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Brad Laabs: Electronics can make or break your ice fishing

Practice makes perfect: The better you can interpret what you see, the better you'll be at catching what you see.

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Brad Laabs

Ice fishing equipment and gear continues to improve: Rods, reels, line, underwater cameras, shelters, clothing, and electronics have all made dramatic leaps in quality and functionality over the last few years.

The most significant gains have happened with electronics, which include GPS and mapping and the newer generation of flashers, locators, and the newest of the panoptic and live scope (real-time, live-action sonar).

For those that are going to get out ice fishing, make sure you bring your flashers or locators, since these can be the most critical in getting you on, and keeping you on, fish. These units help you not only locate depth, they help identify bottom type, help you watch the action of your lure or bait, and detect the presence of fish and their mood.

Multiple anglers using electronics in close proximity can sometimes cause interference with each other. Interference can make it difficult to interpret what you are seeing and can be frustrating. Experienced anglers already know most of the tips I am about to suggest, but we have many new anglers to the winter fishing party that may benefit. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of what we already know, either!

Most flashers have gain or suppression controls on them. When fishing in close proximity, turn your unit to the lowest possible setting that still gives you a read of your lure. Shallow water areas, especially if they have a soft bottom, will have fewer interference problems.


The deeper the water, the more the degree of the transducer beam spreads out and each unit's signal will overlap to your close partner's signal. The deeper the water, usually the more gain you need to get a good reading, thus increasing the power of the signal and the strength of return on the signal.

Hard bottom areas and rocks bounce the signal back the strongest and can sometimes exacerbate the interference problems. Especially rocks, since they can bounce the signals back with some irregularity.

Most units have the ability to change frequencies, and deeper water than 15 feet may require you to play around with changing frequencies until everyone can read their units effectively.

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, the units will get funky again and you may need to re-adjust settings again. Turning one unit off for a few seconds and turning it back on may clear up the goofy interference. Moving the transducers to the furthest edges of the holes, so they are as far apart as they can be, can help. The difference of 6 inches to a foot more apart may be all it takes.

Another trick can be pulling the transducer up into the ice hole slightly. This concentrates the beam and may reduce one unit interference with the other.

Many of the higher-end units come with the ability to adjust the cone angle. If your unit has this feature, set it to the lowest cone angle available. This will also give you the best reading on your lure with the lowest possible gain or suppression setting.

Most units are pretty standard, with a green read indicating a small fish or a fish on the outside edge of the transducer cone. Yellow will indicate a fish with a little more density or a fish that has moved closer to the bait in the cone angle. Red is what we like to see, it indicates a more dense or larger fish, or a fish that is right underneath your fish hole and by your bait offering.

Get out and practice with your sonar unit. The better you can interpret what you see, the more effective you become at catching what you see.


(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)

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