing Tip-Ups and How to Overcome Them
Some common problems can affect tip-ups when you have them deployed.
Freezing Holes and Slush: The freezing over of ice fishing holes is one of them, which the thermal tip-ups handle quite well. The same goes for snow and slush entering the hole after you deploy the tip-up.
Deep Snow: If the snow is deep, you might want to use the cross-type tip-up because it keeps the flag higher in the air, which makes it easier to see without having to shovel away any snow to create a line of sight to the flag.
Maintenance: Maintaining tip-ups is relatively simple because they have a simple design and construction. You just need to ensure they don’t rust over after you take them home. You can dry them off and use steel wool on any rust or corrosion that might appear. Using grease that won’t freeze also can help keep the parts working well.