Ice Fishing Tech: The Rise Of Ice Electronics
By Nick Johnson

I remember as a young kid ice fishing with dad, the essential tools for the job consisted of nothing more than a hand auger, a rod where one winds the line around two pegs fixed to the rod handle, an ice scoop, some tiny jigs and a bucket to sit on. Depth was checked using a weight and either the line was marked or the bobber was adjusted to suit the depth needed. We caught fish but it was often slow going and took a lot of patience. Primitive fishing you could say, or at least primitive in comparison to nowadays.

Ice fishing in the modern age can be as complex as one wants to make it. Technology is advancing our lifestyles at a rapid pace and ice fishing technology is seeing new innovative products every year. Products that make ice fishing more of a game of science and finesse than ever before. And speaking of technology, no line of products has had more of a positive impact on ice fishing success than flasher units, digital display graph sonars and under water cameras. Ask any ice fisherman out there what one tool they would always take to the ice and most would agree that one of these units is paramount to catching more fish consistently.

For those who have been at it for a while, you may recall some of the first flashers and cameras to hit the market. The following timeline shows a rough history of when flashers and electronic gear for ice fishing started and how they have advanced to the ever important tools they are today. Not all of the brands and products are listed but this will give a feel for the rapid boost in ice fishing technology, especially in the last decade.

In terms of product infancy, flashers at this time became increasingly popular with ice fisherman. The neon flashers were the latest and greatest, taking the same technology from marine sonars and putting them into more portable consumer grade systems. Many of these early units had to me modified slightly to suit the needs of fishing through hard water and they were heavy and cumbersome. Manufacturers recognized the importance of flashers to ice fisherman and began to cater specific products to suit the market. In the mid-70’s, the Humminbird Super Sixty became the largest selling product of its time and allowed ice fisherman more freedom and precision than ever before. Into the 80’s, flashers became increasingly more popular with the ice crowd and Vexilar debuted the FL-8. Interference with other flashers at this time was a problem and it wasn’t until the mid-90’s that interference rejection systems were developed. Vexilar unveiled the FL-8SLT with this new technology where the “SLT” stood for SiLenT. Target separation began to get better as time and new developments in engineering were made.

The late 90’s and early 2000’s were a banner time period for new and breakthrough ice fishing electronics. AquaVu developed an affordable consumer level underwater camera with real time streaming video. MarCum also hit the market with their VS400 and VS500 underwater camera units. Now ice fishermen could see exactly what was below the ice and even take these cameras to open water scenarios. Three color flasher units were introduced and fishermen could now tell the difference between structure densities and fish proximity below their holes. MarCum debuted their LX-3 flasher sonar which has remained one of the more popular ice flashers to this day. Target separation of ½” or less became attainable by MarCum and Vexilar. Zoom features on flashers were also developed so that ice fisherman in deeper water could zoom in and accurately pinpoint what was happening around their bait.

Technology began to really take hold of ice electronics during this time frame. AquaVu and MarCum now had LCD flat screen displays that gave the viewer a more crisp and clear picture of what the camera was streaming. AquaVu came out with a camera system that streamed video from four separate cameras giving the viewer a 360 degree field of view below the ice. Humminbird debuted a new line of ice fishing products with their Ice series flasher units. Both Humminbird and Vexilar developed flashers with flat LED casings. These improved casings allowed for easier viewing from side angles, not to mention larger and brighter displays. Vexilar also developed the Tri-Beam transducer which gave the user three levels of sonar cone reading. Zoom features and target separation on MarCum, Humminbird and Vexilar improved.

Portability, versatility and HD are the name of the game in present day ice fishing electronics. Cameras, flashers and sonars have advanced to a level that would be hard to comprehend ten years ago. MarCum and Vexilar have both developed products with a flasher unit and underwater camera unit all rolled into one, giving fishermen the option to use one or both simultaneously while fishing. MarCum, Humminbird and Lowrance now have flasher units available with HD flat screen digital displays. Battery life has been enhanced across all brands. AquaVu has developed hand-held portable cameras in their AV Micro series that enable fisherman to scout and find fish rapidly in both open water and hard water situations.

The role that technology has played on the ice fishing industry has taken the sport a long ways since the primitive days. Never before have fishermen had such a wide range of precision tools to apply to fishing and these product’s contribution to the sport can be noted through dramatically increased fishing success. It’s amazing to think back on my first years as a kid on the ice to where I am now and these tools that I carry with me every time I step foot on frozen water. One can only imagine where this technology will lead us in another ten years.