Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Two types of ice fishing gear
Both the old and the newest of ice fishing gear have their followers, and in some instances, the old still works best, while other times it is a hindrance. Relatively new tip-ups, such as the Polar have revolutionized the use of tip-ups for such fussy fish as crappie and rainbow, brook trout and in some cases, even lake trout. Crappie especially can give you fits when they hit and old style stand up wooden tip-up, especially if the spool is a bit bent or stubborn. Typically a crappie will grab a bait and run out a lot of line and when feeling the tension of the line, drop the bait. A rainbow or brook trout won't even take out that much line before dropping a bait that the line runs with any tension. Even those old and cherished "Jack Traps," unless they are very carefully taken care of will often have stubborn spools, especially when the wood swells-up from the water soaking.
If you insist in using the old traditional stand up tip-ups, choose one that is made of durable plastic. They will run free and cost you less fish-less flags but know that they are not a lifetime rig like the Jack Trap and will need replacement parts or total replacement with heavy use, while those old wooden traps have often be passed down over generations and with a little tinkering are still good for some panfish, pickerel and pike.
Speaking of pike, which are becoming a very important ice fishing species, are not that fussy when it comes to tension on the line but are known to run out a lot of line and just sit there and munch or swallow on the bait. The lay/down Polar-types of tip-ups work well for pike as they will hold a lot of line, store easier and are quite durable but if you have a set of the older, wooden sand-up tip-ups, pike fishing is a good chance to put them into action.
One suggestion would be to spool-off any old cotton or other woven line and re-spool with one of the super braids such as Fireline. These lines don't absorb much water and usually will not freeze hard to your tip-up spool when exposed to the cold air. They are much smaller in diameter, don't stretch and you'll have direct contact to the fish, knowing when to strike or let the fish run.
Pike fishing and even when big pickerel are abundant, small sizes of mono line will cause you a lot of heart-aches. There will be too many instant cut-offs. Wire leaders will definitely not cut but will cut down the amount of takes you'll get from these predatory but not dumb fish. More and more pike anglers are going to fluorocarbon leaders in the 30 pound range. They are a lot tougher and not as easily seen by fish as mono and don't have the soft finish. But you are bound to lose an occasional pike from leader cut. That's the chance you take.
Serious crappie fishermen don't set may tip-ups but do love to use light jigging rods and light leaders and line. Same goes for bluegills, but they are not quite as light hitters as crappie.
White perch and bluegill anglers will almost always fish close to the bottom as both of these species are bottom feeders while crappie love to suspend off bottom where schools of baitfish are apt to be staging. But when that bite slows down it's a good chance the crappies have dropped down and then a small jig fished just off bottom with a mealworm or spike will bring a tug on your line. The use of the new small tungsten jig heads is becoming more and more popular with a lot of ice anglers using these tipped with some kind of worm bait having good luck. This is an especially good technique when live small baitfish are hard to come by.
Yellow perch are travelers and have made the use of electronic fishing very popular for both perch and other panfish, including crappy. Schools of yellow perch will be on the move and usually stay in the school. They are more adaptable as far as the depth you'll find them, from near bottom to just a few feet under the ice so setting tip-ups, if that's your game, you should stagger depths until you find the right depth where most of your hits come. But for many yellow perch anglers, jigging is the way to go and we know of others that combine the tip-ups with jigging. When they get a perch on a tip up they'll drop a jig rod down the same hole and jig there until the bite stops.
From the most devout and scientific to the old fashioned and traditional, ice fishing in New England is challenging the amount of open-water angling and has fisheries division's attention as more waters are being managed for the ice-people. It's a great family outing.
Dick Pinney's Guidelines column runs weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.