Ice Fishing: The Skinny on Hardwater Software

New electronics can help you find and ice more fish. Here's a CRASH course on how to use them to your advantage.

Ice Fishing: The Skinny on Hardwater Software

Here are several proven ways that you can leverage modern electronics to enjoy more success on the ice. (Photo by Dr. Jason Halfen)

Modern day ice-fishing enjoys deep connections with open-water angling. Think about all of your purpose-driven rods for summer fishing; that same need for species- and technique-specific rods has reached the ice, with manufacturers now offering expansive libraries of rods designed to present specific lures to particular fish.

The same is true of lines, where new hardwater braids shed water to minimize ice accumulation in line guides and reels, while strong yet supple fluorocarbons reduce visibility while providing crucial abrasion resistance at the jagged interface separating ice and water.

Nowhere is the mutually beneficial union between ice- and open-water fishing more apparent than in the realm of electronics. While the whirring motors of mechanical flashers may have been state-of-the-art at the end of the last century, the modern hardwater angler now enjoys a myriad of sonar, cartography, and video tools designed to help them find and catch more fish.

Moreover, although these technological advances might trace their roots to open-water fishing, the advantages they provide translate perfectly to hardwater. Here are several proven ways that you can leverage modern electronics to enjoy more success on the ice.


The fish-finding physics of CHIRP

CHIRP (Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse) sonar is among the powerful advances in contemporary electronics to migrate from open to frozen water. CHIRP refers to a different, better way to transmit sonar energy into the water.


First, realize most traditional ice sonar units, dating back to the 20th century’s mechanical flashers, transmit sonar with a single frequency, typically 200 kHz. A quick burst of this high-frequency sound enters into the water from the transducer; when sound waves encounter a target, a fraction of the original transmission is reflected back to the transducer, eventually producing a return on the display.

CHIRP sonar transmission is fundamentally different: rather than transmitting a single frequency, CHIRP broadcasts a frequency range (say, 150-220 kHz) with a transmission that lasts longer than a simple 200 kHz ping. The result: more sound energy (with more frequencies) enters the water, providing for a more thorough and comprehensive examination of its contents.

Hardwater Software
Electronics advances have made ice-fishing a more precise science. Today, anglers can map the bottom and locate fish with relative ease. (Photo by Dr. Jason Halfen)

CHIRP sonar provides substantial benefits to the hardwater angler. First, the long-lasting, multifrequency CHIRP transmission affords enhanced target separation, making your jig easier to see when hovering just above the weeds or the bottom, and ensuring that the sonar signals from two nearby small fish are not blended into a single, artificially strong return. Beyond its higher resolution when compared to simple 200 kHz sonar, CHIRP also affords improved size discrimination, ensuring that potato chip-sized sunnies can be easily distinguished from larger, more desirable targets.

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Moreover, because of the way that CHIRP sonar returns are received and processed, you’ll enjoy a display with dramatically reduced noise and clutter, particularly helpful in high-current areas and lakes with a significant amount of suspended sediment. Finally, CHIRP sonar offers an extremely effective way to reduce or eliminate interference from nearby sonar units, ensuring transmissions from your fishing partner’s locator don’t clutter your own display.


CHIRP sonar requires hardware and software within the fishfinder, as well as a transducer that is optimized for multifrequency transmission; such transducers are frequently said to have a “low Q factor.” Current generation Humminbird ICE HELIX units are some of the only portable systems to incorporate both the internal components and the low Q transducer that ice-anglers need to leverage the power of CHIRP sonar.

For these units, as well as any other fishfinder with a large, bright display, consider replacing the standard sealed lead acid 12V battery with a lithium ion alternative. Doing so will dramatically reduce the overall weight of your portable fishfinder and provide for much longer run times,long enough for a full day on the ice, and then some.

Map your way to success

Think about the first thing you do when planning a trip to a new lake – you hunt for the best map available. Years ago, that search might have ended in a floppy paper map, sometimes incorporating rudimentary depth and position data collected decades prior. Contemporary ice-anglers now enjoy the advantages provided by high-precision digital contour maps displayed alongside sonar returns on their portable fishfinder.


While commercially prepared contour maps are a great starting point, savvy anglers recognize that even the best maps sometimes miss key pieces of structure: things like inside turns, isolated rockpiles, and subtle, fish-holding high spots on otherwise featureless flats.

This situation is a perfect chance to leverage the power of live mapping features found on many fishfinders. Humminbird’s AutoChart Live, Garmin’s Quickdraw Contours and Lowrance’s Genesis Live mapping programs allow anglers to create custom contour maps using depth and GPS position data collected by their fishfinders.

Although detailed mapping surveys of expansive pieces of structure are typically best accomplished during the open-water season, Humminbird now offers an AutoChart Live option designed specifically with the hardcore ice-angler in mind.

Here, depth readings collected from individual holes, cut in a pattern around a promising underwater feature, are linked with GPS position data for each hole to create a live, on-the-ice, contour map of the lake bottom below. This promises to be a powerful tool for hardwater anglers and represents a quantum leap in how we target key pieces of structure.

Hardwater Software
An underwater camera system allows ice-fishermen to “look” below the surface and actually monitor their bait. Here, the author displays a nice crappie he “saw” before it bit. (Photo by Dr. Jason Halfen)

The advantages of video

When it comes to finding and catching fish, there is often no substitute for seeing something with your own two eyes. Underwater video has come a long way in the last decade, with powerful refinements in both video quality and user friendliness that intersect to make video a must-have weapon in your ice-fishing arsenal.

I leverage underwater video in two distinct ways. First, I use it as a conclusive structure identification tool. For example, full-color underwater video makes it easy to distinguish between healthy, green, fish-attracting weeds and brown, dead ones.

With an underwater camera, I can also quickly determine the types of weeds displayed on my sonar unit, knowing that some species of fish will prefer cabbage weeds while others will gravitate toward coontail.

Video is also a powerful strike detection tool. When the bite is off due to weather conditions or simply the time of day, I use an underwater camera to monitor my presentation, so I can set the hook when I see a subtle bite rather than try to feel one.

Find the best day and time to go hunting in your zip code

To use an underwater camera in this way, drill two holes approximately 3 feet apart; fish through one hole and suspend your optics beneath the other. The brief amount of time that you’ll spend pointing the camera in the right direction to monitor your lure will pay big dividends when it comes to fish flopping on the ice.

Pick a camera that matches your primary fishing style. When I’m hole-hopping, I like using the Aqua-Vu Micro Revolution camera system. This portable device slips into the front pocket and sports a rechargeable lithium ion battery to power long days of fish hunting on the ice.

Its compact optics deploy and stow with remarkable ease thanks to Aqua-Vu’s patented Revolution cable management system, which is integrated right into the display. When pinned inside a shelter, I use Aqua-Vu’s larger HD camera systems. These complete video solutions offer stunning 1080p high-definition video, delivering the clearest views from beneath the ice that you’ve ever seen.

Ice-fishing has come quite a long way since the days of the five-gallon pail and the stiff jigglestick. Advances in electronics have allowed anglers to pursue their quarry with the same type of efficiency as their open-water counterparts. Leverage the power of high-tech hardwater tools this season and you’re sure to catch more fish.

Humminbird Ice Helix 7 CHIRP G3N All Season

Hardwater Software
Humminbird Ice Helix 7 CHIRP G3N All Season

A powerful CHIRP sonar unit with an integrated chart plotter that will help you to find and catch more fish on the ice as well as on the boat.

This unit leverages the power of CHIRP to provide clean sonar displays and virtually eliminate crosstalk from nearby units. Accepts Humminbird LakeMaster digital contour map chips in MicroSD format and includes the powerful AutoChart Live custom mapping tool so you can create your own maps on demand. Includes a shuttle and a sealed lead acid 12V battery and charger, in addition to a power cable and open-water transducer for easy transferring over to your boat.

Aqua-Vu HD10i Pro Gen 2 underwater camera system

Hardwater Software
Aqua-Vu HD10i Pro Gen 2 underwater camera system

An outstanding video solution for ice and boat. Offers crystal-clear video in full 1080p HD, using prescription-grade optics and unique software tools to eliminate distortion and auto color correct the video signal.

Unit can be hard-wired to the 12V power system in your shelter for extended underwater video without limitations of a small battery. An integrated HDMI port allows video output to be displayed on larger monitors or even recorded to be shared. XD camera housing is compatible with modular accessories for open-water use: trolling fins, pole adapter and Aqua-Vu’s unique Live Strike system.

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