Wednesday, January 8, 2014

3-Piece Ice Fishing Tip-Up Design (one homemade tip up)

One Home Made Tip-Up Plan

To start this series on home made tip-ups, I thought I should begin with quite possibly the best tip-up design I have ever seen catch fish on the ice. I don't actually have this model at hand in my arsenal, and have just seen it in use, so you will have to bear with my hand-drawn tip-up plans, but it is so simple, there isn't any way you could screw this up. Click here to start at step 1 of this fantastic home made tip-up design

Good Engineering Is Evident in the Simplicity of the Design

Someone much smarter than me said something like that sometime. And never has it been more true than in the design of this ice fishing trap. It is hard to call it a tip-up, or even a tip-down, since it has no tips, per se, but while I covered the pond with polar traps and sophisticated, high-priced designs, these two older gentlemen stood, casually glancing at their traps, and out-caught me time and time again.

How Does It Fare Against Our Goals?

In the introductory post to the topic of home made tip ups, I set forth a few goals. Here they are, along with their rating on a scale of 1-5:

  • Is it portable? 5 out of 5. you could easily carry 3 or 4 of these, even in their largest forms, in one rucksack. You could build this tip up with smaller PVC, and then carry even more of them.
  • Is it fail-safe? 4 out of 5. When discussing their design with the men I saw using them, they even complained about it freezing up. The solution, though, is extremely simple. The tip-ups need to be checked to ensure they haven't frozen to the ice, and the line peeled off of the spool once and a while to ensure that at least some of it will come off of to give the fish a running start.
  • Is it effective? 4 out of 5. Yes, it will hook fish. Yes, it will operate, but it has to be watched. The alarm isn't a "passive" alarm like a flag, which alerts you after any activity has occurred. Instead, you only can tell if a fish is actively spooling out line.
  • Is it easy to use? 5 out of 5. Check for depth, drop down the line, wrap the line up by hand when you are done. Simple as can be.
  • Can it be replicated? 5 out of 5. The most expensive part of the design is the line, and once you have the supplies at hand, it takes about 5 minutes to make one.

There are also the pieces of the tip-up, once we have dissected it. Here is how I scored each piece individually:

  • Spool 4 out of 5. This trap is in and of itself, its own spool. It is very simple, which is great, and won't bind up, but the possibility for free-spooling exists (although it is a low possibility), so I subtracted one point. There is no drag, nothing to slow down a fish's ability to run with the line.
  • Anchor 5 out of 5. To get this trap to go through the ice, you would have to intentionally do so. If you sprayed some Great Stuff into one end of it to make it buoyant, it would help it float as well, and wouldn't stop you from carying it out to the ice either.
  • Alarm 4 out of 5. There is an alarm, but it has to be watched. If a fish pulled some line, then left the line slack, you wouldn't know that anything had happened. This alarm only operates when the fish is actively pulling line out.

Let's Get Started

Supplies needed

  • 1 length of PVC, 4" diameter works best. It must be longer than the diameter of your auger. I suggest about 18" of it.
  • 25-50 yards of braided fishing line. You can use tip-up line if you like, it doesn't freeze as harshly, so it might be a good idea, but it isn't necessary.
  • One can of either black, or brightly colored (pink, orange, whatever) spray paint.
  • One small drill bit.
  • If you have longer lengths of PVC, you will need a hack saw.

Step 1; create the anchor/spool/alarm

  1. Drill two holes through the PVC in its center.
  2. Using your spray paint,make one quarter of the PVC a different color from the rest.

Step 2; Tie on your line

  1. Thread the tag end of your line through both holes in your PVC
  2. Wrap the tag end back to your spool, and tie using a strong, secure knot of your choosing (any fishing knot recommended for line-to-line use will work)

Step 3; Spooling & Use

  1. Wrap the line around the center of the tip-up.
  2. Drill your auger holes and place the tip up with the tie-down hole directly above the ice-hole, so the line dangles freely into the water.
  3. Attach whichever type of tip-up rig you prefer. Tip with your favorite bait.

When a fish strikes, and takes out line, the PVC will spin, spooling off the line. From a distance, you will see the colors you spray painted flashing against the ice.

Step 4; Catch Fish!

You will need to set the hook like you standardly would on a tip-up, but otherwise you are done. To reiterate, you will need to watch this trap. This type of active alarm will not reliably tell you if activity has happened in the past, and can only identify if activity is occurring now. Good luck!

Stay dry;


Monday, January 6, 2014

Home Made Tip Ups

Creating Your Own Home Made Tip Ups

Click here for a list of home made tip up posts

Making your own tip-ups or tip-downs for ice fishing can be both fun and rewarding, if you successfully create something that is operational.

This post will be one in a series of post discussing the topic of home made tip ups, how to make a tip up, and how to improve upon home made tip up designs. In the end, we will only have a few goals we are trying to meet with our home-made tip-ups:

  • Is it portable? You will need to carry it out to the ice, so you want to make sure its not a herculean task just to move it.
  • Is it fail-safe? You will want to consider what happens when the device fails. Lots of things can happen to a tip-up. It could freeze, it could bind up, it could fall through the ice. How will you prevent these things?
  • Is it effective? Even once you know what happens in case of failure, you will want to know if you can rely on it to not only hook a fish, but alert you when a fish is hooked.
  • Is it easy to use? Consider the set-up and tear-down time. Consider the spooling time, if a fish takes your line out. How much time are you going to dedicate to your device when on the ice? The beauty of most tip-ups is that you set them, and then you can easily re-set them when needed.
  • Can it be replicated? If you have a truly good design that is effective, portable and predictable, you will want to build more than one of them. How difficult will it be to re-create your tip-up?

Don't Over-Think It!

You may have an idea in your head of the greatest, most convoluted contraption that will not only let you know when a fish has hit your bait, but will also set the hook, and even reel it in for you. Sure, go for it! And when you are fiddling with frozen parts, dead batteries, and half of the materials you constructed disappear beneath the ice, I will reel in the fish I caught with my 3-part tip up that I made in under a half hour.

Seriously, the ones that you see on the ice that actually catch fish are what you should be looking to create. These designs are already tested, tried, and functionally catch fish regularly. Don't re-invent the wheel if you don't have to, just get out your tools, and get to work on something you already know will do what you need it to do.

Borrow from the Best!

As I stated above, if you really are looking to put together a device that will catch fish, you shouldn't try to re-engineer something that has already been perfected (unless that's what you consider fun...but we're in this for the fish, aren't we?). Most of what you will need to include is already prepared for you. Line already comes on spools. Fishing rods are, in essence, line guides. Although you may think you have the greatest idea, chances are someone has already tried it, and there is a reason you don't see your design on the ice, in the forums or on any fishing blogs!

Dissecting the Ice Fishing Tip-Up

Before you embark on your quest to create your own design, you should consider what parts of an ice fishing tip down or tip up are really necessary for making it work. Inspect the ones you have already seen. Try to figure out how they work, what makes them effective, and what the necessary parts of an ice fishing tip up really are.

Here's the functional parts of an ice-fishing tip-up:

  • Spool You need some way for your device to store its line, and then allow the line to slip out when (preferably only when) a large enough fish pulls on the line.
  • Anchor You will need your tip-up to stay above the ice at all times, there should not be a way for the tip-up to slip into the hole it is fishing out of.
  • Alarm You will need a way to be alerted to the fact that something has taken line off of your spool. This will also involve some kind of trigger which triggers whatever kind of alarm system you have in place.
With these elements in mind, how will you fashion a home-made tip-up?

Stay tuned for my simple, 3-step home made tip up design, coming soon to an ice fishing blog near you.
Stay Dry

Update: here are the posts we have created about home made tip up designs:

Friday, January 3, 2014

Dawg Bone Compact Tip-Ups by Frabill (product review)

Buying New Tip-Ups

As I may have mentioned, I am a firm believer in building what you can, finding what you can, and recycling what you can when it comes to ice fishing. I don't like to pay full price for things that I will only get to use once and a while, so this will be the first time I have ever bought a new tip-up for ice fishing. My collection of other tip-ups (all lateral, or polar-style tip-ups, from a variety of manufacturers from genuine polar tip ups to HT) were all found at yard sales or used on ebay.

Still, though, as the rust develops and the lithium grease stops helping them turn, it was obvious I needed to add something to my bucket. I received a gift card over the holidays to one of the big-box sporting goods retailers, and blammo, I bought two new tip-ups. Still, I'm cheap, like really cheap, so I got a name brand, but as inexpensively as I could manage.

Skip down to full review

The Dawg Bone Tip-Ups

Frabill Dawg Bone Ice Fishing Tip-Up
This is the image from Frabill's website. Once I get them field-tested, I will show you how they work.

Why I made this choice

  • Price;
    Take a look around at the costs of your average, lateral, rail-style design. The Dawg Bone will save you roughly 6 dollars per tip-up.
  • Brand Name;
    Frabill makes good products. In retrospect, I should have bought my pop-up ice fishing shelter from them. I have always liked the trigger mechanism on Frabill tip-ups, how even the light-biting side provides a small notch.
  • Compact;
    The reviews I read in the ice fishing forums were mixed, but all agreed on one thing, they were easy to pack along, and took up virtually no space. I've been looking to reduce my load, so.....that sold me.
  • Price;
    I mean, c'mon. Look at that price!

My review of the Dawg Bone

As we found out with my review of the Eskimo QuickFish 3, you get what you pay for... 3.5 out of 5 on principle, 2.5 out of 5 in terms of meeting my expectations. I am not particularly happy with this purchase. But I will field test them and get back to you in the future.

  • Construction & Design;
    2 out of 5 This is the main reason for my disappointment. Not only were the flags a shoddy, limp felt that will not stand out from the flag pole (identification from a distance will be an issue), but one of the lock-nuts used to hold the contraption together was broken upon arrival. The stream-lined design is excellent, but there is no mechanism to hold the spool-depth at your desired setting. The plastic sleeve it rests in, and turns on the axis in, allows the spindle to raise up and down with little protest. Sure, a simple fix with some rubber o-rings will solve this, but I expected more from a brand with a reputation of top-quality materials. Continuing on critiquing the design, it is so obvious ways in which this could be improved. A few holes drilled in the foot of the base base, for instance, would allow a simpler method of storing the flag, if a customer wanted to lower the spool depth, and it would provide a way for a customer to attach a small piece of wood to solve the problem of the compact-ability counterpoint below.
  • Utility;
    3 out of 5 From a utilitarian point of view, these tip-ups are great. You get the Sub-Zero pre-lubrication from Frabill. That is outstanding. You get the top-of-the-line shaft and spindle, again, outstanding. They offer all of the perks of your basic tip-up, with compact-ability thrown in for extra measure. They seem a little less reliable, though. The carriage bolts holding the two pieces of the contraption together could easily come out of place, and as evidenced above, Frabill apparently spared some expense in the cost of the construction materials (the flag and the locking wing-nut). The flag itself leaves something to be desired. It is made of a flimsy felt, and does not stand out from the shaft. From a distance, it may be difficult to see if the flag is up. I will fix this by either using a small length of wire to make the flag extend perpendicular to the shaft, or I will replace the flag with one stolen from a gas-line marker flag I have in my basement.
  • Compact-ability;
    4 out of 5 These tip-ups fold up into a single stem, that fits into a backpack with no problems. If you like to travel light, these are the tip-ups you want to bring with you. Here is an image from Frabill's site which shows the entire thing folded up:
    Frabill Dawg Bone Tip-Up compact design

    It would have scored a 5 out of 5, but the counterpoint below takes one point away.
  • Compact-ability - a counter-point;
    I understand that I was looking for something compact. However, Frabill's own site states that this tip-up would operate over a 10 inch hole. The man who uses a Dawg Bone on a 10-inch hole is the man who wants to dispose of his 10 dollars. I measured it against my 8" auger, and the main, central bar of this tip-up will barely cover the hole. Sure, it could perch precariously over a 10" hole. But I wouldn't dare chance it.
  • Spooling;
  • 3.5 out of 5 Some of the reviews I read in the forums state that the spool is too stiff, creating too much drag on the line when spooling. I did not experience this. It seems just as smooth as any other tip-up I've used. I would suggest that users familiarize themselves with the Frabill trigger mechanisms, and begin to understand how the trigger itself can be loosened or tightened to increase or decrease the drag on the spool.

Overall, They will do. I have some construction to do on them since I have purchased them, but as we have learned, you get what you pay for. I would have expected a brand-new piece of equipment to be up to my "I am willing to ice fish with a casting rod make tip ups out of PVC" standards, so I am a little disappointed in this purchase.

Stay dry

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pop-up Style Ice Fishing Shelter (product review)

Deciding on My Ice Fishing Shelter

For years I have depended on my fellows to bring a shelter out to the pond I generally ice fish on. As that old, home-made shelter continued to deteriorate, and as my friends and I got older, and our schedules started not matching up more and more often, I decided it was time for me to invest in my own way to stay warm and dry. My review is below

    There were a few criteria I needed this shelter to meet.
  • Portability;
    I needed a way to get my shelter up to a pond to ice fish at least once a year, which includes a 6 hour drive. It needed to be something I could not only pack into the trunk of a sedan, but carry out to the center of a pond (or farther) on my back or in a sled.
  • Warmth;
    Let's not kid ourselves, the main reason we want a shelter is to stay out of the cold, and preserve some warmth. Insulation is key, and shelters, especially home-made ones, are notorious for letting in that icy breeze.
  • Accessibility;
    I wanted multiple entrances, so I could exit the shelter from either side. One reason for this is the weather. If it isn't all that cold outside, but the wind is murderous, you might want to leave one door open, and the wind-facing door closed, so your shelter becomes more of wind-stop than a insulator. The second reason is friends. I wanted two exists so we wouldn't be tripping over each other if we needed to get out and stretch our legs, or chase a tip-up flag.
  • Space;
    I wanted room for at least one other person, with a bucket/chair. Simple reason, I often have a few friends over, one of which has his own two-person shelter, but we might need room for four.
  • Darkness & Lighting;
    I wanted it to be dark inside the shelter, so the ice and snow beneath it would provide the majority of the lighting. Most shelters you purchase will be lined with black fabric on the inside, so this isn't so much of a concern, but something you may want to check into before you purchase. The dark lining inside allows you to stare down the hole to sight-fish your jigs inside the shelter. But I love my tip-ups more than sitting in the I also needed an abundance of windows to watch flags.

The Final Choice

There were many options that met the above criteria. It really came down to price, which took out the 2-man Frabil or Clam rectangular shelters that include a poly-foam floor with auger holes (look into the styles, you will see what I mean. So I looked into a pop-up style ice fishing shelter. Once settling on this size, I knew I would need something labeled as at least a 3-man shelter, since it is rare that 3 people would actually comfortably fit, but 2 definitely would. Then came reading reviews, and asking friends. Trust me, you want to read the reviews!

I settled on an Eskimo-Brand Quick-Fish 3

Eskimo Quickfish 3

Reviewing the Eskimo QuickFish 3

Overall, I give this product a 4 out of 5 in terms of meeting my expectations. It is warm, dark, spacious and easy to set up. The anchors are uber-sharp, and although it takes some doing to get them cracked through the first layer of ice, they grip tightly and the shelter comes with extra tie-downs for especially windy days.

    Let's review my criteria, then discuss other room for improvement:
  • Portability;
    5 out of 5. It folds up into a roughly 5' long tube, about a foot in diameter. A "backpack" of sorts is included, and although (as you would expect) it is difficult to maneuver into and out of this backpack in full ice-fishing gear (bibs, parka, etc), getting it in and out of a car, then out to the pond is no trouble whatsoever.
  • Warmth;
    5 out of 5. It is not the warmest shelter that ever was. But nor was I expecting it to be. The skirt along the outer edge allows you to pile snow on it, which blocks out breezes from coming underneath the shelter. The zippers fit snugly, and velcro-shut ventilation holes and windows allow you to seal things up pretty simply and efficiently. The fabric itself is thick and durable, definitely enough to block a sharp wind (so long as it is anchored down!).
  • Accessibility;
    4 out of 5. I understand why the triangle doors are needed in this design, but more people have bitten the ice climbing out of this shelter than I would like to admit. But, the two doors do provide everything I asked for ahead of time.
  • Space;
    3.5 out of 5. It is advertized as a 3 man shelter. It most certainly is not. But, the .5 points are earned back when the spaciousness is considered for 2 people. The pop-out sides provide for elbow-room that a square or rectangular shelter wouldn't provide, and the head-room is great.
  • Darkness & Lighting;
    5 out of 5. It is black on the inside, and the windows can be velcroed shut with the same fabric as the exterior, or left open with a durable, yet flexible clear plastic velcroed into place. The view is perfect, just remember to place your QuickFish where the windows can spot all of your flags!
  • Cost & Construction;
    3 out of 5. I expected better for the cost. There were cheaper ones, namely OEM models from the big-box retailers like Cabellas or Bass Pro. I spent the extra 30-50 bucks expecting an ice-fishing company to provide me with something more high-quality. Many of the seams had threads coming undone as soon as I unwrapped it. Now, i don't know if you would see the same thing from a cheaper model, but I didn't expect it with this one. That being said, the material is thick and sturdy, the flexible plastic bars and the "hubs" they lock into to don't exhibit any signs of cracking after a few uses, even in frigidly cold weather. So...that's a plus.

In conclusion, I am pretty happy with my purchase of this pop-up ice fishing shelter. The pop-up style and design is so easy to use, but then again, so are other models. Do I recommend this one in particular? That is difficult to say, since I have only seen one or two others, and they were all Eskimo-Brand. My advice? find a coupon, or a discount via one of the big-box retailers' email campaigns, and buy it as cheap as you can, or buck up and pay the extra couple of bucks for one of the nicer (read "nicer" as "more expensive") models. It is a great shelter, but upwards of $200? I'm not so sure. for $250 you could buy one of the rectangular models that I originally was trying to save money out of.

This experience proves the point, you get what you pay for. Stay tuned for the next product review, where I look at what happens when you purchase the cheapest polar-style tip-up you can find.

Stay warm,


disclaimer:this was not a paid product review. All based off of my own experience.

A long haitus - and a short introduiction

Its been a while since my last post, mainly because the 2012/2013 ice fishing season provided very few opportunities for ice fishing, which kept me from writing about it as well. It has been absolutely frigid this year so far, which should provide me with at least a trip (fingers crossed for two) up north to do what I do.

As a brief reminder, I live in southern Illinois, USA, where the average winter temperature rarely goes below thirty. In the 11 years I have lived here, I have only called the ice safe twice (if you are like me and have a long drive before you find safe ice, I'd encourage you to look over my post on ice safety and basic preparation for ice fishing). I travel north to the Wisconsin border with Illinois, where I grew up, where I fish on the many ponds and lakes in the Chain of Lakes area northwest of Chicago.

To satiate my cravings for hard water, I started this blog. Lots of what I post on here will be basic information, though I may include product reviews as well.

I am a firm believer in spending as little as possible on ice fishing equipment. This may be because I rarely get to ice fish, and it may be because I like to work on, prepare, and even make my own equipment from time to time.

That being said, I have made a few investments recently, and I'm excited to share my thoughts on this gear.

First, I will be writing a post on the pop-up style shelter I purchased at the end of the '10-'11 season.

I also just purchased my first ever new-out-of-the-box tip ups. They will be hitting the ice for the first time this winter.

If I have the time, I may also include a post on creating your own tip-ups. That can be tons of fun, and really worth the effort, if you catch a fish on something you made yourself.

Wish me luck, everyone, and be safe!