By Glen Schmitt
Flag up! At some point, most ice anglers have incorporated tip-ups into their winter fishing system and shouted those two words.
While there’s a fun, social component to using tip-ups, they are an effective tool, too. This is especially true for icing northern pike. The key is knowing where to set them.
Early ice vegetation
During the very early stages of the ice fishing season, the most aggressive northern pike in a given system usually relate to shallow weeds. These fish are extending that fall feeding binge as you have to “sneak” onto the ice.
Pike are ambush feeders, so suitable cover and forage tops everything else. Find a rich stretch of healthy vegetation and you’ll find the food source, along with an abundance of northern pike taking advantage of the situation.
If you’ve ever sat in a darkened shanty where spearing is legal for pike, or sight-fished for them, you know how many pike slide through the shallow weeds. These fish are pressured very little, which usually makes them willing participants.
Look for thick cover, not sparse areas of grass, and if it still has some green to it, your odds are even better.
At first ice, look for weeds in less than 10 feet or so and spread your tip-ups out. Hit the shallow weed edges and open pockets within the cover.
Don’t be afraid to set a flag on the shallow side of the weeds, either. If there’s suitable cover and forage, aggressive pike are comfortable feeding in very skinny water.
Inlet and outlet areas
There seems to be a natural holding area for northern pike just outside of most inlets and outlets. These areas don’t always have cover, but they hold forage and that has to be why pike relate to them.
Even when ice covers a lake, there’s usually some water movement extending out from these locations. Obviously, approaching these spots is a sketchy proposition due to the likelihood of there being thinner ice, so make sure you know your area.
Setting a tip-up spread just outside of these locations, either on top where it’s flat or near the edge as it starts to drop off, should produce pike.
Picture pike moving up and down or in and out of these holding areas to feed. A well placed tip-up spread in that feeding zone is golden.
Generally, expect more activity up shallow early or late each day, while the edges or breaks might be more productive during midday hours when pike are less aggressive.
Bays with depth and cover
The physical features of some bays off main lake acreage are like individual bodies of water. They don’t have to be large, just deep enough to hold fish and suitable pike habitat.
That might be vegetation, mud, or simply a pocket of slightly deeper water than the rest of the bay. The reality is that northern pike might spend most of their winter in a bay rather than the main lake if it possesses cover and food.
Depending on the size of a given bay, finding areas that hold pike can be easy to pinpoint. Set your tip-ups in the aforementioned obvious spots – weedbeds and deep pockets. Or, if they exist, bulrush edges with some depth are ideal bay ambush points for pike.
Think of bays that tend to produce panfish during the ice fishing season. If there are large pods of perch, bluegills, and crappies inhabiting a bay, northern pike will be in there chewing on them, as well.