Fishing

How to Build an Ice Fishing Tip-Up

One of the oldest ice fishing methods in the book is using a tip up. There are a billion and one different ways to build them—depending on your materials and your budget you could do it any way you want.

I’m going to show you the simplest and most affordable way to build a tip up, so you do not have to babysit your hole all day constantly.

What is a Tip-Up?

If you take a look at this picture, you’ll find a few cross pieces and a flag that is hooked on to the vertical pipe that runs down into the hole. This is a tip up. Underneath the water where you cannot see is the reel, hook, and bait. Once the fish bites whatever bait you have and begins to pull that will pull down the centerpiece of the frame which will trigger the flag. Once the flag is vertical, you know you have a fish on. 

The difference when fishing a tip-up is you do not reel the fish in; you need to pull the line by hand and wrestle the fish old school style. This method is especially effective if you have multiple holes drilled with multiple tip-ups.

How to Build a DIY Tip-Up

There are so many ways to build one but here is what I think is the simplest method that requires the least amount of effort. This may not be ideal if you plan to bag the big fish, but it should work fine for most panfish, walleye, pickerel, etc.

Things You Need

  • A couple of pieces of 1-2” wooden dowels or PVC pipe (thickness depends on how large of fish you plan on catching)
  • Two bolts with wingnuts
  • A cheap plastic reel (does not need to be anything fancy)
  • Extra strong zip ties (these will hold your reel to the tip up, so you do not want the fish to get away with it)
  • L screws
  • Small allen key (mine is 4mm but it depends on the size of your door stopper)
  • Fishing line
  • Spring door stop (see picture below)
  • Epoxy or Superglue
  • Something to make a flag

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Build the Base

The first thing you want to do is build your frame by cutting your dowels to the proper length.You should ultimately have three pieces in total with one serving as your vertical piece that sticks down into the water. Make sure you cut that piece longer than the other two. 

Next, you need to build the base which is going to sit on top of the ice and act as your support. Combine the two shorter pieces into an X and secure them by drilling straight through the wood and secure using the bolts and wingnuts.

Step 2: Attach the Reel

At the base of your longer vertical piece, you need to zip tie your reel. Be sure to use zip ties that are nice and thick. I used what I had so I doubled up.

This will serve as the base frame of your tip up, you could use just this and keep a close eye on it but without some trigger and flag, you would have to oversee it and continue to check it so we’ll go further in depth and tell you how to make it completely hands off.

Step 3: Build and Secure the Flag

To build our flag, we want to take the spring door stop and insert the allen key into the spring and use an epoxy or super glue to secure it. You can do the flag on top however you see fit. 

Next, you have to secure the flag to the top of the vertical dowel using epoxy. Make sure you do this in a way that still leaves the spring flexible so it can bend.

Depending on what kind of reel you use, you may need this step or you can bypass it completely. With my reel, I had to drill directly into the handle to insert my L screw. This acts as our trigger when a fish pulls on the line.

Lastly, take some of the fishing lines and tie a knot around the allen key and pull it down so it wraps around the screw on the reel. Pull it back up putting enough tension to pull the flag horizontally but not so hard that you leave no play in the line. Tie the line back around the allen key again and you should have a perfect trigger.

Once a fish takes the bait, and the reel starts spinning the line should slide off the L screw on the reel if you put the right amount of tension on it. This will result in the flag flipping up indicating that you have a fish on.

Fishing with a tip-up can be seen as the lazy anglers game, but if you are in it to bring something home to put on the table, this is the way to go. It’s simple once you put the contraption together and it works well.


If you have questions about building a tip-up leave a comment and we’ll get back to you—good luck this winter!

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