and other flasher fish finders
by shelly holland
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i see more and more women getting out on the ice these days. they’ve figured out what an amazing adventure it can be! it’s definitely a sport that has a more even playing field with just a few key tools – a flasher fish finder being one of the best things you can bring out there on the ice. the knowledge these give about what is under the ice is priceless as an angler!
while there are several main brands out there such as vexilar, marcum, humminbird and garmin for the hard water angler, we are going to explore the vexilar specifically as it has become such a common and well-known flasher fish finder.
even if you have no prior knowledge of the lake you are fishing, by simply adding a water bottle to your ice fishing arsenal, your vexilar unit can quickly tell you the water depth before you even drill a hole. in the spot you’d like to test, clear any snow off the ice large enough for the transducer (hanging black puck) and pour a little water on the ice (so no air will get trapped in between the transducer and the ice) to get your reading. finding your target depth (or structure) before drilling any holes can save you a lot of time and energy.
if you have a vexilar fl28, this unit comes standard with a digital depth display, making it super easy to read your depth. however, a digital depth display can be added to any vexilar that doesn’t have it. if you don’t have digital display, you have to use the range feature. for example, on a fl8, start with turning the range knob left to #1. this will show depth 0 to 20 feet, #2 will show depth 0 to 40 feet and #4 is 0 to 80 feet. turning the knob right is for deeper water: #1 is 0 to 30 feet, #2 is 0 to 60 feet and #4 is 0 to 120 feet. most of my fishing is with left side range #1 or #2.
once i have found a depth i want to fish, then i go ahead and drill a few holes. you never know where the fish will be, so drill even more holes than you’re planning to use at first so you’ll be able to move around when needed. the more holes you drill, the better chance for success. drilling many holes in the beginning also allows time for things to calm down. drilling can startle the fish away initially – allowing time for things to settle down is more important in shallow water 12 feet and under.
reading the bottom
if you don’t know how to read a vexilar, it seems very confusing at first. however, you’ll soon realize it is extremely easy to learn once you know what to look for. let’s start with reading that depth. read the vexilar display circle like the direction of a clock. the lines at twelve o’clock are your starting point where your hole is and top of the water. continuing to the right is your water column until you come to a thick band of lines, which is your bottom reading, giving you your water depth (reading the white numbers around the circle if on ‘s’ shallower range setting, yellow numbers on ‘d’ deeper range setting).
on the display below, the top of the water column starts at the 0 then comes down the right side and ends at the green line at around 12-½-feet depth. the green, yellow and long red line indicates a soft bottom, weeds or mud. if it was a shorter, solid red line at the 12-½-foot mark, that would mean a hard bottom of sand, gravel or rock.
if your lucky enough, you may find a transition area – this would be when one hole has a hard bottom and a nearby hole has a soft bottom. fish have been known to like these transition
zones. walleyes might be on the hard bottom, while panfish prefer the soft bottom. anything you would see between 0 to 12-½ feet on this display would be your jig or a fish. in other scenarios, if you have structure, such as an underwater tree, then branches will show up as green, yellow or red, but not move like your jig or fish.
if at any time the water column from 0 to bottom shows a bunch of lines and you can’t seem to find which one is your jig, you probably have interference, especially when fishing next to other anglers with flasher fish finders. simply push the ‘rejection’ button until the problem clears. if you have a unit with a low power mode, this is great for shallow water. by trying this, you will see a dramatic difference in reading your vexilar.
interpreting the signal
the strongest signal will be directly under the transducer, which is also where your jig will be. the size of the red line indicates the size of your presentation and fish. the further away the fish is, the weaker the line becomes going from red to yellow and then green, being the weakest. while fishing, it will appear fish are coming up from the bottom, when in reality, the fish are coming in from the side. so imagine when you see a green line in your fish zone that the fish your seeing is off to the side up to 10 feet away – this would be a good time to vigorously jig your bait to entice them to bite.
vexilar units fl18 and all the fl20 models offer split screen bottom zoom. this is a great feature to have. when applied, it splits the screen in half, left side being the zoomed-in side, right side the normal water column. the left zoomed-in side will magnify the bottom 6 or 12 feet, whichever you set it to, giving you a higher definition up to ¼-inch target id on the fl28. bottom zoom is not meant for shallow water. once you have used this feature and see first hand its benefits, you will always want to use it when applicable (deeper water).
while the fl28 is the top of the line model priced higher with all the bells and whistles, vexilar has many different options in a range of prices. if you’re newer to ice fishing or new to using a flasher fish finder, the fl8 is a great unit to start with. the fact that you can read what’s below the ice, see if there are fish down there and if there coming to your jig is really what its all about.
shelly holland of minnesota is a professional angler and regular seminar speaker who has been promoting ice fishing and teaching others how to fish for years. she represents vexilar, ice team, clam outdoors and mr. heater, as well as is a part of the women ice angler project, a community recognizing and generating awareness for women anglers in the ice fishing industry.