5 tips for having a jolly high-tech Christmas on the ice


I’m sure there are going to be plenty of sonar units pulled out from beneath Christmas trees and unwrapped shortly, by excited boys and girls of all ages. And within a matter of days (if not hours), they’re going to find their way out onto the ice.


Many of the units will be the high-tech, forward-facing models that let you see beneath the ice like you’ve never seen before, while others are going to be more modest.  Some may even be entry level units, but don’t let that worry you. Simply go with the best sonar you can afford and it will help you catch more and bigger fish—especially, if you follow these simple tips.

Tip # 1

When you open the box, the first thing you’re likely to see is an instruction manual: read it. I have a friend, who will remain nameless, who never does. And when we’re out on the ice and I hit a shortcut button, go split screen, check my battery power or zoom in to highlight the fish, he always asks incredulously…. “How did you do that?”


But fact of the matter is, no ice angler—myself included—takes advantage of the full and overwhelming array of options at our fingertips. So, after you’ve powered up the unit this Christmas, even while you’re sitting in your chair watching television, read the manual, press the buttons and get a good feel for everything you can with it.


Tip # 2

If your unit didn’t come with a lithium ion battery, get one.  The newer chartplotters that take Lake Master VX map chips that let you colour coordinate contour ranges are unbelievable, but they suck up juice. I will never forget the first time I attached a Dakota Lithium 12-volt rechargeable 10 Ah lithium battery to my Humminbird Ice Helix  several years ago. I’d been running out of power late in the afternoon—right around the magical witching hour—and was forced to turn down the strength of the light to conserve power. After I replaced the lead-acid battery with the lithium one, I could run it for two long, hard days on the ice without charging.

Tip # 3

Change the unit from auto mode to manual. This lets you tap into its dizzying array of features.  In manual mode, you can fine-tune and customize everything to the lake you’re fishing. And above all else, shut off fish ID. It hinders you by showing bubbles, leaves, floating sticks and twigs and anything else in the water column as a fish.

Tip # 4

Use the zoom button. Of all the basic features offered by most ice units, zooming in two, four, even six or more times is just so helpful, especially for bottom-hugging fish like walleye and perch. After all, if you’re seeing them a foot off the bottom in 24 feet of water, why waste most of the display face showing nothing? When you zoom in, this close-up view of the fish lets you watch how they behave when you drop down your lure. You can compare your jigging action with the response from the fish, and really dial yourself in. If nothing else, go split screen with one side showing you the normal 2D sonar return, and the other half the zoomed in version.

Tip # 5

Read the manual. Honestly, it makes a huge difference. And you won’t regret it when you’re spending your vacation hauling up more fish than ever before.