Three tips to proper sonar use

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If there is one thing that most ice anglers will agree on, it is that a quality sonar unit will help you catch more fish. I am not talking about those anglers (and you know who you are) who insist they do not need a fish finder to catch fish.

They’re right, you don’t. I am talking about the anglers who have become proficient with one. I know of no such person who has ever used one and gone back to fishing without one. Ask every guide, author, seminar host or any other pro and they will all give you the same answer: “Learn to use one and you will never fish without one again.”

It certainly will help you catch more fish in the long run and on most days, too. If it didn’t, I would not lug one (or two) with me every time I hit the ice, and certainly wouldn’t have one for every client who hits the ice with me. It is an investment in their success, just like the electronics on our boats.

For those of you who already get it, and those of you who eventually will, I hope the following will help you get the most from that unit. I have had the opportunity to speak in depth with representatives from the three main ice sonar manufacturers over the last several years, and my own experience also comes into play here. With millions of sonar units in use these days, there aren’t too many issues that haven’t come up before, and most sonar issues come down to three distinct problems.

First, your battery. Always charge it after each use, but let it warm to room temperature (if possible) for an hour before doing so. All manufacturers agree that the majority of problems users experience with their sonar are battery-related. Always try to duplicate any issue with a known good battery first, and if your battery is more than three years old, replace it.

Next, interference. Multiple sonar units operating in close range, especially in shallow water, is a recipe for someone to be “blown out.” Only one person, usually the one experiencing the worst interference, should adjust his or her sonar at a time. Low gain settings and using the narrowest sonar beam if you have that feature will help a great deal in group situations.

Lastly, transducer alignment. To work properly, the “thing at the end of the wire” must be level.  Some units accomplish this via an eye bolt and rubber stopper attached to the case, while the Vexilar is famous for the “self-leveling transducer,” a three-cent piece of pipe foam. If the transducer is hanging crookedly, performance will suffer. Marcum users should know that Marcum recommends you only put the transducer 2 to 3 inches below the water line at most, barely covering the transducer, while Vexilar recommends the top of the transducer be just below the bottom of the ice. This is a major difference between these two brands.

There are dozens of great videos out there that go into much greater detail on specific brands and models. You have made a significant investment and knowing how to use it will help you catch more fish.

This Saturday sees the make-up event for the postponed Dec. 12 Perch Assault tournament on Smith Lake. Entry is open through 6 p.m. today. Over 50 teams compete in these events and thousands of dollars in cash and prizes are awarded at every event. Check out or enter at Snappy’s in Evergreen. I’ll see you on the water.

Howe runs Howes Fishing/A Able Charters. Contact him at or 257-5214 or by emailing

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