By Roger Sabota
It was April 1996 and our son, Craig, had joined me for a day of crappie fishing on the Wisconsin River near Rhinelander, Wisconsin.
As most Northern Wisconsin residents can remember, the winter of 1995 – 1996 was long, cold and severe. The cold weather and snow came early and stayed late complicating life for the deer herd of the northern half of the state.
Back to the late April ice-fishing trip. Craig lives in Appleton, where he leads an extremely busy life, thus there are relatively few opportunities for him to get home for hunting and fishing. We had been talking back and forth on the phone trying to determine a day when the crappies might be hitting plus on which would fit into our complicated schedules.
We pulled our sled across the ice to an area where I had been having fairly good action during the previous few weeks. I opened a series of holes, we scooped out he ice chunks and we began to set four tip-down. The temperature was near forty degrees so we know that our lines would not freeze into the holes. Our flasher showed that there were fish suspended about ten feet below the ice over eighteen feet of water. We were hooking tiny crappie minnows behind the dorsal fin and lowering them to about the ten-foot level. For weight we had pinched a tiny split-shot about one-foot above the hook. Then, to permit us to drop the minnow back to the same depth each time we slide a slip bobber knot and the line. It was set so it was just coming through the bail on the tiny spinning reel when set in the tip-down support holding the minnow at ten feet.
Craig baited and set the first rod then turned to begin working on the second when the tip on the first rod began to tip-down toward the hole in the ice. He grabbed the rod, carefully lifted it off the stand, softly set the hook the hook and fought the crappie with light spinning rod. After a brief fight he slid a twelve-inch slab onto the ice. During the next five hours, Craig was kept busy with the four tip downs that he never had time to rig jigging pole.
A tip-down is simply a support device, which can be set on the ice to support a light ice-fishing rod in a horizontal position. The key to successful fishing with a tip-down is the have the rod precisely balanced so that the slightest bite from a slab crappie of jumbo perch will cause the rod tip to begin the process of tipping town toward the ice.
The device must be designed so the rod can be easily lifted off the support even by a gloved hand. We seem to do the best when we use rods with a soft tip. First of all these flexible little rods make even a small fish an excellent fighter, but the soft tip helps prevent tearing the lip of the soft mouthed crappie.
Most of the anglers in our area merely use an ice jigging pole with a nail through the handle at the balance point. The nail is then set down in a vee-groved on the support. Since we prefer the fun of fighting fish with an ultra-lite spinning rig we designed our tip down supports to be a bit wider. We slip a piece of wood with a vee-grove onto the rod handle and hold it in place with a heavy rubber band. A piece of stiff wire is slipped through a hole drilled through the wood piece. The wire is then dropped in to the vee-grooves in the support. With the wood pieces attached with a rubber band it can be slid on the rod handle to arrive at a precise balance point even as the weight of the bait of water depth is changed.
With the line simply running through the hole in the ice with no protection these devices work best when air temperatures are at or above freezing level. If the line freezes in the hole the device is rendered ineffective.
Tip-downs are primarily used for catching pan fish but offer a fun packed method to catch northern and walleyes through the ice. Fighting those fish on a rod and reel is much more fun than pulling them in hand on the tip-up line.
If your are interested in trying these devices be creative and develop a tip-down stand which will work for you. We make our stands so they fold to be carried in a pail. Perhaps with a little thought and by making a bit of sawdust you can improve our design.