Catch more fish this winter by changing how use a flasher

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By Tyler French Special to the Farm Forum

The ice-fishing industry has made big transformations and advancements in technology over the course of the last decade that have affected every part of the sport from the way we drill holes to how we dress. Long gone are the days of bucket-squatting in the cold while waiting for a bite and wondering if there are even fish in the lake.

Although we need holes to fish, clothes to keep us warm, and rods, reels and line to actually catch fish, arguably the most important tool for an ice fisherman is a flasher. After countless articles and TV programs have raved about flashers the last decade or so, the need for a flasher is no secret.

In fact, few anglers are left questioning the need for a flasher. Instead of the old question of whether or not they need a flasher, it’s far more common to hear ice anglers wonder about what kind of flasher they should upgrade to next.

The importance of a flasher to modern-day ice fishing can’t be denied. And although I am not the first (or last) fisherman to say this, I will say it again — I won’t leave home without a flasher. Or three.

Today’s advanced models have gone away from the motorized hum of a traditional, mechanical flasher and upgraded to digital operations with even faster response times.

In addition, other advantages such as larger screen sizes, brightness options for changing light conditions, moving and variable zoom, and plenty of other options to customize the view are now available even in base models by reputable flasher manufacturers. Even more traditional models now offer plenty of features and power to put more fish on the ice.

Although sitting on a bucket using that new, fancy contraption will help you catch more fish, learning how to read everything the flasher is showing you and then letting the flasher change the way you fish will ultimately put even more fish on top of the ice this winter. Here are some tips on how ice fishing with a flasher should change the way you fish.

Find the spot

Bathometry maps are available for almost all of our favorite lakes, and they help make it easier to identify good-looking spots before getting to the lake.

Once on the lake, GPS map chips and Navionics phone apps make it easy to get close to these fishy-looking spots. Although these maps are fairly accurate, they aren’t perfect.

Instead of just plopping down where the map looks good, drill some holes and get that flasher out to find the real depth and structure. Map out depths either mentally or even by writing them in the snow next to the hole. Soon you will get a feel for how the structure runs and where to position yourself to catch more fish.

Explore the lake bottom

A flasher can tell you a whole lot about the lake bottom without having to drop down a camera. The key is to look at the return signal that shows up below the “bottom.”

On most flashers signal strength is represented by different colors with strengths increasing from green to yellow to the strongest signal, red. Hard bottoms consisting of gravel or cobble will send a compact signal back to the transducer and display as a crisp, red bottom. Soft bottoms such as mud, sand, silt and dead vegetation will absorb and delay sonar signals that create a wider, weaker return signal.

In many lakes fish use transition zones — areas where hard bottom turns to soft bottom, or vice versa — as travel paths. Find these areas and fish are sure to be close.

Weeds and timber can also be spotted easily using a flasher. Weeds will show up as green or yellow signals above the bottom. Weed cover can range from a few dead weeds tipped over near the bottom to thick, green weeds six or more feet high.

No matter the height, weeds are normally a much weaker signal, and the bottom below the weeds should look different than the weeds themselves. Flickers or movement inside the weeds often indicate fish hiding out. Panfish such as bluegills and crappies will often burrow in available weed cover to hide from predators such as bass and pike.

Timber shows up differently than weeds. Trees send back a fairly hard, crisp signal that appears to be suspended in the water column. If you are marking bands up off the bottom that stay in place, you have most likely found timber crossing under your hole.

To be sure, drop a jig above the signals. If the marks still don’t move, you can be certain of timber nearby.

Know when to focus

As much as we would all like to be focused on fishing, there are a multitude of distractions occuring right as a fish finally decides to bite. Checking tip-ups, grabbing a snack or story telling with fellow anglers are sure ways to let sneaky fish cruise in and steal your bait.

A flasher will give you a heads up when fish are in the area. Today’s new flashers have the ability to change views and add a scrolling graph similar to what you have on your boat. This mode essentially writes a history of what is coming through on the flasher wheel.

Certain species, especially trout, like to come in and out of the sonar cone several times before they attack the lure. With the history mode you are able to see what you might have missed while scanning tip-ups for flags or looking for your misplaced Snickers bar.

Once you’re comfortable with what your flasher is reading, you will begin to notice that little things can be big indicators. Oftentimes the bottom surface will begin to jump or wiggle as bottom-hugging perch or walleye enter the edge of the sonar cone.

You may also see movement in the second echo, the area below the actual bottom reading. Small hints of what might be on its way to your lure can help you prepare and focus.

Reading reactions

When those fish finally do come in, a flasher can tell you a lot about them. Is there one fish or more? Did they appear suddenly from out of the bottom, or did they slide in from the side in a more suspended fashion? Will the fish chase up or down? How fast are they moving?

More often than not you will be able to understand how aggressive and willing a fish is to feed within the first few seconds of it showing up on your graph. Understanding how the fish reacts within these first few seconds is often a key to getting that fish hooked and topside.

If fish continue to storm in and stall right at your bait without committing, it’s time to start changing your presentation. The wrong color, style or bait choice can halt these suicidal fish at the last moment.

Some fish move slower. They seem to creep in toward your bait, staring for what seems like an eternity before slowly slinking back down to the bottom. Reactions like this often call for downsizing jig and bait size. Even when fishing for some of the largest fish such as pike and lake trout, downsizing can help seal the deal when fish are showing you that cold, slow reaction.

Change your jig stroke

Jigging under a flasher allows you to change up your jig stroke to get those finicky fish to commit. When the flasher shows fish, or maybe even more importantly when fish aren’t there, it’s time to change your jigging strategy.

When I start fishing a fresh string of holes I like to work the jig or spoon higher in the water column in an aggressive manner — quick strokes lifting the lure a few feet and then letting it clank, rattle and flutter back down.

Loud and aggressive jigging strokes are hail calls that can be easily seen from a distance and often attract fish. It’s a great way to cover a lot of hard water in order to locate pods of fish or the roaming loners.

Once those fish start creeping in on the flasher I change my jig stroke and strategy. Smaller jigging strokes or hops just above the fish will get them to commit rather than scaring them away with over aggression.

Change your jig stroke, or even stop jigging, until you figure out what movement turns most of the lookers into biters.

Set tip-ups

While hole hopping I love to spread out tip-ups with my bonus lines. Tip-ups can help you work more area and can be used to indicate movement of fish over a piece of structure.

Instead of reaching for the clip-on depth-finder weight next time you set a tip-up, use your flasher to precisely set both the location and depth of your baits.

When fishing structure, I want to know exactly where on the drop-off, point or edge my bait is. I almost always drill a small grid of holes and use the flasher to find the exact spot at the end of the point or edge of the drop.

Knowing the exact depths of the holes also changes how far off the bottom I set my lines. If I’m fishing at the top of a drop or the shallowest hole, I like to set my lines closer to the bottom so that fish cruising deeper have a better chance to see the bait.

If I’m fishing deeper parts of the edge, I will set my lines higher allowing the bait to be at eye level for shallow fish. Remember, fish can see up better than they can see down.

When fishing structure such as weeds, timber and rock, flashers can also help when setting tip-ups. Instead of just dropping a depth-finding weight to the bottom and raising it a foot, use your flasher to lower your bait just above the weeds or pick a hole that is near, but not too close to the timber. Setting tip-up depths with a flasher will ensure the bait can’t burrow in cover and hide from hungry fish you’re trying to catch.

Precision tip-up sets will pay off, and you will begin to establish a pattern that can be duplicated with other lines.

About the Author: Tyler French is a water resources engineer and freelance outdoor writer who has lived all across South Dakota and now resides in Wyoming.

This winter, take some time to get to know your flasher. Pay attention to the small details and develop trust in what it is showing you. Let the flasher change the way you fish, and use it as a tool to put more fish on the ice this winter. Photo by Tyler French
A flasher lets you know precise information, and taking the guesswork out of ice fishing leads to more success. Photo by Tyler French