Ice Fishing Fish finder vs Flasher – Which One Should You Buy?

The use of fish finding technology is referred to as cheating by some anglers, while others call it an essential kit. For ice fishing, given the conditions, I tend to think it’s an essential kit.

If you cannot locate the fish, you can spend a lot of time fighting off frostbite on solid water while catching nothing.

Locating fish simply because you have sonar is no guarantee. You still need to know the basic fish behavior.

However, good fish knowledge and some handy fish sonar tech will propel you to more fish more often.

Flashers and fish finders use the same basic technology, sonar. Essentially, sonar is bouncing sound waves.

There are differences between the two types of units, and it can be a little tricky to work out which one is right for your fishing applications.

They’re both effective at locating fish. The main differences are the way they display their data, their versatility, and their peripheral functions.

Let’s have a look at the differences in order for you to gauge which unit will better suit you.

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

The main difference between a fish finder and a flasher is the display. Fishfinders use an LED screen to show detailed images of the subsurface.

The image can be altered, recorded, and replayed depending on the information you seek. A fish finder display is more realistic, detailed, and easier to visualize.

Flashers use colored and flashing lights to display fish and lure movements, as well as depth. 

The display is particularly abstract, yet pretty simple to understand once you know what the lights mean.

red fishing pole left near an ice fishing hole

The flasher display is quite detailed also, however, you will have to learn the readings, which for most anglers, is no hurdle at all.

Due to the display type, a fishfinder battery won’t last as long as a flasher battery. 

However, with the quality of batteries available now, even the most demanding fish finder will have more than enough life for extended sessions on the ice.

A flasher is designed for the ice and has very limited use in open waters. You wouldn’t buy a flasher for normal fishing.

A fish finder has the versatility of being useful all year round, mounted on a kayak or boat, in any type of open water.

A fish finder also has a range of extra functions such as seabed mapping, GPS mapping, map downloads, data storage, and can be used while in motion.

Those anglers looking for a single unit to cover all of their fishing needs all year round are better off with a fish finder.

Pricing of the two types of devices varies significantly, with highly affordable models, portable models, and very expensive top-of-the-line models.

Of course, there’s a huge range of mid-priced options as well.

Also Read: Can A Fish Finder Work Through Ice?

Do you Need a Fish finder or Flasher for Ice Fishing?

This is an “it depends on…” question. Bottom line is that either one is highly recommended for ice fishing adventures.

Neither are essential. A good understanding of fish behavior and a little local knowledge of the area you are fishing in is extremely valuable and will lead to fish.

However, when a waterway is iced in, many of the visual cues to fish movement are washed out. Ice is disorientating.

A flasher or fishfinder allows you to detect fish before you go to the trouble of setting up camp and drilling holes.

They’re a time and labor-saving device, and in my books, this makes them invaluable. With the limited time we have to fish, we want to find fish, and either of these units will help immensely in this pursuit.

Can You Use a Standard Fishfinder for Ice Fishing?

The short answer is yes, you can use a standard fishfinder for ice fishing. 

Long leads and a charging unit, or spare batteries are nearly a must, but just about any normal Fishfinder can be used on the ice.

The thing to look for is a transducer that will sit nicely on the ice. A fish finder will allow you to scan through the ice.

When you get air, bubbles, dirty cracked ice, and other impurities between the transducer base and the ice, the reading will distort, often very badly. 

A little water between ice and transducer does the trick – usually.

Ideally, you will want a flat bottom transducer that sits squarely on a clean, flat piece of ice, and seals nicely to it.

Of course, you can take the standard approach of drilling a hole first and dropping the transducer in, sitting it just below the hole.

However, one of the great advantages of the fish finder is you can do your reconnaissance before you start drilling holes willy-nilly.

Flashers and fish finders might not show as much detail through the ice, such as fish. 

But they will give you depth and structure, and this is critical, particularly if you are in a location with which you are not familiar.

Fish finder vs Flasher Which One Should You Buy for Ice Fishing?

picture of fishermen ice fishing on a lake

In a perfect world, where money grows on trees, I’d recommend both. As both have different ice advantages.

Once you understand how to read your flasher, they are very simple to understand. Importantly, the information you receive is in real-time.

This means you can see your fish approaching your bait. You can nearly time you strike to the reading you see on your flasher display.

This is one of the great advantages of an ice fishing flasher. They are very simple to use and the information is received in real-time.

However, flashers are changing as ideas and technology advance. Top shelf flashers such as this one, incorporate a camera. 

It’s expensive, but it does everything but catch the fish for you. Of course, be prepared to empty a full wallet onto this little marvel.

This adds to the versatility of a flasher, but it also adds a level of tech-savvy required to get the best from it.

You have to admit, though, it would be nice to record the fish strike on camera, and playback home on your BIG LED screen in your family room.

With the new technology comes a bigger demand for power, and there’s also an addition to your load. Important to note for those trekking large distances across the ice on foot.

For dedicated ice anglers, a flasher is more or less an essential kit. For northerners who live for the winter ice, a flasher is likely your go-to sonar option.

For those who fish the open waters all year round, the versatility of a fish finder will allow you to use the same unit all year round – from summer to winter and in both hard and soft waters.

There are plenty of anglers who fish their boat and kayak, as well as fish the ice come winter. 

For these people, a fish finder has the versatility to beautifully operate all year round, in open or closed waters.

Fishfinders appeal to those who like the computer screen-like display. 

It also appeals to mappers and data collectors who use their sounders to record critical data about fishing locations, geography, and GPS points.

A good fish finder becomes a brilliant reconnaissance tool, collecting priceless data on fishing times, exact locations, structures, water temperatures, and weather.

You will have this reference for the next time you target that area or can compare and contrast information and catch data from various locations.

For the diligent data collector, a fish finder can help you learn fish behavior and how they interact with geographical elements.

Fishfinders, even the more portable models, do require next-level tech skills and software savvy to get the best from them.

With the top-shelf models having so many functions it will take a little longer and more experimentation to learn how to use it properly, as well as interpret the display.

For all year, all waters anglers, the fish finder makes more sense.

It’s important to note that flashers are starting to incorporate a lot of the tech traditionally reserved for fish finders.

See Also: Ice Fishing Tips and Techniques To Catch More

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Ice Fishing Flashers Worth It?

There are countless ice anglers who will tell you that their flasher was worth every dollar they paid and then some.

There’s a terrific way to work it out, however. Borrow a buddy’s flasher and use it for a handful of sessions.

Then fish a few sessions flasher free. I’m pretty sure you’ll be sold on the value of a flasher. Bottom line, you’ll catch more fish, more often.

What is Flasher Mode on a Fishfinder?

Some say it’s an obsolete function, but many still use it. Essentially, flasher mode is a real-time display, just as a flasher does.

Some find it handy for locating their bait or lure at depth. They can see exactly where they’re located in the water column in real-time.

What Type of Sonar is Best for Ice Fishing?

It’s a tough question to answer as it’s highly subjective. People have different preferences, budgets, techniques, and applications.

For this reason, the best sonar is the one that best fits your needs. I don’t believe one is better than the other, they’re simply different, with different pros and cons.

The best sonar is the sonar you can afford. Flasher or fishfinder, if it helps you find fish under the ice, it’s the best.

If you’re looking for the ultimate on ice, the link above to the Marcum LX-9 is very hard to beat, however. Just know you’ll need more than a thousand bucks to invest.

Can You Use Your Fishfinder or Flasher Anywhere Else?

Yes. Both types can be used in open waters – Ice isn’t required. However, the fish finder is probably the best for versatility since flashers, while useful off the ice, are limited in open waters.

Verdict – Fish Finder vs Flasher Which One Should You Buy for Ice Fishing?

Either a fish finder or flasher, or both, will greatly increase your chances of finding fish on your ice fishing adventure.

For many ice anglers, being without a sonar of some sort makes them feel naked and well underequipped.

In truth, a sonar is not essential. Good local knowledge and a strong understanding of fish behavior through the season is more than likely your best weapon for locating fish.

However, it sure saves a lot of time and energy to have your fishy notions backed up by a handy bit of sonar tech, that actually lets you see the fish you’ve come to hunt.

Also Read:

Best Portable Fish Finders

The Top Side Image Fish Finders

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Sean Ward

Hey there, my name is Sean – OnTrack Fishing is my site. I’m based in the UK yet I’ve been fortunate enough to catch bass in the States, barramundi in Australia, trout here at home and carp on the Danube delta. If I’m not fishing, or talking about fishing, then….I’m probably asleep.


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