The ability to see what’s going on down there under the water’s surface is the difference maker in any kind of fishing, and that’s certainly true in ice fishing. In some situations (clear, shallow water) you can see with your own two eyes. But much of the time, modern icers use electronic underwater eyes.
Dave Genz, the man who brought us the modern ice fishing revolution, also gave us the recipe for using both flashers and underwater cameras effectively and efficiently. In early editions of the old Ice Team Annual and Ice Team Report, he offered real-world advice on what each was best at, and how to use them to complement each other. In those same reports, he showed us his idea for zip-tieing the camera to its cable so it would hang straight down. He called it downviewing, a system now in general use.
Genz has insisted from the start that flashers and cameras are indispensable for specific things, each having a wheelhouse with complimentary strengths and weaknesses. Still, the question comes up constantly: which one should you buy, if you’re only going to buy one?
“I get that all the time,” says Genz, “at stores, seminars, out on the ice.” He understands the question, because limited discretionary income is being used to purchase gear for a hobby. “I just try to help them understand what each one can do separately, and what they can do when you use them together.”
What are these complimentary strengths and weaknesses? What can you expect in the way of performance, if you choose one over the other? Are there compelling advantages to having both and using them side-by-side?
These questions are timely this winter, because for the first time you can get both in the same rig, with the Vexilar Double Vision. So, whether you ultimately choose one or the other, or decide to get both, here are those complimentary strengths and weaknesses.
You can sight-fish at any depth, as Genz likes to say – as long as you can see clearly enough on the camera. (In deep dark water, and/or in the middle of the night, it can be difficult to see enough to make the camera a useful tool.) “When you see the fish come in and watch their reaction to your presentation,” says Dave, “that’s the best learning experience. I still learn things from being able to study the fish and what they do in response to what I do with the bait.”
You can often be selective about which fish ‘gets’ the bait. “It doesn’t always work,” Genz says, “because little fish can be aggressive. But a lot of times you can pull it away from the small fish and give the big fish a chance to come in and eat it.”
You can clearly see fish in the weeds. “Advantage camera on this one,” laughs Genz. “It can be really hard to figure out which signals are fish and which are weeds on a flasher. But when you’re looking at a camera picture, it’s fairly obvious which ones are the fish.”
You can see the condition of weeds and other cover. “We always want to find upright, green weeds,” stresses Dave. “On a color camera, in decent light, you can see if the weeds are green or not. If they’re ‘brown and down’ less fish will be in there.”
Cameras are the ultimate tool for learning to interpret a flasher. “Now we’re getting into real complimentary strengths,” says Genz. “If you are running a flasher and camera in the same hole, you can look at the flasher signal, then look at the camera to see what’s down there. It doesn’t take long to get confident about looking at the flasher by itself and knowing what the signals are.” He acknowledges that the learning curve associated with flasher interpretation can intimidate some anglers into shying away from getting one. “This is probably the best way,” he says, “to figure out what the flasher is telling you.”
The fun factor is huge. This one is an intangible, but most people are simply hypnotized by being able to watch the underwater world on a camera. You get to observe the goings on in the fish’s world, and that adds significantly to the enjoyment.
“You have to be careful with the fun factor, though,” says Dave, “because people tend to sit there too long just because they can see what’s down there. You can’t let the camera anchor you in position if you’re not catching anything.”
You can see equally well no matter the conditions. “Clear water, dirty water, shallow water, deep water, in the daytime or at night,” says Genz, “the flasher signal comes through the same. There are no limitations in terms of lighting conditions or water depth.”
You can check many more holes in less time using a flasher. “This is the biggest advantage of the flasher,” says Dave. “When you’re searching for fish, drilling holes, looking down every one, you cover way more turf with a flasher. You don’t have to lower down all that cable to get to see things. Just set the transducer in the hole and see what’s down there.”
Genz and his fishing partners, when in high-speed search mode (one example would be looking over large flats for roaming schools of perch), often use one person as the hole driller and another person as the hole checker. The hole checker moves quickly from hole to hole, sometimes kneeling on the ice to fish for a minute or so, even if fish don’t show up on the flasher right away. In many holes, the transducer is simply set in the water, while the flasher remains in hand. The ‘ducer is often rocked side to side, so it ‘looks’ in various directions. That lets you pick up on fish that are off to the side of the hole.
You cannot check this many holes, this quickly, with a camera.
When downviewing with a camera and using a flasher in the same hole, the flasher acts as early-warning system. That’s because the flasher’s sonar signal reaches farther out to the side than the camera can see. “You see the fish show up on the flasher,” says Genz, “and as the signal turns from thin and weak to bright red, you know you’ve got a fish coming in. You can shift your focus from the flasher to the camera, and pick up the fish on visual as it comes all the way in.”
The bottom line, Genz advises, is that if you’re going to buy one unit it should be a Vexilar flasher. “This is especially because of the search process,” he says. “You have to find fish before you can sit there and watch ‘em on the camera. Even a small lake has a lot of ice to cover. It would take a long time to check it all with a camera. Plus, a flasher is the best tool in dirty water and after dark.”
Just above the bottom line, Dave mentions that he loves using both a flasher and a camera.
And has been using both, taking advantage of their complimentary strengths, for years.