Latest Electronics Powerfully Push Ice Fishing Forward

Technology continues to change the world, and its far-reaching influence has not just trickled into the ice fishing realm, but has surged forward with tremendous impact.

Most of today’s serious ice anglers are using some form of progressive, if not downright sophisticated technology—the most impressive and powerful of these are modern electronics.

Many of us reference electronic lake mapping programs, often accessing them through hand-held mobile devices with Wi-Fi capabilities. Suddenly, incredibly detailed, high-resolution three-dimensional images of a lake bottom appear, instantly revealing select combinations of potential structure and cover. And by using integrated GPS technology, users can see exactly where they’re positioned in relation to target features, can mark each one as potentially productive waypoints and plot routes between them.

By implementing use of these systems before the ice forms, some select programs even permit users to download updatable data as it’s collected—the results of sonar scans taken while running transects across your target areas, allowing you to create customized maps of your own to save or share, then reference and return to following ice-up.

As if all this isn’t enough, such technology can be combined with highly advanced sonar, providing the powerful advantage of being able to confirm you’ve found the intended feature, then scope out even finer details of each location. This includes matching the depth shown on your electronic map revealed by your sonar, confirming whether you’re over a hard or soft bottom (indicated by the presence of a double echo on the sonar screen along with the thickness, strength and related brightness of the signal), the presence or absence of cover, variations in the extent, density or height of that cover, indications of available forage and fish present.

The next logical step in this process involves an even more thorough investigation to reveal specific details of precise spots on the predetermined waypoint where you’ll want to focus your efforts—this is accomplished using an underwater camera.

You’ll immediately be able to get a fix on water clarity, whether clear, stained or turbid. Provided it’s clear enough and sufficient light is present, the camera will show a clear picture of previously unknown details. Your sonar might have indicated a hard bottom, but now you’ll know specifically if that bottom is comprised of sand or rock, and if rock, whether it’s homogenous-sized gravel, variably-sized rubble or boulders. Or, if it’s a soft bottom, you’ll know whether you’re dealing with muck or marl. You can search specifically for transitions between such areas, which are increasingly diverse and may offer the species you’re seeking a special advantage, such as a greater amount or variety of available forage.

Other transitions will become apparent, such as the type of cover you’re dealing with. Sonar might have revealed some thick, short markings on the bottom interspersed with a mix of thin, tall cover indicating a blend of flooded stumps and trees. Now you can get an up-close look to not only confirm that’s the case, but whether or not they feature large, tangled root systems or networks of limbs and branches—perhaps even determine whether they’re pine or hardwoods, then note if the fish are showing any preference of one over the other.

Shorter, looser clumps of cover shown on sonar might have indicated the presence of vegetation, but now you can identify specifically whether it’s healthy and green (for attracting fish) or brown and decaying. You’ll know if it’s cabbage or skunk grass. You’ll see breaks where edges transition from one form to another. Note height and density variations, because these can be helpful when working to decipher patterns by determining what combinations appear to be attracting the most fish.

If sonar indicated the presence of forage, you may even be able to specifically identify the type of forage present (scuds, crayfish, shiners). Again, note if the fish seem to be demonstrating an affinity to one.

You’ll be able to positively identify larger “blips” on your sonar as a specific species too, so based on what you’ve learned, you can begin narrowing down presentation choices to those you feel will be most productive for the species present. More importantly, you can use your underwater camera to carefully evaluate fish responses to various presentations, define their activity level and determine the most effective tactics.

Start by working to assess the depth where you’re encountering the most active fish, then carefully note the primary strike zone by listing the depth range where you’re getting the most strikes: Are the best results coming when the lure is worked above, below, at the fish’s level or on bottom?

Secondarily, pay special attention to which particular motions appear to be generating the greatest interest: Are fish reacting as your presentation is being raised, lowered, jiggled or held still? At times, only slight changes in position or motion can make the difference between triggering a fish and watching it swim away. Observe each fish’s response to various presentational movements, making adjustments as you go. And try to establish patterns to increase your catch.

Experiment with various lure designs, sizes, weights and colors to see which are getting the best results: Is it a flat-bottomed, gliding jig, vibrating blade bait, rattle spoon or a quiet, slow-falling ice fly? Do the fish prefer large or small profiles? Do they prefer bright, dark, phosphorescent or some color combination thereof? (Where applicable, painted or plated—and if plated—a smooth or hammered finish?)

You can also experiment with selected tippers to further narrow down specific patterns. Find out if plastics appear effective with paddle or action tails, and which length and color?

Going with minnows? Should you try a chub or sucker? If fish are short striking, determine if a shorter golden shiner, a smaller lively bodied fathead or a tiny slow-wriggling lake shiner is best. See if a minnow head or strip of cut bait is best.

Are the fish showing a preference for grubs? If so, what kind? Waxworms or spikes? And find out if you need one, two or a glob. If one or two are needed, lightly hook it and let it wiggle off the end of the hook or just thread it on. Try different things and note what produces the most strikes.

No doubt, some ice anglers will express reservations about hauling more equipment onto the ice. If this applies to you, consider how many of today’s advancements have compensated for that. For example, Vexilar’s new generation underwater camera “FishPhone” allows you to use an underwater camera lens featuring a powerful Wi-Fi signal that sends high-quality video directly to the display screen on your smartphone or tablet, offering greatly improved resolution, while saving both weight and bulk.

“It was only a matter of time before we found a better, more creative way to fully utilize smartphone and tablet technology,” says Corey Studer, of the sales and promotions department at Vexilar. “The FishPhone blends highly advanced Vexilar Fish Scout underwater camera technology with a powerful Wi-Fi transmitting system, so anyone with a smartphone or tablet can obtain high-quality video images capable of reaching out 100 feet in all directions, and with this technology you can keep these images secure or easily share them with others!”

The FishPhone even features a full spectrum light level controls. To increase contrast, the camera automatically shifts from color to black and white when light conditions are limited to provide the best possible imaging.

It’s also super-easy to use, and Vexilar’s neoprene armband allows you to conveniently attach your

smartphone to your other arm, providing completely hands-free use. Simply power up, position the camera lens at the desired depth, place your smartphone within the band where it’s easily referenced and you’re good to go.

In today’s modern world of ice fishing, an unprecedented variety of highly beneficial, complementary electronic technologies are available to cutting edge ice anglers. Amid these advancing categories, you’ll find a rapidly growing array of electronic mapping, GPS, sonar and underwater camera designs—many of which are now being integrated with truly progressive software combinations offering exceptional, multi-function capabilities providing some powerful advantages to serious ice anglers.

This increasingly sophisticated technology is developing at an almost frantic pace. Besides being incredibly powerful, most of these advancements are becoming smaller and lighter, making them more portable, user-friendly and more appealing than ever to the modern ice fishing fraternity.

So whether you want to learn more about ice fishing, working to become more efficient with your approaches, trying to gain a powerfully competitive advantage in an anticipated, closely contested ice tournament, have a desire to stay ahead of the crowd on heavily-pressured waters or are simply attempting to add an interesting new dimension to the sport you love, you’ll want to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by these advanced technologies.

It won’t take long to discover that when it comes to ice fishing electronics, the advantages continue.


Tom Gruenwald has contributed to the modern “ice fishing revolution” over the years by authoring hundreds of magazine articles and four books on the subject, all while spending countless hours promoting the sport through his seminars, appearances and award-winning television program, TGO, Tom Gruenwald Outdoors, now airing on Sportsman Channel, Wild TV and Midco Sports.