One of ice fishing’s many challenges is identifying a good spot. On an open-water river or lake, quality fishing holes are usually easier to recognize. But on a frozen waterway covered in snow, everything looks the same.
Fish can’t jump and give away their location. Subsurface structure is impossible to see. Water depth is anyone’s guess.
Fortunately for anglers, technology can help us see beneath the ice. With a nifty little device called a flasher — the ice fishing equivalent of a fish finder — anglers can quickly measure water depth, identify active fish and, if they’re lucky, watch them hammer a lure.
Like a fish finder, a flasher provides a subsurface reading using a sonar-emitting transducer. To get started, the angler places the transducer in the hole. Within seconds, an illuminated dial will show the water depth, with solid colored lines marking the top and bottom of the water column. If you’re looking for a specific depth — say, 30 feet to target perch —using a flasher eliminates the guess work. The full benefit of having a flasher comes when fish arrive. As you drop a lure down the hole, it will show up as a colored line on your graph. It moves up and down as you jig it, so you always know where the lure is in the water column. If a second line shows up on your dial, it means a fish is nearby.
Oftentimes, fish are right on the bottom. By jigging near the bottom, anglers can entice active fish to come up and inspect a lure. When a colored line moves off the bottom, get ready to feel for a bite and set the hook!
The second type of ice fishing bite is my favorite, and it comes from fish — usually trout — cruising at shallower depths. Cruising fish will appear as colored lines higher in the water column. When that happens, quickly reel up to get your lure in front of the fish, and hang on tight! Cruising trout are usually feeding, and if they get eyes on your lure, they’re likely to smash it.
Wintertime fish are notoriously picky eaters, but a flasher can help in that regard, too. If you are marking lots of fish but not getting bites, your lure and/or bait probably aren’t what the fish are looking for. Try changing it up to see if something different gets a better response.
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Flashers come in many makes and models. My handy Vexilar cost about $250 ($200-$500 is a reasonable price range). But if you’re serious about ice fishing, it’s a worthwhile investment. On one recent trip to Magic Reservoir, 22 of the 25 fish my group landed were caught using a flasher. As we jigged near the bottom, I spotted a shallower mark on my dial.
“We have a fish coming through!” I announced. “It’s in about six feet…”
WHAM! Before I could finish the sentence, a big rainbow trout crushed my jig.
“Awesome!” my buddy Nick said as we released the fish. “Now it’s my turn with the cheat box.”
Sometimes, using a flasher does feel a little bit like cheating. But in a tough sport like ice fishing, it doesn’t hurt having a little technology in your tackle box.