How To Use A Flasher For Ice Fishing

Many anglers prefer ice fishing because it’s easier to reel in a high volume of fish by dropping your lure directly onto a pile of fish rather than trolling around an entire lake looking for them.

However, to be successful when you plunk yourself down next to an ice hole, you need to know how to use a flasher while ice fishing.

Flashers (in a portable fish finder) are helpful tools that allow you to locate exactly where the fish are, indicating whether you’re sitting on a honey hole – or need to move on.

Unfortunately, many beginning anglers shy away from flashers because they aren’t sure how to use them and are convinced that it’s too difficult to learn.

There are even expert fishermen who refuse to use one of these helpful devices!

Luckily, learning how to use a flasher while ice fishing is easy to do, and can be broken down into a few simple steps.

Why You Should Use a Flasher

The biggest benefit of using a flasher while you are ice fishing is that it lets you see what’s going on beneath the ice.

Once you’re good at reading your flasher, you’ll be able to see where your jig is, how high you’re lifting it, and where it is positioned relative to your fish.

Often, you can even see a fish taking an interest in the jig, which will let you know if a strike is coming or if the fish decides to swim away.

This can help you fine-tune any adjustments you need to make, such as the movement or type of lure you are using.

A flasher also allows you to see any underwater structure there might be.

From the depth of the water to the presence of structures like rocks, outcroppings, or debris, using a flasher is essential if you don’t want to have to rely on your good intuition alone while ice fishing.

Having the right flasher for ice fishing makes a world of difference! By the way, it doesn’t hurt to have a built-in GPS as well in your fishfinder. Combination units are very beneficial.

Power Up

You’re not going to get very far if your flasher doesn’t have any power!

Ice fishing flashers are powered by batteries, so you’ll want to make sure your battery is charged up and that it is sending power to your unit.

Do this by examining your battery terminals. Ensure that the leads are attached to the terminals.

If you use a lithium combo on your flasher, make sure the power button is on and that the connection is secure.

Then, turn your ice fishing flasher on and position it near your ice fishing hole.

Lower the Transducer and Set its Length

Drop your transducer down the ice hole (click here to see how a fishfinder works). Depending on the type and age of the ice fishing flasher you have, you may have to do some fine-tuning to get it to read correctly.

Older units have trouble reading through the ice, as the signal will bounce off the ice and disrupt the clarity of your picture.

A newer unit, however, will read through the ice better.

The goal of setting the length of your transducer is to make sure you aren’t receiving any interference. You also need to make sure it’s not so short that it will get snagged in your fishing line.

Either way, you will be more successful if your transducer is sitting just at or just below the bottom edge of the ice.

Set the Range

When you’re setting the range, keep in mind that flashers vary widely in their ability to read certain distances. Some can read just a foot while others can read several hundred feet.

It pays to do your research and have a good understanding of how much water you’re fishing in. Give it a quick Google!

Once you know the depth, set your bottom depth on your flasher so that it’s at the next deepest range setting. If you know the depth is 27 feet, set your bottom to 30 just to give yourself a little extra wiggle room.

Adjust the Gain

When you initially power up your flasher, you won’t be marking the bottom. You will need to adjust the gain (also known as the sensitivity) first.

Gain also refers to the amount of power that the transducer sends off. This controls the sonar signal, traveling from the transducer to the bottom of the water and then back to the machine.

The reason why this doesn’t read automatically is that the depth of the water impacts how much gain you will need. The deeper the water, the more gain you need.

To do this, locate the gain knob on the front of the flasher. Dial it up and stop when you see a large, consistent band on the flasher. This is the bottom.

Keep in mind that the bottom will look a bit different depending on the environment in which you are fishing.


If you are fishing in rock, gravel, or densely packed sand, the bottom will look like a thick red band.

However, if you are fishing on silt or mud, the bottom won’t send a signal that is quite as strong. It will look more like a thin band of yellow or green.

Nevertheless, it is still bottom so make sure you mark it.

You may have to go more slowly depending on how well you can read the bottom. Some people like to turn up the gain all the way, waiting until they receive a lot of interference, then backing it off until the screen clears.

This technique will help you set your gain and will also let you know right away if anything is going on in the water below you.


For maximum clarity and the best idea of what’s going on in the water beneath you, you will next want to set your zoom. Try to zoom in on the portion of the water column that holds the most fish.

This will vary depending on what kind of species you are going after, so again, do your research! Have at least an inkling of an idea when it comes to fishing for your desired species.

Certain fish, such as walleye, like to hang out at the bottom of the water. Therefore, if you’re fishing for walleye through the ice, you will want to set your flasher so that it zooms into just the bottom ten feet.

You don’t need to worry about what’s going on above!

Every flasher works differently when it comes to setting the zoom, so consult your user manual so you have an idea of how to do this.

In many cases, setting the zoom is as simple as pressing the “zoom” button, then adjusting the “up” and “down” dials or buttons so you can get to the exact depth you want to view.

If you’re fishing in shallow water, you might not need to set your zoom. However, it’s needed if you are fishing in deep water and need to see a specific portion of the water column.

Lower Your Lure and Start to Fish

Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for – it’s time to start fishing!

When you first drop your lure down your ice fishing hole, you will be able to see it on the screen. It will look like a bar.

If you’re not sure whether you’re looking at your line and lure or a fish, try jigging your pole up and down. You should be able to see the movement reflected on your screen.

Once you’ve detected your line, try to distinguish it from other movements by making it as thin as possible on your screen by fine-tuning the gain.

If the lure does not look like a solid line, turn the gain up so it remains a constant line and does not flicker. This way, any new line that you see between the ice and the bottom you will know is fish.

Reading a Flasher

So, your flasher is set up and ready to go. Great!

Do you know how to read it? Check out this video that can help.

Being a pro at reading an ice fishing flasher will make you much more successful out there on the ice.

The flasher will display the bottom of the lake, along with with your lure, any cover that there might be, and, most importantly, the fish.

The color will let you know what size the object on your flasher is. Red indicates the largest items, green the smallest, and yellow somewhere in the middle.

Green bars on the bottom of the screen generally indicate vegetation. Green and yellow lets you know that there might be a small fish hanging out down there.

Red lines on the bottom, though, indicate fish.

Once you drop your line, you’ll be able to tell where the bottom is and where a red or yellow fish is because the colors will move and pull away from the bottom.

Make Any Final Adjustments Necessary

If you notice that there’s any kind of interference or feedback coming up (this can often happen from other flashers that are being used near you), you will want to adjust the flasher by using the IR button.

IR stands for interference rejection and will help get rid of other signals.

Does it Matter What Kind of Flasher You Use?

You will want to invest in an ice fishing flasher with a quality transducer, as well as one that is portable and gives you a good amount of data.

Ice fishing flashers are a cheap way of playing God – not only will you be able to know what kind of fish is beneath the ice, but you’ll be able to target them more efficiently, too.

Knowing how to use a flasher while ice fishing isn’t rocket science, but it’s a skill you will want to have in your arsenal the next time you’re out on the ice.

Note: since the ice fishing often starts in one calendar year and continues into the next, be sure you have a valid Fishing License before you head out.

A FINAL QUESTION FROM FISH’N CANADA: Is ice fishing on the rise or decline in popularity in the province of Ontario?

Go here for an expert’s opinion.

Have a great remainder of your ice fishing season.


32 Responses

  1. So much useful information from FNC, thanks. I would really like to see more of your expertise shared in terms of these great Garmin products…..dumbed down for people like me.

  2. How to use a “Flasher” for ice fishing?!

    Actually, what would he or she think of the concept? To the uninformed, it all sounds a little risque. Rewriting the rules of hard water angling at this point is not for those individuals who are easily embarrassed. Besides, that “Cool Running’s” environment tends to get certain extremities a bit frigid.

    On a more serious note, anytime you can one up your quarry be it a with “Flasher” or the usual “Fish Finder”, common sense and logic should never take a back seat. They are only as good as the person interpreting the screen. A lesson from the Pros like Angelo and Pete is a great way to improve your “Flashing” expertise ! LOL

  3. Great article but I disagree with the location of the transducer. I never set my transducer more than a few inches below the top surface of the ice for two reasons. The sonar signal is not degraded by the ice that is below the water surface, therefore no reason to have it at the bottom of the hole. The second and more important factor is that when I hook a good fish I want to easily pull my flasher and transducer away from the hole to avoid the risk of getting caught up in the transducer or cord and losing the fish. Not so easy if you have 3 or 4 feet of cable out to get the transducer to the bottom of the hole.

    Another setting that is important is the transducer cone angle. Many flashers have an adjustable cone angler. My Vexilar has 9 and 18 degree options. I always used the narrowest beam (9 degrees on my Vex). This provides the best bottom detail and less chance of your hook or fish signals being blocked out near the bottom by rocks, weeds or steep slope if you are fishing over a drop off.

  4. Very useful info on understanding the bars ,have to agree; you gotta play around with it to figure it out . Wouldn’t ice fish without one !!! Once you’ve found a good spot you can turn it off , to save the battery, cause they don’t last all day !!!

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How To Use A Flasher For Ice Fishing




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