I’ve already talked extensively about which fish finders you should use for conventional fishing techniques, but what do you use when you’re fishing in a foot of ice?
Well, you obviously need very different equipment to handle such a harsh fishing environment, and certain features are more important on a fish finder when you’re ice fishing.
In this article, I’m going to help you pick out the best ice fishing fish finder for your needs, and I’m going to make a few suggestions to help you get started.
What To Look For
There are three things that you need to focus on when you pick out a fish finder for ice fishing. You can purchase a fish finder that has extra features, but the following three features are the most important. If your fish finder doesn’t have any of these features, you risk ending your fishing trip with a broken fish finder and an empty basket.
When you’re ice fishing, you’re not casting all over the lake in an attempt to find fish. You’re usually going to stick to one or two holes in the ice, and those holes will probably be drilled over deeper parts of a lake.
So, it’s important for you to get a fish finder that has down-imaging when you’re ice fishing. Side-imaging won’t be as useful. You won’t be able to cast off to the sides of your hole anyways.
You’ll also want to have a fish finder that has a decent amount of range. Since you’ll be limited to dropping your line straight down, you’ll want to see as much as you can. A minimum range of 150-feet is ideal for ice fishing. That will allow you to fish throughout the entire water column instead of just 80-feet of it.
You’ll be fishing on a thick slab of ice. You’re bound to take a tumble at some point, and the ice can freeze over your hole while you’re trying to scan the water. If you have a fish finder that actually goes into the water, a fresh layer of ice can damage it whenever you go to reel it in.
That means that you’ll want a fish finder that isn’t prone to breaking very easily. If you fall on top of it, you don’t want to shatter it before you ever get a chance to scan the water, and you definitely don’t want to break pieces of it off just because hit the ice a little too hard while reeling it in.
Metal components that are properly attached to the unit are preferable, but high-quality shells made out of polymer are also decent options.
It’s pretty obvious that it has to be cold out for you to go ice fishing. You need at least five inches of ice to safely stand on the ice with minimal equipment, and it’s usually a good idea to wait until the ice is even thicker than that. In order for ice sheets to get that thick, the temperature has to drop into the extremely low digits.
As we all know, electronics don’t tend to work very well in the cold unless they’re specifically designed for cold weather. The same goes for fish finders. The best ice fishing fish finder products are designed to handle the extremely cold temperatures that are necessary for ice fishing, but some of the lower quality models will stop working when they get too cold. I highly suggest buying something that can actually handle the weather.
The three features that I talked about previously are definitely the most important things to worry about, but ice fishing is such an advanced form of fishing that it never hurts to learn as much as possible before buying equipment for it.
In this section, I’ll give you a few tips that aren’t as important as what you saw in the last section, but they’ll definitely help you out.
Buy According To Your Habits
You probably don’t live in an area where you can ice fish every day. Let’s face it. The entire country isn’t covered in ice year-round. So, you might only be trying to ice fish for the first time in an effort to try it out. In that case, do you need a $300 fish finder with a lot of fancy gizmos dangling off of it? My guess is that you probably don’t.
If you’re just starting to ice fish, and you don’t know if it’s something that you’ll want to keep doing on a frequent basis, it’s best for you to stick to some of the cheaper models that only provide the necessary features. There are a lot of budget models that work perfectly fine for beginners, and they won’t set you back too much if you end up not wanting to ice fish frequently.
If you’re already a seasoned ice fisherman, you’ll probably want to invest in a proper fish finder. The added features and increased quality will help you improve your fishing far more than they would help a beginner, and at least you know that you enjoy ice fishing. A high-end model is definitely worth investing in if you really know what you’re doing.
Keep It Small
When you’re ice fishing, you don’t get to drag hundreds of pounds of tackle onto the ice with you. Each piece of your kit has to be thought out extensively, and you have to try to minimize the amount of weight that you have on you. It’s not just for safety reasons, either. We all know that breaking the ice is extremely dangerous. It’s also to help you stay comfortable. You’ll likely have to walk your gear out to your preferred spot. Do you want to make several trips back and forth to your vehicle?
Most of the fish finders that I’ll be reviewing in the following section are small, portable, and very efficient. However, there are some bulkier options on the market, and unless you have the equipment to drag them around, it’s best to pick one of the smaller options. It’s safer, and it’ll be a lot easier for you to carry your kit onto the ice.
Don’t Skimp On Range And Depth
I usually tell people not to worry too much about a fish finder’s range and depth ratings. However, it’s important to be able to see as far down into the water column as possible when you’re ice fishing. Some fish suspend near the bottom of frozen lakes, and some suspend just a few feet from the top. You’re bound to see activity in nearly every part of the water column.
So, you want a fish finder that can easily reach the bottom of your preferred fishing hole. If you like to fish in a 300-foot deep lake, then you’ll want a fish finder that has a range rating that is a little bigger than that. It’s important to get something that’s rated a little better than what you need. Fish finders tend to send back lower quality returns when they’re reading their maximum depth. By getting something that’s better than what you’ll need, you won’t have to worry about that too much.
Best Ice Fishing Fish Finder: Product Reviews
#1 Deeper PRO+
The Deeper PRO+ isn’t designed for ice fishing, but it has proven to be one of the best ball-style sonar devices on the market, and it’s more than good enough for ice fishermen.
First, the PRO+ can scan 260-feet under the water with ease, and its sonar returns don’t start to fade in quality until you go past that depth. Most ice fishing spots won’t exceed that depth, and you shouldn’t need any more range than that to read the entire water column.
The real allure of the PRO+ has more to do with its design than its impressive range. It’s just a small ball that sends its sonar returns to your cellphone. You don’t have to worry about carrying a receiver and a transducer around, and you don’t have to worry about finding a spot to set it up at. You just attach it to your rod, drop it in the water, and allow it to sink for a bit. Once it goes more than three-feet under the surface, you’ll start getting sonar returns.
There are a few risks that you take when you drop a fish finder into the water, though. Since ice can reform pretty quickly, you’ll likely have to deal with your fish finder getting trapped a couple of times.
Luckily, the PRO+ is known for its durability, and it should be able to withstand being pulled through the ice at least a couple of times. However, I highly recommend using a tool to punch through the ice first, and if you can, just keep the hole clean in the first place.
Finally, the PRO+ is most suitable for fishermen that really want to keep their kit light. Since it’s just a simple ball, and it can fit in the average coat pocket, it doesn’t take up any room, and it doesn’t add any unnecessary weight to your kit.
- Impressive down-imaging range
- Small enough for a pocket
- High-quality returns throughout the water column
- You have to drop it in the freezing water, and if your line breaks because you didn’t drill properly, or if the ice reforms, you might lose a rather expensive piece of gear.
#2 Garmin Striker
There are actually two models of the Garmin Striker that I want to review here. They’re almost exactly the same, but one comes with extra gear. For starters, I recommend the Striker 4 Portable Kit to anyone who wants a really good setup that they won’t outgrow within a few short years. However, the Striker 4 Traditional is a great budget package that only provides you with the portable fish finder and the transducer that you use with it. Other than that, they function exactly the same.
Both models have 3.5-inch displays, and both of them rely on CHIRP transducers to scan the water. The CHIRP transducers are great, and they create really high-quality sonar returns, but they can be a little annoying to use when you’re not on a boat. Make sure you don’t leave your transducer behind when you pack up for the day.
However, you don’t have to have a cellphone or anything else to use either of these. The main part of the unit works perfectly fine for viewing all of the information that the transducer sends back to you, and it’s easy to use when you’re wearing gloves. The buttons are pretty big, and they’re spaced out a bit.
Finally, the display is actually designed to work well with ice fishing. Instead of giving you one constant sonar return, it continuously scans the water in a long sweeping motion. It’s the preferred reading method of most ice fishermen, and it’ll make it easier for you to spot fish.
- Perfect reading system for ice fishing
- Small enough to carry around with you
- Doesn’t get submerged in the water
- I don’t like having to setup a transducer when I’m not on a boat. The transducer can easily get left behind, or it can get knocked into the fishing hole.
The HawkEye Fishtrax is probably the best starter unit on this list. It’s not expensive, it has all of the necessary features, and it doesn’t require any annoying transducers. You just hold it, push some buttons, and figure out where the fish are.
You really can’t go wrong with it if you’re a beginner. It has a depth finder, a fish reader, and a digital flash that is designed for ice fishing. It also has an HD screen that helps you see it despite its relatively small size.
If that’s not enough for you, you’ll be happy to know that it isn’t just useful for ice fishing. When the ice clears up, you can mount it to your boat like a traditional fish finder.
However, it’s not perfect. The unit is pretty small, and that makes it a little difficult to read it sometimes. Its small size also forced the manufacturer to place the buttons fairly close together, and that makes it harder to use when you have gloves on. I think that all of those cons are worth the fair price, and it is a very reliable unit for beginners, though.
- Reliable readings
- No transducer necessary
- Mounts to a boat when the ice melts
- It’s just too small for me. It’s worth it for beginners, but once you’re a little more advanced, you’ll want a bigger unit.
#4 Humminbird ICE 35
The ICE 35 is one of the fish finders that Humminbird specifically made for ice fishermen. It’s big, reliable, and insanely advanced. It’s also priced pretty fairly considering all of the features it has.
First, it has a very generous display that you can probably read with ease from several feet away. Unless you have really bad eyesight, you shouldn’t have any problems reading it.
However, a lot of information is on the screen at once, and all of that information can confuse inexperienced fishermen.
The entire unit is also a lot larger than other fish finders that I’ve reviewed. It’s similar to having a small TV or a very large tablet with a heavy duty case on the ice. That’s useful when you’re going to be fishing for a while, and it’s perfect for when you set up an ice fishing shack, but it makes it more difficult to carry it onto the ice with all of your other gear. I suggest using this when the ice is more than one-foot thick to ensure that you can set up a portable shack. That’s the style of ice fishing that this is suitable for.
Other than that, it can easily reach the bottom of any lake in the United States, and it has a flash system that makes it easier to read its sonar readings. This is an advanced piece of equipment, and I only recommend it to advanced fishermen.
- Perfect for long days on the ice
- Impressive range
- Very large screen
- It’s way too large to carry it around, and then carry all of your gear on top of it. This is a great option if the ice is thick enough for you to drive on it and set up a shack, but it’s not a good choice if you planning on walking to your fishing spot.
#5 Lowrance Hook2
If you’ve read my other reviews, you know that I personally love the Lowrance Hook2. However, I only recommend it to ice fishermen if they can set it up in a semi-permanent position. It’s not designed to be portable. It’s designed to be on a boat, and you can’t use a boat when you’re ice fishing.
However, it is good if you live in a state such as Alaska. You can mount the Hook2 to a shelf or something in your shack, and you can use it every time you go on the ice without having to go through the process of setting it up. Your transducers can be placed directly on the ice, and they’ll work just as well as they do during the summer when you have them mounted on your boat.
The maps that come with it aren’t really necessary. You won’t be traveling a lot when you’re ice fishing, and this is more suitable for semi-permanent or permanent ice fishing cabins than it is for traveling. However, it does come with more than 4000 maps if you choose to put it on your boat during the summer.
Finally, it doesn’t just have a down-imaging system. It also has side-imaging and CHIRP sonar systems. The down-imaging system will definitely be the one that you rely on the most, but the other two systems will help you figure out if fish are swimming around near your hole or not, and you might be able to lure them over once you know that they’re there.
- Great as a base station sonar
- Three sonar systems
- Large and highly visible
- It’s simply not a good choice if you don’t have an ice fishing shack that you use year-round. It’s designed to be mounted on a boat.
#6 Lucky Portable
The Lucky Portable is aimed at recreational fishermen. It combines the designs of portable fish finders and fish finders that you cast from your rod, and it does that quite well. It’s not as advanced as other options, but it’s definitely easy to use.
First, it has a small submarine-shaped transducer that you cast from your rod. If you’re a fan of the Beatles, you might appreciate the yellow color scheme and cartoon-like submarine shape. Besides being an obvious reference to a popular song, the transducer’s design helps it sink faster than ball-shaped sonar systems, and it helps it cut through the water faster when you reel it back in.
You also get a transceiver that picks up the submarine’s sonar returns. So, you don’t have to pull your phone out to see what’s going on in the water, and you don’t have to waste your phone’s battery. That really would have helped me out when I was using my old iBobber last year. My phone battery died within the first hour of using it. The transceiver looks and behaves like any of the other portable fish finders that I’ve reviewed.
I don’t like that it only has a range of 147-feet, and I don’t like the 2.8-inch screen, though. It’s too small for me, and the range won’t cover some of the deeper lakes in the United States.
#7 Marcum LX-7
The Marcum LX-7 is a big fish finder like the ICE 35, but it includes some more impressive sonar technology.
First, the screen is eight-inches wide. I really like that because it’s big enough for me to see from a few feet away if I’m wearing my glasses, but it’s not so big that it means I have to lug a massive fish finder around.
On the display, a digital flash is present, and there are two sections that show sonar readings in a vertical fashion. Since you’ll be fishing vertically, that is very useful.
The shell of the LX-7 is red, and I prefer that over the black shell of the Humminbird. It’s just a lot harder to forget a bright red fish finder.
However, the most impressive feature that the LX-7 has is its sonar cone. The transducer only covers a circle that is 20-inches in diameter. That’s only a little bigger than the biggest ice fishing holes. That sounds like a bad thing, but it ensures that you only see what is directly beneath you, and that keeps you from focusing on fish that are suspended 30-feet away. When you see a fish on the LX-7, you know that you can catch it.
- Impressive sonar technology
- Red shell for visibility
- Perfect screen size
- I don’t have anything against the LX-7, but some fishermen might not like its size. It’s not as big as the ICE 35, but it’s still big.
I personally think that the majority of people will benefit the most from the Lucky Portable or the LX-7. The Lucky is durable, reliable, and built for ice fishing. It’s also a very portable option that doesn’t rely on your cellphone. The LX-7 is great if you want to take your ice fishing extremely seriously. It’s pretty much the ultimate ice fishing fish finder, but it’s too big and bulky for people who like portable options.
The other options that I reviewed are just as good as those two options, though. They’re a little different, and I don’t personally like some of the features that the other models have, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them. If a different model has the features that you need, don’t hesitate to buy it just because it’s not my top pick. There’s a reason I listed those other models as alternatives.