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Flashers have ability to display fish presence and absence

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Many area lakes became encased in a thin sheet of ice during the past few days. Angler focus has turned to ice fishing and it won't be long until many lakes attain the 4-inch recommended thickness for foot travel.

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Eager individuals are already preparing for their first ice excursion, inspecting everything from auger reliability to hook integrity. One particular equipment item, a flasher, has been added to this checklist throughout the years.

If you've never heard of a "flasher," it's probably different from what you're imagining. It's neither an emergency light in case there's trouble, nor a specialized lure that attracts fish from a distance.

Instead, a flasher is sonar, a high-tech means of viewing the underwater environment using acoustic waves. Sonar is actually an acronym for "sound navigation ranging" and employs sound waves in the same way radar uses electromagnetic waves.

There are three main parts of a flasher, the transmitter, receiver and display. The transmitter creates bursts of energy that are sent through the transducer (a small solid puck that is positioned in the water). These sound waves travel through the water at a rate of nearly a mile per second! Once the sound contacts the bottom or hopefully a fish, the acoustic wave bounces off the object and returns to the transducer that now acts as a receiver. The time required for the sound to return to the transducer is shown as a series of lights on the display. It only takes a minute to understand how to operate a flasher and even a young child can quickly gain proficiency in its use.

One of the greatest advantages of using a flasher on ice is that it not only displays when there are fish beneath you, but it also shows when there aren't fish present. Confused? Years ago anglers would venture onto the ice and hand-auger or chisel one or two holes and set up camp for the day. The fish either came in or they didn't and one never knew if there weren't any fish around or if they simply weren't hungry.

Today, mobility on the ice is a common theme and gas powered augers can rapidly rip holes through the ice in seconds. Anglers quickly turn an area into Swiss cheese. Now there's really no excuse to sit idle for an entire day when there are many other holes to choose from.

If you don't see any fish on the display of your flasher after fishing for a while, move! During summer months, boats commonly move continuously, constantly creeping horizontally above bottom structure to find moving schools of fish.

Winter doesn't permit this fluid movement and confines the angler to a vertical presentation, requiring fish to approach from a distance. Various lures, live bait and technique can lure fish into close proximity, but if they don't move into the area after a certain amount of time, it's better to move on.

If you see fish on the flasher and they're simply not biting, then a change in technique or presentation is required. This understanding is what makes a flasher so valuable, the ability to see if there are fish present and if so, how they react to the appearance and movement of your bait.

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