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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Beaver Dam Tip-Ups Deliver Lifelong Fishing Fun

My prized fishing gear includes a dozen Mitchell 300 reels, trays of paint-chipped Dardevles, and my grandfather’s wooden Tronick Tackler Nonsinkable Fishing Tackle Box from Chetek.

In fact, those things are about the only fishing gear I’ve owned longer than the three Beaver Dam tip-ups I bought 41 years ago after returning home from the Navy.

But nothing in my boats, garage or basement shrugs off decades of abuse and neglect as reliably as my Beaver Dams. One of those tip-ups carries permanent scars from a fumble onto my ice-shanty’s soot-spewing stove. Another bears ugly wounds from a failed attempt at a DIY tip-up light. And the third waves a tattered red flag that too often froze and thawed while head-down in 5-gallon buckets.

Some skeptics might claim I’m a homer; that I’d say anything to support Wisconsin-made products. That’s false. Yes, Beaver Dam tip-ups are still made in Beaver Dam by workers at the Acme Tackle Co., but I’m a cheapskate who hates buying any product twice, no matter where it’s made or who made it.

Since buying my three Beaver Dams in December 1980, I’ve dumped at least two 5-gallon buckets’ worth of less worthy tip-ups into the garbage after they proved fragile or unreliable. Their failures include reels with fractured axles, wooden cross-sticks snapped by boots, and springs and flag-rods rendered limp by rust.

Most such equipment failures were my fault but, as I said, my Beaver Dams ignore such negligence. It’s as if they attend therapy sessions and then — unlike most patients — practice what the therapist says: “You can’t change him. You can only change how you respond to him.”

That’s why I expect my Beaver Dam reels to spin smoothly this weekend after extracting them from the bowels of my plywood ice-fishing box, and yanking two arms’ lengths of line for inspection. Hooks, line, braids and leaders often need replacing, but the tip-ups themselves always function no differently from when I packed them away cold and damp in March.

As my friend Dan Durbin in Slinger said: “You might find better looking tip-ups, including some that connect instantly to WiFi, but if you want a reliable tip-up — something you won’t take care of but will take care of you — the Beaver Dam’s flag will just keep flipping year after year.”

Yes, Durbin actually said that; a true ad-lib endorsement spoken from the heart, and inspired by real-life experience.

To prove his sincerity, Durbin elaborated: “I hate my ice-fishing gear. I leave it in my bucket when the ice melts each spring, and don’t think about it again until the ice freezes the next winter. Ice-fishing is just a band-aid I use to keep my sanity until I’m back on open water.”

My lifelong friend Tim Watson of Waunakee views ice-fishing much differently. If Durbin or I treated Watson’s ice-fishing gear like we owned it, we’d need more than band-aids to heal our wounds. Watson speaks reverently of his Beaver Dams.

“They’ve been the gold standard for over 50 years,” Watson said. “I have five or six of them, and I can’t even use five or six of them. I know guys who have 10 to 20 of them, and they’re still looking for more. If you want to land fish hand over hand, there’s nothing so simple or reliable than a Beaver Dam.”

Watson said he’s had his Beaver Dams for decades, and he’s never needed to bring them in for service or repairs. That might be because he rotates his stock more than some tip-up fishermen, keeping some in reserve while jigging hole-to-hole with his fish/depth finder.

But as with most Beaver Dam owners, Watson knows he’s seldom far from an authorized tackle shop that’s trained, tooled and stocked to repair or replace any part of these tip-ups. If you doubt it, just visit, and you’ll find 10 certified shops from Delafield to Hayward to Sturgeon Bay that can fix whatever ails your tip-up. If you can’t find a nearby shop, find a box and ship them.

Chances are, you’ll be like Watson and never need that work. I’ve fished with many great pike and walleye ice-fishermen the past 40 years, and they all praised Beaver Dam tip-ups. Sure, they also use other brands and models, but none badmouthed their Beavers.

The worst thing I’ve heard mentioned is their price, which range from $35 to $45, depending on the model. And if you read online ice-fishing forums, for every guy claiming he won’t trade his $10 plastic-frame tip-up for a Beaver Dam, five say he doesn’t ice-fish enough.

As one Beaver Dam fan wrote: “If you give one guy plastics and one guy Beavers, and they ice-fish the same number of days for 10 years, the guy with Beavers will still be using the same tip-ups and the other guy will be on his third set of plastics. You get what you pay for.”

Another wrote: “I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. I have some plastic tip-ups and some cheaper wood models. They all work, but I like the Beaver Dam’s metal spool, cloth flags, heavy brass line guide, and high-quality wood that’s been stained and sealed. They’re all high-quality parts. Plus, I’ll hand down the Beaver Dams to my kids when I’m old, or sell them for danged near what I paid for them. I can’t name one cheap tip-up you can resell 30 to 50 years later.”

And no, the Acme Tackle Co. didn’t pay me to write any of this. It didn’t even suggest the topic, send me a tungsten ice-fishing jig, or a jar of its Uncle Josh pork-rind baits. I just admire cool, old hunting and fishing gear that’s stuck around since I started fishing over 60 years ago. After all, I still like the romance and reliability of leather grips on ash oars, murmuring gears in Mitchell 300s, and wood-based tip-ups with red cloth flags.

It’s nice when form, function and longevity are lifelong partners. It sure beats planned obsolescence.

Tim Watson prepares to set up a Beaver Dam tip-up while ice-fishing on a northern Wisconsin lake. — Patrick Durkin photos

Gary Florczak returns a northern pike to Lake Chetek in February 2021 after catching it on a Beaver Dam tip-up.

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