Ice Fishing Sonar Comparison: Fish Finder vs Flasher

Having suitable fishing electronics for your next ice fishing trip is important. Not only can it help you determine the water depth under your hole, but it can also let …

Having suitable fishing electronics for your next ice fishing trip is important. Not only can it help you determine the water depth under your hole, but it can also let you see fish activity in the area near your lure.

Many anglers are unsure of the differences between a fish finder and a flasher. Some fish finders will have a flasher, and others will not. This article will take a closer look at fish finders and whether or not having a flasher is vital for ice fishing.

What Is the Difference Between a Fish Finder and a Flasher?

Ice fishing fish finder
Fish finders and flashers serve the same purpose of locating fish, but fish finders provide more detailed information and are suitable for casual fishing or tournaments, while flashers are better for experienced users or ice fishermen due to their more modest screen size and less detailed information.

When it comes to a fish finder and a flasher, the first difference you may notice is that a fish finder will have a larger display screen. This can be anywhere in size from 4 inches to 12 inches, and sometimes more depending on the model.

For a flasher, the screen size is much more modest since the flasher will not show as much detailed information at once. Instead, you will normally find a flasher with a 4-inch or 6-inch screen, though other sizes can be found by some manufacturers.

Both a fish finder and a flasher are extremely useful pieces of fishing electronics. They can both have their pros and cons depending on when and where you need to use them. Fish finders can be great for casual fishing on your favorite pond, or during a tournament at the local lake while a flasher is more simplified and better for experienced users or ice fishermen.

Both devices offer the same end result; they can both tell you where fish may be located. But the flasher is considerably more bare bones in what it can offer, while the fish finder is more advanced in the information it provides on the LCD display.

When it comes to learning how to use each device, a fish finder may take a bit more trial and error in learning to use since it offers so many different options and has plenty of buttons and user interface settings for which information is displayed on the screen at any given time.

The flasher on the other hand is a much more simplified circular radar but can be somewhat less detailed in what it tells you. However, learning to read a simplified circular radar can be just as difficult for some anglers as learning a more advanced fish finder. Both devices will take some practice on your part.

What Type of Sonar Is Best for Ice Fishing?

Anglers will use a variety of different brands and models of sonar for their ice fishing trips. In some cases, a normal fish finder will work for ice fishing – however, it’s important to take note of the working temperature of the electronics.

Some fish finders do not perform well in cold temperatures, and the battery and internal computing chips can become slow or fail to turn on. There are a few methods you can try to keep your electronics warm when out on the ice, but many anglers will instead look for an ice-fishing-specific brand that is made to handle extremely cold temperatures.

When it comes to simplicity, many anglers will use a flasher with 2D sonar for their ice fishing. While this sonar will not give you all of the details as a normal fish finder, it can make glancing at the screen quicker and easier for anglers that are experienced in reading a flasher.

Fish Finder vs Flasher: Do You Need Both?

Ice fishing flasher 1
Both fish finders and flashers display real-time information about the water depth and location of fish, with fish finders offering more detailed information and flashers being more suitable for ice fishing.

Both electronic fishing devices have the same goal, to display the depth of the water and the location of fish and structures. Both options provide results in real-time, so you can tell exactly when and where fish might be moving or can get a good look at whether or not fish are moving in on your lure.

If you plan on only doing ice fishing, or spending most of your time ice fishing, a flasher will be your better option. This electronic device will give you a round radar view of the sonar which can tell you which areas have fish, and which just have rocks and other structures.

With a fish finder, you will need to use a bit more intuition and deductive reasoning in some cases, especially since you won’t be moving along in a boat to get a better view of the area. While a fish finder can provide more information at once, many anglers agree it is not the best option for ice fishing and a flasher can make a world of difference.

Fish Finders and Flashers Compared

Fish FindersFlashers
PurposeTo locate fish and structures in a large and moving radius from a boatTo locate fish and track their movement in relation to your lure
Display typeLCD or CRT display screenLED or LCD radar circle
Depth capability1,500 or more feet100-200 feet maximum
Type of sonar2D and 3D with CHIRP2D Traditional
Target separation1-inch to 1-foot average1-foot average
GPS and Mapping Capability?Accurate to 6 feet, can waypoint various routes and favorite fishing spotsLacks the ability to GPS track or record waypoints and route paths
Ease of useSome models have a learning curve to make the most out of all of their featuresVery simple to understand, and does not have a lot of bells and whistles to deal with
PortabilityMost units need to be mounted to a boat, though castable units are availableCan be mounted or portable, excellent for travel and ice fishing at temporary holes
CostWill depend on the features added, with some models starting around $300 and ranging into the thousandsThe average cost will be around $300 or $500 with some high-end units reaching $1200

Tips for Using a Flasher

Ice fishing flasher
To make the most of fish flashers, anglers should take advantage of the technology’s mobility by moving around to locate the best fish, and understand how to interpret the colors and circular radar display, which can provide accurate views of the water and help identify the hardness of the bottom, including the presence of plants and weeds.

Take Advantage of the Mobility

Fish flashers are highly mobile technology that can make finding schools of fish under the ice extremely easy. If you have several holes at your favorite ice fishing spot, take advantage of this mobility and move several times throughout the day to locate the best fish.

Keep an eye on the radar itself and quickly do “spot checks” at various holes to see if fish are within 10 feet of your lure or that particular spot. This should only take 5 minutes at most, and if you don’t see any fish or signs of fish in this time you can move to the next hole to check.

Understand the Meaning of the Colors

The circular radar of a fish flasher is considerably different from the top and side views of a somewhat more advanced fish finder. This means you might have to take a bit of practice time to understand the colors and what they are telling you.

A fish flasher can give you extremely accurate views of the water under and around you. The deeper the water you are fishing in, the larger the cone will be to give you information. Fish that are close will be displayed in red which gets darker and thicker the closer the fish is, while those that are further away but still within the cone of your sonar will appear green or yellow.

Identify the Bottom Hardness

When viewing a circular radar, the edge of the flash can tell you the hardness of the bottom. Since the radar is unable to beam through solid surfaces, a solid red line will be a hard bottom such as dirt, sand, or rocks.

Lighter-colored red lines, or a narrow band of yellow lines, can indicate plants and weeds. This is a great way to locate nesting areas where open-water fish may gather, or when ice fishing, can give you a good idea of where fish might be suspended for ease of locating food.

Tips for Using an Ice Fishing Fish Finder

Fish finder GPS combo 3
To get the best results from a fish finder in ice fishing, the transducer should be just below the bottom layer of ice, sensitivity should be adjusted to make the lure almost invisible but still noticeable, and the zoom option should be used to enhance the view of the strike zone and smaller targets in the distance.

Get the Right Depth With Your Transducer

In order to get the best results from your transducer when using a fish finder in the ice, the general rule of thumb is that it should be just below the bottom layer of ice. This gives you a perfect circular view around your lure and can give you a good heads-up on fish in the surrounding area.

Adjust Your Sensitivity

This will be a personal preference on your part and may take some trial and error to see what feels right for you. You want your lure to appear solid but not overpowering, so adjust your sensitivity until the lure is almost invisible but still noticeable. A high setting will display too many signals from debris in the water, while too low will not let you see your lure and the distance of fish around it.

Use the Zoom Option Often

The zoom option on fish finders should, in my personal opinion, always be on. This is a very useful feature that enhances your view of the strike zone, while also increasing the view of smaller targets in the distance.

Are Ice Fishing Fish Finders Different from Standard Ones?

Fish finders that advertise being suitable for ice fishing are normally made with more robust components or internal insulation to help protect the components from extreme cold and condensation damage.

Average fish finders are not made to be used in extremely cold conditions, and moisture that builds up inside from condensation can potentially damage the unit without warning. Ice fishing units have a transducer that includes additional seals to help prevent freezing, as well as additional insulation.

Can You Use a Regular Fish Finder for Ice Fishing?

While some anglers do use normal fish finders for ice fishing, others say it’s better to just purchase an electronic device that is specifically made for cold temperatures.

When using a normal fish finder in freezing temperatures, you may have to add your own insulation to the unit to prevent freezing and condensation build-up. This can be done by wrapping the unit in a towel to help retain some of the battery heat within.

However, the transducer which goes into the water may have problems with ice build-up inside and out. Disconnects or slow response are some signs that your fish finder may not be rated for extremely cold ice fishing conditions.

What Is Flasher Mode on a Fish Finder?

Some fish finders have a built-in flasher mode which gives you the option of getting the detailed fish finder information you are used to, or switching it up to a circular radar option. Many Lowrance brand fish finders will have this option, with Humminbird and Garmin offering the same on a few models as well.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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