Outdoors column: Mastering your electronics on the ice

by Steve Carney
Contributing Columnist

Goodness knows there are a lot of interesting ice electronics out there to choose from. Everything from a simple $100 depth finder to a super unit around $1,200. It’s not the price of the unit that will make you a better angler through the ice but rather how you employ and learn to interpret your unit. Here are some insights into what I prefer and how I have learned to take advantage of the modern technology to put fish in the bucket.

Mastering your electronics is a key component to becoming a better ice angler. Photo by Steve Carney

Brand choices
Every manufacturer out there keeps coming out with new innovations year after year when in reality the same old concept remains the same – see fish, catch fish. All of the modern units have their specialties but in reality they basically work the same. They show fish in red lines with smaller fish coming up in greens or oranges.

These are displayed in different ways from all manufacturers. I have used Vexilars, Marcum’s and Humminbirds with basically the same results. Once I learned the inner secrets of their particular settings I was on my way.

If I had to choose one it would be the Marcum because of the simplicity of the unit and its ability to change frequencies to avoid interference. I am not a very tech oriented person and simple is best for me on the ice.

‘Noise’ on the unit
Having had 40-plus years experience on the ice I have learned some core things about ice electronics. I choose my fishing spots by trying to locate what I call noise.

This term means I am looking for lines on my electronics that signal activity. This noise could be anything from bubbles floating to the surface which tells me I have located an underwater spring… always a good thing or it could be insect larvae floating to the surface.

Of course noise could also mean small perch on the bottom which another good sign.

The bottom line is that if I see absolutely nothing on my electronics I move until I do. This noise is picked up by the electronic unit in lines of yellow and orange.

Often these lines will rise to the surface from the bottom of the scale to top. Noise is always a moving entity not stationary.

Cone-width on transducer
Many ice anglers pay very little attention to their cone angles on their transducers. These transducers are the puck-like device  you lower under the ice hole. Many units come with a standard nine degree transducer which is incorrect. The bigger the degree the larger area it will cover below the hole. Always make sure you have at least a 20 degree transducer attached to your unit. The 20 degree allows the beam to widen out and give you a better look below the ice. Sometimes the degree isn’t even mentioned in the unit’s booklet so you have to do your homework to find out what size came with the unit you purchased.

The ‘gain’
This is the most critical setting. This allows the unit to read below the ice with enough power to distinguish between fish and the bottom. Turn up the gain at least a quarter turn to get the best signal. My rule of thumb is to turn up the gain just enough where my bait is seen as a orange line. Too much gain and it will turn your bait red which is overkill.

Steve Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.