One of the most challenging aspects of ice fishing is picking out where to run your ice fishing hole(s.) Pick right and you could be on the fish all day; pick wrong and you could spend the day fishless and freezing. Fortunately, an ice fishing flasher makes the “catching” process easier.
Ice fishing flashers let you see beneath the ice directly beneath your ice fishing hole. Ice fishing flashers work by using sonar to display objects on a circular screen, to reveal the fish that are below you. This allows you to see where fish are in relation to your lure below the ice.
The 5 best ice fishing flashers are:
- Vexilar FL-18 Pro Pack with 12-Degree Ice Ducer
- MarCum M1 Flasher
- Humminbird ICE 55 Flasher
- Humminbird Ice Helix 5
- Vexilar FLX-12 Genz Pack with 19 Degree Ice Ducer
Functioning using sonar, an ice fishing flasher allows you to penetrate the murk of the ice and water and see if your location has fish around it. You can also see if the fish are interested in your presentation. Read on to learn everything you need to know about ice fishing flashers.
Table of Contents
What Does An Ice Fishing Flasher Do?
An ice fishing flasher sends a signal from the surface down the water column underneath your hole and reveals what is lurking beneath you. You must learn how to read it (it’s not too difficult) but once you do, “seeing” down the water column becomes much easier. Once you know how to read it, an ice fishing flasher can see the entire water column and anything that is in it.
- Your bait or lure
- Bottom structure
- Fish that are checking out your bait or lure
The way an ice fishing flasher works is that it measures the density of any objects that lie beneath the ice fishing hole. It then shows those objects in the form of lights on the flasher screen. The denser an object is, the larger the image on the screen, and the shades and colors depend on the type of ice fishing flasher you have.
Ice fishing flashers are amazingly easy to use and interpret. Once you know how, all the mystery of the equipment disappears. It is that simple a machine.
How To Use An Ice Fishing Flasher
1. Drop The Transducer
The first step after having bored your ice hole and cleared it is to drop the transducer into the hole and let it go to work. It will take a second to correctly interpret the bottom, structure, or fish, but within a few seconds, you will be able to see surface clutter, the water column, and the bottom, each indicated by different colors and shades of light.
The transducer needs to get beneath the ice if possible. If you are fishing a body of water with a current, you need to let out just enough cord to let the transducer clear the ice but not be swept away. If there is a current, you also should observe whether a lot of debris is floating beneath your fishing hole.
If it is, you may want to control your transducer more tightly, as if a big piece of debris goes by, it could entangle your transducer, damage it, or even rip it off the end of the cord.
Getting The Right Depth
If your transducer is too high, you will see a lot of scattered interference. It will not make any sense or have any consistency. What is happening is your transducer is bouncing signals off the ice around the water column. To fix that, lower the transducer far enough to clearly “see” the bottom on the display.
The bottom will show up as red. Debris on the bottom will show up as yellow, red, and orange hues, depending on its density. If you live in an area that accumulates very thick ice in winter, you want to account for that when selecting an ice fishing flasher and get a transducer with enough cord to clear most of the ice.
If the ice is thicker than your transducer cord’s length, you can still use it, but you will need to lower it as deep as possible and then learn to read the interference. It is not optimal, but you can use your flasher more effectively once you know what the interference means.
2. Choose Your Depth
Once you have the transducer in underneath your ice, you need to set your depth. This is important for you to get an accurate reading. You can get a depth reading by watching the screen reading from the transducer. You want to set your depth slightly deeper than the actual depth of the water you are fishing. For example, if you are fishing in 15 feet of water, set your equipment to about 18 feet.
3. Set Your Gain
The gain is the amount of power the transducer is putting out. It controls the sonar signal. At deeper depths, you want more gain. At shallower depths, you want less gain because of the interference from debris and the shallower floor of the body of water.
The way to set your gain is to turn it all the way to max power when you put your transducer in. Wait a few seconds and let the interference appear. You then need to reduce your gain until you have a screen that shows the following:
- A clear signal at the approximate depth you were expecting
- Clutter at the top of your flasher image, indicating the ice hole and any debris in the water
- The occasional flash of light that indicates bait fish
- A steadier light that ranges in color from yellow to red for any larger fish
- Longer flashes of light that disappear and indicate debris floating in the water
4. Select Your Fishing Area
When the gain is set, you will need to zoom in on the section of water that you will be fishing (meaning the depth). If you are fishing up higher in the water column, you want to choose a range of several feet above and below the lure or bait. The best range is five feet in either direction. This will let any fish swimming up to your bait be captured on screen.
If you are fishing on the bottom or just off it, you will want to zoom in on just the bottom. This way the only interference you will see is centered around your bait. When fishing on the bottom, you want to set your fishing area to be about 10 feet off the bottom.
5. Drop Your Bait To The Desired Depth
Once you have your area dialed in, you want to drop your lure or bait to that depth. Your bait will show up as a flashing light that moves as you drop it. Adjust your gain again to be able to dial in on your lure so you can see it clearly. You will know you have dialed the device in properly when the lure or bait shows up as a solid green line with zero flickering.
6. Monitor Your Ice Fishing Flasher
You should keep an eye on your ice fishing flasher the entire time you are fishing. If you do, you will be able to see when fish are interested in your bait and with practice, and you will be able to tell how interested they are. Additionally, you will be able to see how much debris is threatening your bait and how much structure is interfering with you getting to the bottom.
Some other tips for using your ice fishing flasher include:
- You want to make sure your above ground device is next to your ice fishing hole to get the best read possible, but anchored so that you can prevent it from falling in
- You do not want an ice fishing hole that is so large the above ground device can easily fall into the hole if anything catches the transducer
- Before dropping your bait, have an area set aside to remove the transducer and safely stow it if you hook a fish
- When you pull a fish out of the hole, move it away from the entire flasher apparatus as an escaping fish could damage it or knock it into the hole
- Practice removing the transducer a few times with your line in the water so that when you hook a fish you can do so easily
How To Read An Ice Fishing Flasher
An ice fishing flasher is only great if you know how to read it. Otherwise, it is one more thing to worry about when you are ice fishing. Below are some general rules on how to accurately read your ice fishing flasher.
Measure Your Depth Without Your Flasher
With some fishing locations, you may not be able to find a map with a reliable depth assessment. If you do not have a nautical chart or any other type of map showing water depth, there are a few steps to follow.
Before you leave to go fishing, tie a piece of twine through the center hole of a large washer or a fishing weight. You want to have double the amount of twine the depth of the water you are fishing. For instance, if a nautical map says the average depth in a pond is 15 feet, you want to have 30 feet of twine. This way, you will always have enough twine.
Bring a Sharpie with you as well. When you bore your ice fishing hole, drop the washer or fishing weight into the hole and let it freefall. Once it hits bottom, mark the depth with your Sharpie. Pull your twine and weight up clear of the hole. Measure the twine from the weight to the Sharpie marking. Compare that to your reading on your fish flasher. It should be the same or at least very close.
Reading The Flasher
If you move clockwise from the top of the display screen downwards, you will see depth numbers. The bottom will be indicated by a solid chunk of colored light. Usually, the color is red to reddish orange. The important factor is that the chunk of light is solid.
Above that in terms of depth, you will see yellow and green bars, which indicate vegetation. If there is a solid structure below you, such as a sunken stump, it will show up as a solid reddish color but not as solid a color as the bottom. It will also be a smaller splash of light.
You will also see yellow bars that move and appear and then disappear. These are fish. Baitfish will appear yellowish and be flashes of light. Larger fish will appear as larger swaths of light on your display. Several fish will appear as independent lines of light that vary on the display meter.
How To Fish With The Flasher
When you lower your lure into your ice fishing hole, it will appear on the display as a green band of light. It will be green to greenish-yellow because it is made of softer material. Lower you lure or bait to the desired depth and watch it on the display as it descends.
Your fishing zone is from the top of your display down to the solid reddish-orange bottom. To discern the difference between your bait or lure and fish, look for separate bands of yellow to green light. Jig your bait up and down to identify which band of light is your bait or lure.
Part of reading the flasher is knowing how to use the data it gives you and how to fish your bait or lure in a way to provoke a strike. Once you see that the lure is at the right depth, it is time to start fishing it as you would if you were not looking at a flasher display.
Your flasher should have a setting that is known as “target separation.” The target separation distance is the amount of space between two objects. For example, if you have the ice fishing flasher set with a target separation of an inch, the colors of the fish and the bait or lure will not merge until both are that close to each other.
When the colors merge, the fish is considering attacking the bait or lure. You should be ready to set the hook when you see the colors come together. Paying attention to the merging of the bands of light can help you avoid scaring fish off by trying to set the lure too early or moving the lure when fish are seriously eyeing it up.
Unfortunately, two merged bands of light do not mean a fish has hooked itself or is about ready to strike. The only way to get good at knowing the nuances of the ice fishing flasher is to practice. Set yourself some rules to follow when you are fishing.
One good practice when the two bands of light converge is to only twitch the bait or lure slightly, pausing about 10 seconds between twitches. Experiment with movement and try to figure out what movement draws fish in versus what movement prompts them to turn away.
If fish are not going for your bait or lure when both of them usually at least get looked at, use the raise, drop and flutter approach a few times. If that still doesn’t work, drop the bait or lure to the bottom and let it sit for 10 seconds before rapidly raising it about three feet and then letting it flutter down. Experimentation is key!
Can You Use A Flasher For Normal Fishing?
You can use a flasher for normal fishing, but it’s not always going to be very effective. There are some scenarios a flasher would be a great addition. In others, it likely would not be very effective. But a flasher can sometimes dramatically improve the chances of an angler getting a strike.
When A Flasher Is Useful For Normal Fishing
While fishing off a dock or pier, a flasher could be a great addition to your arsenal. This is especially true if the depth off either is more than 10 feet and the water is very murky. In this scenario, knowing what is underneath the water for the drop column could prove to be immensely useful.
The trick is being able to get the transducer down to the water so it can get an unimpeded signal. If the distance from the fishing platform to the water is longer than the transducer cord, it likely will not get a reading, or one that was reliable.
Where A Flasher Could Make A Big Difference
If a person was in a small boat or kayak and stationary over their fishing zone, a fishing flasher could make a huge difference. The smaller size of the transducer would make it easier to use on a kayak or small boat. It also is easy to deploy. The key is that the person using the flasher must be in a stationary position, as they would be when fishing an ice hole.
Where A Flasher Would Be No Use
The transducer bounces off objects below it in the water. It is therefore useless if applied sideways or even at an angle. Because of that, the angler must be on top of their fishing zone for the transducer to work. If an angler was casting or drift fishing it is unlikely the flasher would provide much useful information.
Another area the flasher would not be much help is if it is constantly being pulled by a strong current. You might think that it would give a reading for whatever was right below it, so if the lure or bait kept up it would be accurate. The problem is the speed of the current.
A transducer is not engineered to collect and relay data in a quick or highly responsive manner. In other words, there may be a bit of a delay. The stationary column of water is ideal because there is not much moving beyond the lure and fish. If the transducer was drifting along, the display would likely always be lit up or constantly dark.
Flasher vs Fish Finder For Ice Fishing
As we’ve mentioned, a flasher is best used when stationary. A fish finder on the other hand is designed for use while moving in open water. There are fish finders that have an ice fishing mode, which uses the latest sonar readings rather than an evolving reading feed. But let’s consider both in more detail to establish which one is right for you.
The largest drawback to using a flasher is learning how to read the display accurately. While it is easy to pick up, it is much more difficult to be able to interpret what you are seeing with any accuracy. Until you learn how to interpret the results, the flasher is basically a mediocre fish locater. Plus, there’s the already mentioned fact that you must be above the water you are fishing.
Fish Finder Drawbacks
With a fish finder, there are also some drawbacks. For one, if you are ice fishing in a very crowded area, fish finders can pick up interference from other electronics. That can lead to a lot of interference on the screen. Another drawback is the transducer. A fish finder transducer is most effective in warmer water. To use a fish finder for ice fishing, an ice fishing transducer is required.
There is also the issue of battery life. Fish finder batteries drain faster in cold weather. That means an angler would need to have a backup if they’re fishing for an extended period of time.
Finally, there is the fact that two batteries, plus the fish finder, are a lot to take with you to your ice fishing location, even if you have a sled or snow mobile to tow equipment. If you hoof it out to your ice fishing spot, towing those batteries for something a flasher can accomplish with a lot less equipment isn’t the smartest move!
For ice fishing, a flasher is the better choice. It is less expensive, has no interference from other electronics, is more mobile, has batteries that work in cold weather, and is a lot lighter to haul to an ice fishing site.
What To Look For When Buying An Ice Fishing Flasher
Since the technology is the same across ice fishing flashers, there really is nothing that separates one ice fishing flasher from another in terms of the actual technology they use to detect fish. Some manufacturers claim differences in sensitivity, but really, that is not so important given the amount of interpretation that is needed to accurately assess flasher results.
There are, however, a few features you should opt for if you are looking to buy an ice fishing flasher.
Ice Fishing Transducer
Verify that the flasher you are looking at has an ice fishing transducer. A regular fish finder transducer or one that is made for open water tends to point outward and you need one that points downward. An ice fishing transducer is designed to point downward and transducers with floats are held in a downward position.
High Quality Battery
The cold is not a friend to any battery. Even batteries that are engineered for cold weather still drain faster when exposed to cold weather. An important aspect of the quality of the battery is the longevity of the charge. If you ice fish a lot, it’s a good idea to get a lithium battery. The charge in lithium batteries usually lasts longer than that of lead acid ones.
Just like lugging all that equipment to use a fish finder when ice fishing would become inconvenient very quickly, you want an ice fishing flasher that is easy to pack up and carry. When you are ice fishing you will likely be moving a lot from hole to hole, and you will be thankful if you have a highly portable flasher.
Several brands of flashers come with carrying cases. Additionally, a portable flasher will be small enough to put in a backpack or squeeze onto a sled.
You do not want an ice fishing flasher that falters in cold weather or when exposed to ice and snow. There is also a good bet it will get dropped and kicked from time to time and it needs to keep working. Flashers have been designed to withstand cold weather and a punishing environment, which is another plus on the side of using a flasher over a fish finder.
Easy To Use
An ice fishing flasher that does so much you never fully understand what is going on or that is intimidating because it is so complex is probably not going to be worth the money. You want to be able to adjust the flasher quickly and easily, and you need its display to be clear and understandable.
This means the simpler the ice fishing flasher, the better. A simple design with clear features and just the basic controls means a lot less can go wrong. In an ice fishing environment, the less that can go wrong the better too!
The 5 Best Ice Fishing Flashers
1. Vexilar FL-18 Pro Pack With 12-Degree Ice Ducer
The FL-18 is the best of a long line of great Vexilar products. It has a zoom function and split screen functionality that lets you magnify the water column on one screen while the entire water column is displayed on the other. The zoom feature narrows to 0.5 inches minimum target separation, which allows you to locate fish that are hugging the bottom.
The zoom feature also allows for viewing of the lure and any fish in the vicinity. This Vexilar has a maximum depth of 200 feet, interference rejection, and a special setting for fishing in less than 15 feet of water. The model has three colors (red, orange and green) and a 12V/9Ah batter with charger as well as a DD-100 depth indicator and 12-degree transducer.
2. MarCum M1 Flasher
The essence of this flasher is affordability and simplicity merged with exceptional performance. It also has a split screen zoom. The color signals are standard, and it comes with a 20-degree transducer, which makes it ideal for fishing any depth water. The wider cone lets it spread its signal too, allowing for a wider swath of data collection.
Other features include interference rejection, target separation down to 2 inches and a 12V/9Ah battery plus charger.
3. Humminbird ICE 55 Flasher
This is Humminbird’s most popular flasher. It has no frills, but specializes in dependable, accurate performance. The ICE 55 has a depth target line function that lets you pinpoint a certain depth. It also has a large LED display and 6-color display code, which makes keeping track of your lure or bait very easy.
It has a dual beam, one for a wide view and another for a narrow view with zoom. Any part of the readout can be zoomed, which makes bottom fishing easier. Its target depth range is 20 to 200 feet, and it has a 12V/9Ah battery with charger. A handy carrying case is included as well.
4. Humminbird Ice Helix 5
The Ice Helix 5 is a very popular model that features CHIRP sonar for incredible, detailed accuracy. It has target separation of three quarters of an inch and an adjustable zoom to identify your lure and surrounding fish. This model also has a mapping feature that lets you make contour maps down to 1 foot resolution, which is great if you fish the same place regularly.
Other features include built in GPS as well as location pin drop functionality. It can be used for ice or summer fishing. A 9Ah batter with charger fuels it and it has a mounting bracket as well as a portable carrier bag.
5. Vexilar FLX-12 Genz Pack with 19 Degree Ice Ducer
This final flasher on our list is great if you are on a budget, as it’s highly accurate and fairly affordable. It has a 3-color display with color variance to show weak signals. Another plus is the “Blue Box” carrying case and internal battery storage compartment and transducer holder.
The FLX-12 is powered by a 12V/9Ah batter with charger and the Ducer transducer is 19 degrees, which means it can be used in shallow water. The machine has six depth ranges spanning 20 to 120 feet and comes with internal interference rejection functionality. Target separation runs down to an inch as well.
Ice fishing flashers are devices that allow you to see the structure and activity below your ice fishing holes. They work using a transducer that uses sonar technology to detect objects in the water column. The information is then displayed on a screen so you can understand where the fish are.