Ever since the invention of liquid-crystal display (LCD) depth finders, flasher sales have slowly dwindled in every market but one. Ice fishing alone probably keeps flasher technology alive today. One cannot say the debate over "which is best?" has "raged." For the past two decades, the LCD has been the overwhelming fisherman's choice on open water, while the flasher has ruled the hard-water world. Until now.
While Vexilar, Markum and other flasher units continue to dominate the ice-fishing scene, Lowrance introduced two TFT sonar units designed for ice fishing two years ago that are climbing the charts. Mike Schnettler, regional sales manager for Lowrance, explained, "TFT means thin film transistor, the same screen that's on a thin-screen television. The advantages include not being affected by cold at all. It functions the same at -20F as it does at 80F. No moving parts means an increase in efficiency. It can get 40 hours of life from one charge on a 12-volt gel cell."
Scott Glorvigen, an ice freak and Professional Walleye Trail veteran of many years (and sponsored by Lowrance), recently traded in his flasher for the new Lowrance M68C IceMachine. "Lowrance invented flasher technology," Glorvigen said. "It's good, solid technology. The new Vexilar and Markum units offer 3 color levels now. The M68C has 7 different levels of color. It's the primary factor that allows us to distinguish between bottom types, to tell fish from bottom, and to discern larger fish from smaller ones. The biggest mistake people made originally was to fish the M68C like a flasher, because that's what they know. Ice fishing is the perfect world for sonar. The only things moving are lures and fish. In split screen, full water column on one side with a 2- to 4-power zoom on bottom on the other side, it's easier to distinguish movement and see exactly what's going on.
"A TFT unit gives you history. If you look away from a flasher, you may miss something. You can look away from a TFT unit then look back and review what just happened. The lure moving up and down makes the screen look like a heart monitor. You can go back and review exactly how the lure was moving every time a fish strikes it. And you can see the angle of attack. A fish approaching the lure appears as a line. A flat line means a slow approach, while a steep line means a faster approach -- more active fish. Now I can make more intelligent decisions about which fish to target and which areas to fish. And you have GPS and mapping right there in the same unit, allowing you to go back to the same precise spots all winter and over the years to come.
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"And the M68C is very sensitive. The 1- to 2-pound-test guy using 1/250-ounce jigs doesn't yet believe this kind of sensitivity is possible, but not only can I see his jig, I can tell him if there's still a maggot on the hook. In summer this unit can pick up thermoclines. Basically, a thermocline is an increase in water density. It's invisible. If I can see that with the M68C, I figure I can see anything visible to the naked eye. A flasher is a wonderful thing. You can go out and catch fish with it. The new Lowrance TFT units simply represent improvement in all things flashers help you do on the ice. It's the same rationale as using a computer instead of a typewriter."
Ice fisherman extraordinaire, Dave Genz, is sponsored by Vexilar. "I don't know much about the claims for TFT technology," Genz admits, "but they told us the old LCD technology would work on ice, too. It didn't. I like the flasher because it's instant, it's real time, it's not affected by the cold, and I like the wide, bright line so I can see my hook real well. It has 3 colors -- green, orange and red. I know if I tune the gain until the lure is orangish-red I can't lose sight of it while jigging. My flasher has split-screen zoom.
"And you can run a flasher all weekend without having to recharge it. That includes Friday evening. I know I can depend on it no matter what the weather does. In fairness, I have not fished the new Lowrance units. But I don't intend to try them yet this winter because I've heard from others who took them on trips to Canada. They said that in extreme cold -- below -20F -- the units began to slow down and dim."
We might add that there is a short learning curve with flashers and a longer one with the new units from Lowrance. But those who have used them claim it's well worth the hour or two spent becoming familiar with these new units. " I used flashers for years," said Gord Pyzer, In-Fisherman field editor. "What I really like about the Lowrance X67C and M68C IceMachines is the ability to switch back and forth from flasher to LCD mode. The flasher is real time, just like my Vexilar. And when whitefish or lake trout are suspended 40 feet down over 80 feet, I can zoom in on that zone in the water column. It gives you that kind of flexibility you don't have with a flasher. Both units are extremely portable, and very versatile. I use mine for fly-ins to wilderness lakes."
For a controversy that never raged, it's become fairly loud. Look at the fishing you do, and the water you do it on, and make a choice. Either way you win.