Using Circle Hooks for Tip-Ups

Quick strike rig with circle hooks

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For the last two seasons I’ve been using circle hooks exclusively for my quick strike ice fishing tip-up rigs. The idea has been around for quite a while but I didn’t hear about this technique until last winter while I was reading the winter edition of Outdoor Canada.

Tip ups and quick strike rigs are a very effective tools when fishing for northern pike. I have been using standard quick strike and predator rigs with treble hooks for years but I can’t say I was ever a fan of them. Treble hooks work great when you can set the hook as soon as the fish take the bait. The problems start when you miss the initial flag and the pike has a chance to swallow the bait whole. A single or double treble hook rig not only can cause a lot of damage to fish but all those points can make removing the hooks feel like performing surgery. The trickier the hook removal, the longer the fish is out of the water – and catch and release mortality is increasing by the second.

Types of Tip Ups

I use three different styles of tip ups and each one has its advantages. First, the Windlass by HT Enterprises is a tip up that can impart some action by taking advantage of the wind. The front of the Windlass has a large blade that catches the wind and jigs the bait for you. Next, Frabill Pro-Thermal tip ups are a round, insulated tip up that are perfect for use in heavy wind or freezing conditions. The base of the tip up covers the hole and protects it from blowing snow and also prevents the hole from freezing over. Lastly, and my favorite, is the iFish Pro. iFish Pro has a base that covers the hole but it also is a rod holder. It allows you to use a standard ice fishing rod as your tip up, so once the fish takes the bait, you can remove the rod from the holder and fight the fish using a rod and reel.

iFish Pro is my go-to tip up for northern pike.

Setting the Hook

On a standard quick strike rig, setting the hook means running over to the tip up, grabbing the line and setting the hook as fast as possible. On the other hand, a circle hook quick strike rig means you can take a bit more time. Since the hooks are designed to slide easily out of a fish’s gullet and hook into their lip, you can take your time crossing the ice and setting yourself up properly before you set the hook. I’ve found that you don’t set the hook in the same way either. I use a steady retrieve until I feel the heavy resistance of the fish, then I give it a quick jerk to make sure the hook is set while I reel my trophy in.

Northern pike caught on circle hook quick strike rig.

The Rig

I built my circle hook quick strike rigs as described in the Outdoor Canada article. Using 3/0 Circle hooks, about 2 feet of 30 lb test wire leader and a quality ball bearing swivel, I set my hooks about three inches apart, eye to eye, and crimp them in place using a leader crimping tool and sleeve. For the size of pike and walleye I’m typically seeing around Edmonton, I feel the size 3/0 hook is perfect. It’s not such a big hook that you end up going through a fishes eye on a small walleye but its large and strong enough that it can handle even the biggest northern pike.

If you are hunting big, toothy pike this season, I encourage you to give circle hooks a try. Circle hooks combined with iFish Pro’s have made tip up fishing one of my favorite ice fishing methods.

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