Ice fishing is one of the activities that Northern anglers most look forward to each winter, and most anglers will tell you that they enjoy fishing through the ice as much as they enjoy fishing from a boat or shore – just in a different way. Getting out on the ice, even on a slow day, is great — but there is no doubt that catching fish makes the experience a whole lot more fun. One of the things you can do to increase your chances of having a good catch is to bring an ice fishing flasher — aka fish finder or sonar – along with you when you fish.
The ice fishing flasher is a sonar-enabled device designed to improve your odds of catching fish. They have a design that displays real time sonar so you can see the depth, if fish are passing through, where your lure is, and you can see how the fish are responding to your lure. They take a lot of the guessing, and waiting, out of fishing.
A good fish finder can make sure you are on the fish, instead of sitting 20 yards away from them while you catch nothing. The goal is to avoid the dreaded “dead hole” and a good flasher can help you do that.
3 Best Ice Fishing Flashers or Fish Finders (All Purpose)
Humminbird ICE 45 Ice Fishing Flasher
Anglers know that the name Hummingbird represents fish finders that are accurate, dependable, state of the art, and easy to use. Most anglers know that a Humminbird should be on any short list of possible flashers. We are big fans of the Hummingbird Ice 45, built on the concept of the Ice 35 but with some digital enhancements.
The Ice 45 is at the midpoint of Humminbird’s lineup, between the 35 and 55, and the newer Helix Chirp lineup. The Ice line is a more classic and tried-and-true line, but we are excited to get more testing on the Helix Chirps.
You know that winter days create visual limitations. This fish flasher has been specifically designed with a fiber-optic display and a backlit LCD screen so that it is easy to read no matter what level of light you are experiencing on your trip.
It has a 3-color display with an overlay depth scale that allows you to quickly identify the depth the fish are at so you can know exactly where your lure needs to be. The backlit LCD screen shows the depth readings in large, easy to read numbers so you can tell the depth at a glance and do not have to stare at the screen to determine the exact depth you need to fish at.
You can operate the flasher on a manual setting or an automatic setting. On the manual setting you will have four depth scales. These scales are at 20 feet, 40 feet, 80 feet, and 200 feet. If you choose to operate the device on the automatic setting you get seven depth scales. These depth scales are at 20 feet, 40 feet, 60 feet, 80 feet, 100 feet, 120 feet, and 200 feet.
You get a control pad that has 6 buttons so you can fine tune the device to your preferences. You can adjust the gain, the noise, the beam, the color selections, and even the target cursor. The color palate can be set to display as Vexilar or Marcum. The device comes with a soft sided carry case, and is light enough to be highly-portable. It fits easily in a 5-gallon bucket.
It comes with a rechargeable 7 amp hour, 12 volt battery and the charger it requires. We find that this unit has very little interference once dialed-in, and anglers of all levels will find it helpful on the ice. Find it here on Amazon.
Lowrance HOOK2 5 – 5-inch Fish Finder (Ice Fishing Version)
One of the things that make a fish flasher better than other fish flashers is how easy the device is to use. This Lowrance fish flasher has an auto tuning sonar so you are not sitting in the cold turning dials hoping to get the sonar tuned in properly. The machine adjusts the settings automatically so your sonar is perfectly set. It also has a phone style menu so it is easy to see what numbers you have to put in to make the device do what you want it to be doing.
The sonar cone it has is a wide angle cone that allows you to have about twice the amount of coverage that the other flashers provide. All of this power is made available through a single transducer. You can easily mount this on a transom, on a trolling motor, inside the hull or through a scupper hole. It is the ideal solution for ice fishing or people fishing from small vessels like kayaks or small fishing boats that have very limited amounts of console space.
You get sonar readings from straight down via the Down-Scan sonar, and up to 300’ on the side from the side scan sonar, along with the CHIRP sonar that gives you fish views.
This device is preloaded with detailed maps of U.S. lakes. It contains the detailed maps of 4,000 lakes so you can easily find the best fishing location according to the water you are fishing in. You can quickly input information that will allow the device to find underwater structures where fish like to hide. These include drop offs, ledges, and other covers.
Do not worry about forgetting where you fished the last time, or getting lost trying to find your fishing spot. The GPS on the device will make finding your favorite hole a breeze. You can even add waypoints and there is an SD card slot so you can use software in the future to make upgrades to maps, or add new features as they become available.
It comes in three sizes. The 5 inch screen, 7 inch screen, 9 inch screen, and a 12 inch screen. The 5-inch version weighs-in at a mere 4.5 lbs, making it a nice option if reducing weight on your fishing sled is important to you, but consider this a recommendation for both the 7 and 9 inch versions as well. You will want to be sure to get the ice-fishing version, here on Amazon.
Vexilar FL-1812 Genz Pack
Perhaps we saved the best for last. Two names that are synonymous with ice fishing are Vexilar and Genz. And here, you have them rolled-in to one.
If you are going to talk fish flashers then you are going to need to mention a product from Vexilar. While die-hard ice fishermen might opt for something a little more advanced, we love the combination of price point and functionality on the Vexilar FL-1812 Genz Pack ice flasher. You know that you can rely on Vexilar products, and this flasher is not going to disappoint you. It has long been what ice fishermen reach for when they know they don’t want to waste their time trying to find fish. It is a popular flasher with the ice anglers in the north country, with a borderline legendary status. We talk to many fellow ice anglers who have owned their Vexilar for 10 years or more, and still use it, just changing the battery every few years.
The flasher uses three colors to display the strength of the target it is sensing. The green is a weak one, the orange is at medium strength, and if you see a red light then it is the strongest visual of the target.
You get six depth ranges. 20 feet, 30 feet, 40 feet, 60 feet, 80 feet, and 120 feet. The only knock on this unit is that it is a little heavier, weighing-in at 10lbs. If you are going to carry this by foot for a long walk, you might start to feel it. In return for that weight, you get perhaps the best reliability and overall performance of any flasher on this list.
It uses LED display technology, so you can see and read the screen whether the sunlight is bright and blinding, or the light is dim.
More advanced anglers might opt for the Vexilar FL-20 model, which gives you more sensitivity and range options. You can really hone in on the bottom 12 or so feet of water, and a low-power zoom option allows you to use this in shallow water or really dial-in on a specific depth band that you are trying to target. For all this, you are going to need to invest a couple hundred more, but that is worth it for the right fisherman.
The base of the device easily fits into a five gallon bucket. It has a semi enclosed battery compartment to protect the battery, and it carries the unique distinction of being tried by Dave Genz, and declared to be nearly indestructible! Find it here on Amazon.
An Intriguing Option: Sonar Ball w/ App
If you are open to a new concept in your sonar or fish finder, a relatively new product on the market is the sonar ball concept, which provides its readout on your phone’s screen via an app. A few manufacturers some version of a sonar ball, and our favorite at the moment is from Deeper.
Deeper smart pro — sonar
The Deeper Smart Pro is a small ball, about 3 inches in diameter, that provides a readout of the bottom structure and fish activity on your phone, using an app that you download. This combination might not be intuitive for old-timers who like their blue flashers, but for someone who wants to travel light and is just a tiny bit technologically savvy, it can be a real gamechanger.
Just drop the ball in the water, and it will float like a bobber. It will immediately send a readout to your phone that shows both the view from a traditional sonar flasher as well as a fish finder. it weighs next to nothing, and you can stow it easily in your tackle box, bucket, or even in a pocket. Accuracy is good, and it works well down to temps below zero.
Battery life on the ball is good, but know that it will drain your phone’s battery pretty quickly. Considering that cold weather also wreaks havoc on your phone’s charge, consider bringing an external battery to keep enough power rolling while you fish.
If you are looking to travel light on the ice, take a serious look at this product. Combined with other lightweight ice fishing gear like an ice drill bit, you can lighten your load significantly compared to the days of old.
In the summer, you can also use it for both shore fishing and boat fishing…. you simply cast it out into the water just like a bobber on the line.
What to look for in Ice Fishing Flashers
Reliability- You want an ice fishing flasher that is durable, and reliable. When you get out on the ice and turn your flasher on you want to know that the device is going to work properly. If you have to spend several minutes trying to get your device to power on properly, or if the machine powers off because it gets too cold, then it really is not benefiting you to have a flasher.
You can read the reviews of people who have actually purchased the items, and used the items, to determine the amount of reliability you can expect.
Lightweight – When you have to carry everything out on the ice where you will be fishing the weight of your equipment starts to matter a great deal. If your equipment is lightweight it is easier to carry, and it allows you to be able to carry a wider variety of items to use to your advantage.
Accuracy – Accuracy is of vital importance. If the unit you are using is not accurate, then you are simply using a device to help you make your best guess. You want a machine that has received excellent reviews from actual anglers that have actually used it, and one that can separate fish from other noise under the water. Those reviews will help you determine the real accuracy the device has. Moreover, the more you spend on a flasher, the more accuracy you should get (theoretically). This means more price sonar interaction with your transducer, and the ability to zoom-in on specific zones and depths that allow you to dial-in on the fish.
Quality – It can be temping to try to save money at any cost when it comes to fishing gear, but you usually regret it. Buy quality. This is the same advice we give for everything from tackle boxes to fillet knives. If you spend a little more today, you will have great gear for a long time. If you cheap out, you probably will end up buying a replacement unit in the not-so-distant future. Garbage-in, garbage out. Everything we recommend above is from trusted, quality brands.
Transportability – This one might not be mission-critical for everyone, but a flasher or sonar with a handle, carrying case, or even a pack can be really nice, especially if you tend to talk on to the ice. Many models are equipped with a handle or an included pack for transport. If yours doesn’t have this and you are trying to get to your fishing spot by foot, the options are typically to tied the flasher on to your sled, or invest in some type of waterproof backpack that can carry the flasher and other more valuable things.
Ice Fishing Flashers FAQ
Are larger screens better on ice fishing flashers?
Having a larger display screen makes it easier to see and identify what you are seeing with just a glance. The drawback is that the larger screens drain the batteries faster, so the larger display screens may not be operational for the same length of time that the smaller display screen would be.
Generally speaking, larger screens also mean a heavier overall unit. If you are someone who drives on to the ice, then the weight of your gear is less of a factor and the larger screen might be nice to have. If you carry all of your equipment in a bucket or pull it on a sled, then you might want to go for more compact units.
Can I use the same fish finder for ice fishing that I do for summer fishing?
You can, but it is not ideal. The models listed above are all built with ice fishing in mind. With ice fishing, you need more durability, because the flasher will often be bumping around in a pickup bed or on a sled. You also need more portability, because unlike with a boat, you typically don’t mount is once and forget about it. You will bundle it up with your ice fishing shelter and other gear. Finally, you need a stronger standalone battery life than a summer rig, because cold weather eats up your battery quickly and you don’t have a boat engine to feed the power from.
Perhaps the key reason why these depth finders are not perfect for summer use is because the sonar signal is meant to be more static, not dynamic. That means that it is not intended to scan a moving range of water, as you often would be while trolling or drifting. If what you really need is simply to know how deep you are, and if there are fish right below you (such as in jigging in one spot), then these winter flashers can do the job in the summer. We hear lots of people who use them in their canoe, when they do not necessarily want to rig the canoe up with a bunch of complex electronics. (See the embedded video for an excellent tutorial on the subject!)
Will an ice fishing flasher help me catch more fish?
Yes. It will change the way you fish, and you will be more successful. Of course, you still need to know how to attract and catch fish, but all other things being equal, fishing with electronics helps increase your success rate.
Good electronics on the ice will do a few things for you. First, you will know exactly what depth you are fishing at, and will be able to know where within the depth range the fish tend to be. Second, you will be able to interact with the fish. When you see signs of fish below, you can move your bait or jig, causing the fish to see it and even chase it. This is a game changer when fishing for finicky fish like Lake Trout.
Perhaps the biggest benefit will be that you will learn from the flasher. You will learn how far off bottom fish tend to be, which fish are chasing your bait and which are not, and what kinds of drop-offs or structure the fish tend to be active in at various times throughout the winter.
Now, if the fish aren’t biting, they aren’t biting. But on a day when they are biting, a flasher will help you get on the fish faster than if you did not have one along.
Why Do They Call it a “Flasher”?
Fair question, especially since today’s fish finders are pretty high tech and really resemble an ultra or x-ray more than some primitive piece of sonar gear. And in reality, there is a slight difference between a fish finder and a flasher. On this list, the Vexilar and Hummingbird are true flashers, while the Lowrance is a fish finder.
A flasher shows the sonar “flash” in the screen, giving you a real-time and relatively raw readout. The main goal of a flasher is to show you exactly where the sonar is “pinging” at any given time, whether that be the bottom of the lake, a fish, or your bait. Many diehards love how they can easily dial-up or down the sensitivity of the sonar with a flasher.
A fish finder, on the other hand, more resembles the electronics that you might have in your bass board. It shows a map of the water beneath you, with images for various structure within a certain radius.
Typically, one’s preference is largely influenced by his or her experience. If you grew up watching a flasher on the ice, there is a good chance you prefer flashers now, and vice-versa. They both get the job done.