Slammin' Winter Pike

Are you looking for a better way to ice more northern pike? Then why not try using Slammer tip-ups?

Slammer tip-ups work much like a downrigger on ice. The rod is set under a trip mechanism, and when a fish hits, the rod snaps upward to set the hook. Photo by Mike Gnatkowski

By Mike Gnatkowski

"You can't catch northern pike like that," said veteran ice-angler Bill Lowrie matter-of-factly as I set a Slammer tip-up with a lively golden shiner. "You need to let the pike take it and run with it before you set the hook." Lowrie was used to ice-fishing for pike with a conventional tip-up. With Slammer tip-ups, there was no need to let the fish run.

The tip-ups had been set for only a few minutes when a loud crack was followed by one of the flags on the Slammer tip-ups pointing skyward just as the tip of the rod plunged downward toward the hole in the ice with the drag on the reel peeling off line. There was no need to sprint to the hole to see if the spool on the tip-up was moving or to see if the pike had dropped the bait. With the rod tip jabbing toward the ice, I gingerly lifted the rod and reel from the rod holder and felt the solid resistance of a good pike. The northern made several short bursts and headshakes. But the advantage of a having reel instead of only being able to pay out line through cold fingers was evident, and the smooth drag on the reel and the throbbing rod quickly took its toll. I steered the pike's head into the hole where Bill grasped the northern behind the gills and put him on the ice.

"I guess you don't have to let 'em run after they hit," was Bill's only comment. By day's end we had 12 flags - six on the conventional tip-ups and six on the Slammers. We landed half of the fish that had hit the regular tip-ups. The Slammers caught every fish that hit!

Slammer tip-ups or their predecessor, the whip-up, were first used by ice-anglers in the Midwest who used them on Great Lakes bays and estuaries. There are some major differences in the design of each device, mainly the fact that each uses a different type of release, and the Slammer features an adjustable rod holder. While the first versions of the Slammer were made mainly for ice-fishing for trout and salmon, ice-anglers have discovered that Slammers are ideal for catching pike and other species.

"We probably came up with the original Slammer prototype back in the early 1990s," said Slammer manufacturer Matt Schalk. "My buddy Rich Maciag came up with the idea for the ring release mechanism, which makes the Slammer adjustable to fit different rod lengths and actions. We'd heard about Slammer-like devices for a few years and finally decided to try making our own." Schalk credits Doug Gruno for devising the first Slammer-like tip-up.

The Slammer features an L-shaped piece of 1x4 and a cross-member that helps balance the tip-up. On the top of the upright is a ringed release mechanism, which is basically an eye screw with a split ring attached to it. The second eye on the rod is bent back slightly to fit under the ring when the rod is in the set position. A fish moving through takes the bait and pulls the rod tip downward, releasing the guide from under the spit ring, and the rod snaps skyward to set the hook. There is a flag on the base that stands up like a conventional tip-up when a fish hits. A long rubber band or door spring is also stretched from the upright to the base of the Slammer, and when the tension from the rod tip is released, the upright slaps or slams down on the base, making an audible crack. In many ways, the Slammer is like a downrigger on ice. Hooksets are instantaneous and sure.

The big advantage of using a Slammer to catch large fish through the ice, besides improved hookups, is the fact that you have a rod and reel with a drag to fight the fish. There's no hand-to-hand combat with heavy line. In fact, Schalk said he rarely uses line heavier than 8- or 10-pound-test for even the biggest pike. Short steel leaders are often used when big pike are on the prowl, but Schalk said the majority of the pike he catches through the ice have the small treble firmly imbedded in the corner of their mouth and not deep inside. This makes Slammers a better option for those wanting to release their fish.

Live bait works best when fishing for pike with Slammers. "I like to use a lively 4- to 8-inch golden shiner when fishing with live bait for pike with Slammers," said Schalk. "A lively shiner attracts attention and I think an active bait invokes aggressive strikes. Too big a bait and the pike has to run with it before he swallows it. With a medium-sized bait the pike can get the whole thing in his mouth and the hook."

Schalk says he normally uses only a single No. 6 or No. 4 treble and gets just as good a hookup as when using two-hook setups. Schalk said that a colored bead - red, orange, green or pink - added just above the hook seems to give pike a striking point and improves hookup success.

"You don't need a real fancy rod for Slammers," said Schalk. In fact, reasonably priced to downright cheap rods seem to work the best with Slammers. "The ideal rod is a 5-foot two-piece made from fiberglass, composite or graphite. It needs to have that parabolic bend; otherwise it could compress or break." Reels need to have an ultra-smooth drag and not be prone to freezing up. One that holds 150 yards of 8- or 10-pound-test is about right. Schalk recommends using a premium, clear monofilament when fishing through the ice.

It was a few winters ago when Bill Lowrie and I joined Schalk and his friend Greg Bramer on a lake that was known for producing a lot of pike and the occasional trophy fish. We made our way across a bay to the edge of a marshy area and a dropoff that paralleled it. Schalk likes to set a trapline of Slammers along dropoffs that funnel pike along it. Another favorite spot of Schalk's is in channels in the weeds. The pike travel these corridors like a big buck using a runway, and Slammers set in the path of pike usually draw some attention.

Some of the Slammers we set were in water as shallow as 3 or 4 feet, while others were placed in depths of over 30 feet. This is kind of a searching pattern to determine at what depth the pike are cruising on any particular day. In either shallow or deep water it's best to set your shiner off the bottom by 2 or 3 feet so it doesn't burrow into the weeds and it remains visible to cruising pike. Generally, pike will be found shallower on dark, overcast days and deep when the sun shines brightly.

The February sun was warm and everyone was enjoying the winter respite when one of Greg's Slammers jumped to life. The rod was set in about 15 feet of water. The fish was on a cut-down version of the Slammer that used a shorter 3-foot rod. Bramer had all he could handle with the feisty pike, but finally managed to steer it into the hole, where Schalk gaffed the 28-inch northern.

Another angler had a couple of conventiona

l tip-ups set a short distance from ours. For about the fourth or fifth time he made the trudge across the bay from his truck to check the tip-up and the waving flag. Each time he arrived at the hole the fish was gone. He stopped to ask us about the Slammers and how they worked. As we explained the technique, there was a loud kapppoww!! The guy nearly jumped out of his snowsuit, but the rest of us knew what the sound meant. Matt Schalk had a special Slammer that featured a nail through the upright and a hole in the base in which a .209 shotgun shell prime was placed. When the rod tripped, the upright slammed the nail down onto the primer and bang! It sure wasn't hard to tell when you had a hit on that Slammer.

Matt trudged over to the hole where the rod was jabbing at the ice. After a 10-minute battle, Greg returned the favor and slid a slightly larger pike than Greg's onto the ice. By day's end, 10 hits on the Slammers had produced 10 northerns on the ice. Not a bad percentage.

A gorgeous winter day and slammin' winter pike. It doesn't get any better than that!

(Editor's note: Slammer tip-ups can be purchased in kit form or put together ready-to-fish. The kits retail for $13.95 and the finished product retails for $39.95. Both are available at www.slammertipup.com or by calling (248) 399-4341).



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