Ice fishing can be a great winter pastime. However, I find that it’s a lot more enjoyable when I can tell whether or not there are any fish nearby. That’s why I decided to invest in a fish finder—specifically, a flasher unit—to accompany me on the ice. This review of the Vexilar FL-8 (and its more sophisticated counterpart, the Vexilar FL-8SE) contains the results of my findings.
Things to Consider When Shopping for a Flasher Unit
Flashers work by using sonar to map out the underwater environment and alert you to the presence of nearby fish. The transducer, or “business end” of the fish finder, is lowered into the water, where it releases sound waves. When these waves encounter obstacles, such as bottom structure or nearby fish, that information is collected and interpreted by the transducer. The resulting readout is then displayed on the control head.
If you’re an avid ice fisherman, flasher units can be a great asset. However, since their technology is fairly limited, they aren’t well-suited for mounting on watercraft. Anglers who prefer to take to the water by boat would probably be better off with a model that offers a digital readout, instead of a simple flasher dial.
Here are some of the key features you should consider before investing in a flasher fish finder:
- Price—Does the unit fall within your price range? Is it fairly priced by industry standards?
- Convenience—How heavy and bulky is the unit? Does it come with its own carrying case?
- Depth Rating—Is the unit capable of providing accurate readouts at the depths you normally like to fish?
- Display—How large is the screen? Is it easy to read?
- Resolution—What is the maximum number of segments available for the readout? What is the target separation?
- Frequency—Does the unit operate at the correct frequency to suit your ice fishing needs?
- Additional Features—Are there any special features that you would particularly appreciate? Which would you be willing to forgo?
Vexilar FL-8 Review: The Basics
The FL-8 comes equipped with a transducer that hangs from a three-foot cable. Its built-in transducer holder fits all sizes of Vexilar’s specialized “Ice-Ducers” for greater versatility. There’s a semi-enclosed battery compartment and charger included for the 7-amp battery. The unit comes with its own weatherproof case, and the base will fit comfortably on a five-gallon bait bucket. There are also pre-drilled holes set in strategic locations, allowing you to choose your own add-ons. Vexilar also offers a two-year warranty on the product itself and a one-year warranty on the battery.
- Affordable price point
- Lightweight and portable
- Weatherproof carrying case and attached handle
- Generous warranty
- Offers a total of six depth ratings
- Not a lot of bonus features for the price
- No battery life indicator
- Snow may become trapped in the mounting, making screen difficult to read
Features & Benefits
How well does this fish finder meet the criteria we introduced earlier? Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of that information.
As flasher units go, this unit is reasonably priced, which could make it appealing for shoppers on a budget. It offers a decent value for the money, but there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles included in the package. If you’re looking for a bargain-priced model that will get the job done, the Vexilar FL-8SE (the “SE” stands for “special edition”) could be the answer.
The built-in handle and waterproof carrying case make the FL-8 series one of the most portable flasher units on the market. While the total shipping weight can be a bit misleading, the unit itself only weighs about a pound, so you shouldn’t have any problem toting it from one auger-drilled hole to another. As we mentioned earlier, the base will even fit on a five-gallon bait bucket, so the display screen won’t have to come into contact with the frozen ground.
Vexilar offers anglers a choice of six depth ratings for the FL-8. You can adjust the settings to give accurate readouts at the following depths: 20, 30, 40, 60, 80, or 120 feet. It’s nice to have this versatility, especially in lakes and ponds that might vary in depth from shoreline to center. This is a somewhat unusual feature that gives Vexilar a competitive edge in this category.
The flasher dial displays three colors: green for weaker targets, orange for medium targets and red for the strongest targets. The screen also features a backlit scale decal and LED technology to make it easier to read in bright sunlight. The dials are clearly labeled and user-friendly, but be careful not to allow too much snow to build up in this area or they might become stuck.
Vexilar’s flasher screen can display up to 525 segments. This number is fairly standard, and provides a clearly detailed image of what lies beneath the ice. You would be hard pressed to find a flasher unit that earns higher marks in this category.
Also, be aware that the target separation goes down as far as one inch. This means that the transducer is capable of distinguishing between two targets that are as close as a single inch apart. For example, if there are two fish swimming within an inch of one another, the flasher will read them as a single entity. However, if they break so that they’re at least one inch apart, the fish will register as two distinct objects. Many similar models feature a higher target separation, so Vexilar has a definite edge here as well.
With fish finders, the frequency plays a major role in determining how much detail is displayed on your screen. The FL-8 has a frequency of 200 kHz, which is on the higher end of the spectrum. For the uninitiated, this means that the transducer will give a more detailed image when it’s used in shallower water. If the majority of your ice-fishing activities take place on smaller ponds or lakes, then this high-frequency model could be the answer. Fishermen who prefer to set their traps over deeper water would probably be better off considering another unit.
The two-year warranty on the unit and the one-year warranty on the battery can both be considered as additional perks. This device is also equipped with interface rejection technology, which blocks interference from nearby fish finders to give you a clearer, more accurate picture. You’ll also be able to adjust the sensitivity of the transducer, so that you’re less likely to receive updates every time a piece of random debris drifts by.
The waterproof carrying case is great for the additional protection and convenience that it provides. I also appreciate the fact that there are pre-drilled holes in the built-in handle to accommodate any accessories that I might want to add later on. Finally, the FL-8SE comes with an instructional video to help you get started.
On the Ice With the Vexilar FL-8
I couldn’t help but wonder whether my own experience with this fish finder matched up with that of other consumers. To find out the answer, I searched the internet for customer reviews and came up with several positive ones.
Some satisfied consumers claimed that the unit was so effective at providing alerts when fish were nearby, they might not have known they had a bite otherwise. While there’s no battery life indicator on the unit itself, users had no problem taking it out for all-day excursions. It was observed that the interface rejection technology doesn’t work as well as advertised, meaning that there was sometimes interference from nearby fish finders.
Obviously, this will only be a problem if you fish in close proximity with other anglers, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless.
If you don’t think that the Vexilar FL-8SE is the right fit for you, there are other flasher units on the market that might better suit your needs. Here’s a look at three of them.
Humminbird Ice Helix 7
Humminbird’s Ice Helix 7 unit comes equipped with split-screen technology, offering a 2D digital readout in addition to the traditional flasher dial. It’s a highly sophisticated unit with GPS technology and CHIRP sonar. The catch? It’s also saddled with an exceptionally high price tag.
How They Compare
- Depth Rating—Vexilar
- Additional Features—Humminbird
Assuming you can afford it, the Ice Helix 7 is a great upscale option. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, check it out today.
Garmin Striker Plus 5 Ice Bundle
This fish finder doesn’t have a flasher—just a 2D display screen with crisp visuals, GPS technology, and CHIRP sonar. The target separation and fish arch resolution are both excellent, and the unit comes with its own battery, charger, and carrying case.
How They Compare
- Depth Rating—Vexilar
- Additional Features—Garmin
One final note: The Garmin Striker is considerably heavier than the Vexilar series. If you don’t mind toting a little extra weight, feel free to check out this alternative.
Lucky Portable Fish Finder
This model isn’t specifically designed for ice fishing, but it’s a handheld unit that can be used just about anywhere. While it lacks the polish and flair of some of the other models on this list, it’s also the least expensive.
How They Compare
- Depth Rating—Vexilar
- Additional Features—Vexilar
If you’re a casual ice angler who just wants a little bit of extra help finding the fish, give the Lucky Portable Fish Finder a try.
The Bottom Line
Since the last thing you want is to spend an entire day on the ice with nothing to show for it, this Vexilar flasher fish finder might be just what you’re looking for.
In addition to helping locate the fish, it can give you in-depth information about the underwater environment, so you’ll be able to set your traps in the best possible locations. Best of all, it provides all of this at a price that won’t break the bank. Click here to find out more about the FL-8 and FL-8SE, and take your first steps toward a more rewarding ice fishing experience.