by Matt Johnson
We’re all familiar with 3-color flashers. We’ve used them for years and they have become a foundation for most ice anglers. Having the ability to “see” what’s below you and react accordingly is something most of us would never forfeit.
It’s to the point now that if we leave our Vexilar at home then we turn around to get it. Fishing is just not the same without your flasher staring you in the face when battling with a finicky fish. But do we really use our Vexilar to its fullest? It’s not just a tool that shows the bottom, the fish and your jig, it’s much more than that…
Whether it’s an FL-8, FL-18, FL-12, FL-20 or FL-22, your Vexilar has fast-become your best friend on the ice. Seeing that green flicker turn into an orange line followed by a solid red blip drives tingles down every watcher. Then when it results in a solid thump only to have a plate-sized bluegill on the ice moments later do we realize how exciting, and important our Vexilar becomes.
Seeing the fish in relation to your presentation is more than half the battle, but using your Vexilar to determine the fish’s mood can drastically change the way you put fish on the ice. Understanding how a fish reacts to various jigging movements can help boost your success rate. For example, things like when to slow down, when to speed up or when to do nothing at all. These are all things we need to pick up on when using our Vexilars.
Fish are simple creatures. They need to eat to survive and like humans they go through various feeding patterns and variances in appetites. When a fish comes in fast only to stop abruptly and leave your offering alone we need to then evaluate the situation and decide that the jigging action was important, but the appeal/look of the presentation needs a minor adjustment. You called the fish in with action, but once the fish got a look at what was moving it decided to shut its mouth.
Changing color, upsizing or downsizing, adding scent… these are a few ideas in which to increase your triggering power in this situation. Case in point, watching the fish’s behavior on your Vexilar allows you to take out some of the guesswork and make changes based on how fish react to what you’re doing. Don’t just settle for the old saying, “fish are down there but they just aren’t biting.” Be smarter than that; use your Vexilar to help you make your next move.
We all know that the stronger the signal the more red the line becomes… but what about determining the size of the fish? Or better yet, the direction a fish is facing or whether or not that fish is aggressive or negative? Your Vexilar can tell you these things. Of course the obvious is to assume the larger red blips are larger fish, and this would sometimes turn out to be true. However, fish with larger air bladders will also show up as larger marks. This is the reason why jumbo perch show up as large blips, because we all know that those jumbos have air bladders the size of golf balls.
Larger gamefish like pike and walleyes have larger air bladders than panfish, but what we’re also seeing is the orange and green marks of the fish’s “extremities.” What I mean is, the longer the fish, the more potential there is for a change in signal. As those larger fish move, the transducer picks up on those movements and shoots back orange and green lines surrounding your once single, solid red line.
This oftentimes looks like more than one fish if Mr. Pike is on the prowl, but as you pay closer attention you will realize that those red lines are “stretching” and not separating. Fish that change body position to a more vertical posture will give off those stretching characteristics, so when those sometimes pesky pike rise to check out our tiny ice jig that is why we see a larger red line. Telling the size of a fish is possible with your Vexilar, so don’t listen to grandpa.
Determining the aggressive level of the fish is also easy to do with your Vexilar. The obvious is simple, when a fish flies in and crushes your bait then you have an aggressive fish. OK, you got me there. But when you have fish that decide to swim in slow but constantly “quiver” then I wouldn’t throw out the aggressive card just yet. Just because a fish doesn’t slam the bait doesn’t mean it’s not aggressive. Watching your Vexilar and picking up on those short rapid movements can tell us that we have a fish that wants to eat, we just need to find out what that desired menu item is. Then on the flip-side we have those fish that slowly rise to the bait, seem as if they are motionless, and then slide away. Those would be our negative fish and it might be time to find a new spot. Determining whether or not the fish under you are aggressive or negative can save on frustration and valuable fishing time.
What about the idea of reading below the bottom? Sounds ludicrous I know, but not impossible. In fact, it’s very doable and important when targeting bottom-hugging fish. This phenomenon is made simple by watching what is below your “actual bottom.” Movements below the bottom indicate fish coming out of weeds or fish that are off to one side where the bottom depth is slightly deeper in one spot. I can assure you that the bottom is not moving with the intent of teasing you, but rather because a fish is starting to build up the ambition to soon attack what you’re offering. Next time you’re on the ice pay attention to what your bottom is doing, you’ll be surprised just how much activity goes on that you might have ignored.
Have you ever thought of the idea that weeds are really our friends? I know it’s important to focus on green weeds when available, but what I’m referring to is having the ability to use either Low Power mode or the S-Cable to see through the weeds. While fishing in thick weeds we oftentimes throw in the towel because we can’t see our jig… but let’s take a lesson from Rocky and not give up without a fight. Switching to Low Power mode cuts your watts from 400 to 200 and allows us to drastically cut down on the amount of weeds we pick up on our Vexilars. By adjusting our sensitivity we can soon find out that not only can we see our jig, but we are successfully targeting and catching fish amongst the once overlooked weed flats. Ask me where my favorite areas to fish on the lake are and I’m going to the weeds, and having the ability to fish the weeds helps solidify my decision.
These are just a few simple ideas to add new ways to interpreting your Vexilar. The idea here is to not always just look at things at face value. Step outside the box and use your Vexilar as not just a fish indicator, but rather a learning tool that will teach you a lot more than you know about the underwater world. If you get a chance to use your Vexilar in coordination with an underwater camera then you can see exactly how fish react and what sort of signal you’re receiving. Sight fishing is another way to build confidence in what your Vexilar is telling you.
Understanding the mood of the fish will help you decide what to throw next. Understanding the size of the fish you are targeting can make your decision to move easier. Understanding how to effectively fish thick weeds can pay off with great rewards. Understanding how to use your Vexilar to the fullest will help make you a better ice angler. Turning the unit on is only the first step, but by the time you turn it off make sure you got the most out of what that underwater world has to offer!