Ice Fishing Fish Finder VS Flasher: How To Choose & Top Pick

by Thavius | Last Updated:   April 11th, 2022
Ice Fishing Fish Finder VS Flasher: How To Choose & Top Pick


Every year, several debates are held in the fishing world. Anglers argue about almost everything, including fishing knots, tools, and techniques. But when ice fishing season comes around, ice fishing fish finders and flashers become the hottest topics.

Technology has transformed modern ice fishing and it puts ice anglers at a great advantage when it comes to catching fish. You are guaranteed to catch more fish with any of these tools, regardless of your level of experience.

But which one of them is the better option?

One of the toughest decisions you will have to make as an angler is if a fish finder or flasher will serve you better. I had to make this decision on my own years ago, so I know how it can be. Fortunately, I have done the necessary research so you don’t have to go through as much trouble as I did.

In this article, I will be providing all the essential details that you will need to compare both ice fishing electronics. This will enable you to make an educated decision on the best option for you.

What Are Ice Fishing Fish Finders?

An ice fish finder is a device that detects fish and other objects beneath the ice with the aid of sonar technology. The signals received by the device are usually displayed on color screens and they help ice anglers to locate and catch fish with more ease. Also, advanced fish finders provide additional information such as water temperature, depth, bottom consistency, and GPS coordinates.

How Does an Ice Fishing Fish Finder Work?

An ice fishing fish finder is made up of two main components, the transducer, and the main processor. The transducer transfers any signal it receives from the water body to the main processor for interpretation. In the main processor, the signal is converted to a digital signal and then displayed on a screen.

Additionally, the transducer consists of piezoelectric crystals that vibrate at a particular frequency to transmit sonar pulses down an ice hole. Whenever the sonar pulses collide with an underwater object, they bounce back to the transducer for interpretation.

The shape and location of underwater objects are determined by the intensity and travel time of the returning signal. This process has to be repeated severally for the device to be able to deliver a clear and accurate image of underwater conditions. Finally, the information provided by a fish finder depends on the power and frequency of its signals. This is why many anglers opt for sonars that operate at more than one frequency (CHIRP sonar technology).

Watch this video to get more information on how to read a fish finder:

What Are Ice Fishing Flashers?

A flasher is the favorite ice fishing sonar of several ice anglers for good reasons. It is a simple device that displays information on underwater activities in real-time via a circular display. Flashers are known to respond quickly and provide accurate results regardless of the quality or depth of the water. They also have excellent target separation.

How Does an Ice Fishing Flasher Work?

Just like a fish finder, an ice fishing flasher consists of two main parts — the transducer and the monitoring equipment with its display. The former is dropped into the water while the latter stays with the user. The transducer emits and receives the signal that is used for detecting the bottom of the water column. So, the first information that you receive is the depth of the water. The range of your ice flasher will depend on its model.

An ice flasher also identifies the underwater structures and the movement of fish. These pieces of information are in form of colors. For example, red represents hard bottoms while yellow represents soft bottoms. Green represents vegetation.

As for the fish, they are usually represented by varying colors. A densely packed school of fish may be represented by a dark yellow, orange, or red color. You may see a light yellow color if it’s a small fish. A green and yellow combination could signify the presence of both fish and vegetation. However, you should note that these colors may vary depending on your ice flasher’s model.

Watch this video to get more information on how to read an ice fishing flasher:

Ice Fishing Fish Finders Vs Ice Fishing Flashers: What’s The Difference?

As you should know by now, fish finders and flashers have a lot of similarities. However, the major difference between both types of ice fishing electronics is the way that they display information.

You will get real-time sonar data on the conditions and activities going on right below the ice hole when using a flasher. On the other hand, a fish finder is designed to provide recent sonar data. For this reason, flashers are often called one-dimensional sonars while fish finders are referred to as two-dimensional sonars.

The purpose of an ice flasher is to tell you what’s happening below an ice fishing hole at a particular time and nothing more. As an ice angler, you won’t be needing data on what took place below an ice hole minutes ago since you will be using a vertical fishing technique. What you will find helpful is real-time information.

Flashers are mainly used for ice fishing because it is exactly what they are built for.

Meanwhile, fish finders were originally designed for boat fishing. They show anglers fishes that swim past their sonar cones some minutes back so that they can circle back to them. However, this doesn’t mean that a fish finder can’t be used for ice fishing. You can obtain real-time information on the conditions beneath the ice hole by focusing on the newest sonar signals. Several modern fish finders feature a real-time sonar (RTS) that serves this particular purpose.

Here is a further breakdown of the differences between ice fishing fish finders and flashers:

Display

As I mentioned earlier, the major difference between a fish finder and a flasher is their display and the best display will depend on your preference.

Fish flashers feature a simple dial that comes with lights of different colors. These lights symbolize all the objects that are detected by the device including the fish, your lure, and the bottom of the water column. Avid flasher users love how the display of the device can be fine-tuned to show all the information that they need. A flasher will show you all that you need to see including the size of the fish and how they approach the lure. You can also magnify your view with the zoom feature.

However, you might need some practice to master how to properly read an ice flasher. Flashers are not very easy to read mainly because they circularly display the water column rather than vertically.

On the other hand, fish finder graphs are easier to read. This is particularly true for ice anglers that have used a fish finder on open water in the past. Also, the RTS feature that I wrote about earlier will keep you updated on the most recent underwater activities even if you aren’t paying attention. A flasher doesn’t have this feature. However, reading a fish finder that doesn’t have the RTS function won’t be so straightforward because information won’t be displayed in real-time.

Both devices provide great detail and target separation. You will also find them easy to read with little practice. However, ice fishing flashers will take this round due to the real-time information that they offer.

Battery Life

A major disadvantage of using ice fishing fish finders is their batteries aren’t long-lasting. They utilize LCD screens that require lots of power and ultimately drain battery life faster. You can save power by reducing the screen’s brightness but this will raise another issue as the screen won’t be easy to read on sunny days.

Depending on the specifications of your fish finder and battery, your battery should last anywhere between 4 to 12 hours at full charge. However, the battery life will be even short if you make use of the GPS or use the device in extremely cold conditions.

Meanwhile, flashers have a simple fiber-optic display that requires minimal energy. So, their batteries last longer and you can expect a run time of at least 18 hours. You can fish all weekend with a single charge.

GPS and Mapping

The best ice anglers are those that know how to find the most favorable ice fishing holes. If you can get your hands on a fish finder that comes with GPS and mapping, you will find it much easier to find the best fishing spots. Advanced fish finders are usually equipped with base maps for lakes and detailed contour maps. So, you just have to locate humps and reefs with your GPS and maps before drilling your ice holes.

When using an ice fishing flasher, locating fishing hot spots won’t be so straightforward. You might need a handheld GPS too.

Versatility

Another reason why several anglers prefer fish finders is that they remain usable in the warmer months. Companies such as Humminbird and Lowrance equip their fish finders with transducers for both ice fishing and boat fishing. This makes their products suitable for multi-season use.

On the other hand, flashers are best used on ice. Though you can use a flasher for open water fishing, it will be of little help. Generally, fish finders are more suitable for boat fishing while flashers are built for vertical and stationary fishing.

Here are the best kayak fish finders for beginners and advanced anglers.

Affordability

Pricing is one factor that anyone hardly overlooks when comparing products. Most times, we prefer affordable products that bring good value for money. So, here are my two cents.

The most advanced ice flashers cost between $300 to $750 while high-end fish finders cost between $250 to $700. But as a beginner or casual angler, you will find good value in a fish finder that costs below $200.

Alternatively, you can save yourself a good amount of money by opting for a transducer and battery instead of an ice flasher. They will be a good replacement for your traditional fish finder come winter while costing around $200. However, you will have to put in more DIY work.

If you are a first-time buyer, I recommend that you get yourself a multi-season fish finder. This is the best option for an angler that will be doing lots of boat fishing but ice fishing only a few times annually. Though the most advanced of these devices may seem costly, you will save more money buying one than purchasing separate units for open water and ice.

But if you are plan to be an avid ice angler, you can’t do without an ice fishing flasher.

Portability

Since you will be moving around a lot when ice fishing, you need to prioritize portability when selecting your tools. The good thing about ice flashers is that they come with carrying bags in which you can store all your ice fishing tools. This will make it easier for you to move from one place to another. Fish finders don’t usually come with carrying bags but you can always purchase one separately.

Are There Special Fish Finders for Ice Fishing?

Not all fish finders are built for ice fishing. Ice fishing fish finders come with certain features that help to function properly in winter. Here are the features that separate an ice fishing fish finder from a regular fish finder:

  1. Ice fish finders are equipped with ice transducers that can withstand sub-zero temperatures. These ice transducers also feature a floating device that helps to face ice holes vertically.
  2. High-end ice fishing fish finders are designed to display sonar data faster. They provide information almost in real-time and are as fast ice flashers. Traditional fish finders, on the other hand, are known to be a little slow when delivering sonar data.
  3. Ice fishing fish finders feature LCDs that are not affected by extremely cold temperatures. So, you can rely on the display to remain readable regardless of how cold it gets.
  4. These devices also have a flasher mode. This enables them to display sonar signals just like ice flasher screens. When you also consider the reduced lag time, you get a device that displays the water column in a way that’s very similar to an ice fishing flasher.

Despite adding new features, ice fishing fish finders still offer most of the features that you will find in a regular fish finder. These include mapping, GPS, split-screen mode, etc. So, ice fishing fish finders make it easier for ice anglers to locate fish by combining the features of traditional sonar devices and ice fishing flashers.

The Best Ice Fishing Flashers

Three names stand out when it comes to the production of high-quality ice fishing flashers. They include Humminbird, MarCum, and Vexilar. These companies are known to equip their products with highly sophisticated technology.

Whether you want a budget fish finder or a high-end option, you can trust products from any of these brands. Now, let’s take a look at the best ice fishing flashers that are available on Amazon:

Humminbird ICE-35 Three Color Flasher

Humminbird has been one of the most trusted makers of fish finders for open water and ice for several years. The company’s products are loved by both amateurs and experienced anglers. The Ice 35 is the best ice fishing flasher for any ice angler that wants an affordable yet top-quality and functional device.

MarCum M5L – Lithium Equipped Flasher System

The MarCum brand is unbeatable when it to innovation in the fishing industry. Most fish finders from the company are designed to meet the demands of modern anglers.

Vexilar PP1812D FL-18 Pro Pack II 

Vexilar arguably makes more ice fishing electronics than any other company. The company’s products feature simple and intuitive displays that are guaranteed to help you catch more fish. You will get great value for money when you buy the Vexilar FL-18.

For more reviews, be sure to check out our article on the best ice fishing flashers!

The Best Ice Fishing Fish Finders

The top brands don’t look like they are slowing down on the production of quality multi-season fish finders any time soon. So, you will have a wealth of options when searching for a high-quality device for year-round fishing.

Humminbird, Garmin, and Lowrance are the most reliable manufacturers of ice fishing fish finders. Their products are known to be incredibly versatile as they function excellently on both ice and open water.

Humminbird ICE H5 HELIX 5 

Humminbird is the top choice for anglers who want to continue fishing when their favorite fishing spots become frozen. The Helix 5 comes with sophisticated fish-finding technology and all the features that you may need as an ice angler.

Garmin Striker Plus 4 Ice Fishing Bundle

After several years, Garmin continues to introduce the best ice fishing electronics to the market. You will find the most advanced fish-finding technology in both high-end and affordable products made by the company. The Garmin Striker Plus 4 is one of the best ice fishing devices available today.

Lowrance Hook Reveal 5 Fish Finder

Lowrance is a major competitor to Humminbird and Garmin. Anyone that knows anything about fish finders knows that you can’t go wrong with a Lowrance fish finder. The Hook Reveal 5 has easy-to-use controls and a high-resolution sonar.

For more reviews, be sure to check out our article on the best ice fishing fish finders!

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Ice fishing is a great way to spend time during winter. But asides from the safety requirements of ice fishing, the process of locating fish can also be tricky for beginners in particular.

To have a more enjoyable and productive time on the ice, you should consider investing in either a fish finder or a flasher. So, I have provided well-detailed information on ice fishing fish finder vs flasher to ease your decision. Use the information in the article to find the option that suits your needs and wants better.

An electric ice auger is another ice fishing device that can make things easier, so check out the best electric ice augers to make the best decision.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use a regular fish finder for ice fishing?

You can take your regular fish finder on your ice fishing trip. However, I recommend that you take an ice transducer instead of an open water transducer. You will also need a high-quality battery such as a lithium-ion battery. If possible, carry an extra battery because batteries lose their charge faster in cold conditions. A carrying bag will make it much easier for you to transport your ice fishing tools.

What is the flasher mode on a fish finder?

The flasher mode is a feature that allows a fish finder to display sonar data just like an ice flasher. Hence, a fish finder with this feature will be a great choice for any angler that prefers the fiber optic display of a flasher.

Are ice fishing flashers worth it?

You shouldn’t think twice about getting an ice fishing flasher if you are an avid ice angler. Flashers are better suited to ice fishing because they provide information on underwater activities in real-time and at an impressive resolution.

Can I use a fish finder or flasher all year?

The great thing about a fish finder is that it can be used for fishing any time and anywhere. You can decide to mount your fish finder on your kayak or cast it into the water. On the other hand, a flasher won’t deliver the necessary results when you are on the move. Flashers are meant for vertical and stationary fishing only. This is why they are primarily used for ice fishing.

What are the benefits of using a fish finder for ice fishing?

The major benefit that you will get from using an ice fishing fish finder is that the device can be used all year. Other benefits include helpful features such as GPS, mapping, and split-screen functionality.

I've been a fisherman for over 35 years. From catching small bullheads with my grandfather at his pond to catching strippers on the backwaters of the Chattahoochee, I love to get out in the wild and have a marvelous day on the water.