Flasher vs. Camera: What’s Better for Ice Fishing

With all the new ice fishing technology, fish hardly stand a chance.  Today’s flashers are more sensitive than ever and underwater camera technology continues to gain momentum.  

All these electronics are obviously a great boon for modern day ice anglers.  Yet, deciding which to buy is fraught with its own new challenges.  There is a lot to consider when comparing flashers and underwater cameras.

So, which should you buy?  That is the million dollar question and the answer is far from clear cut.    

In general, ice fishing flashers are better at detecting fish in a wider range of water depths and clarity than a camera.  Flashers also allow you to quickly assess bottom hardness and depth making it indispensable for scouting.  However, from an entertainment point of view, nothing beats the thrill of watching fish gulp your bait on an underwater camera.

That answer is hardly the final verdict on the flasher versus camera debate.  To really see if a flasher or underwater camera is better for ice fishing, we need to get the full picture.  Keep reading and you’ll see what I mean.

Cost comparison

There’s no denying that price is a major deciding factor when choosing between a flasher and underwater camera.  That’s why we’ll start with a cost comparison.  

Luckily, improved technology combined with market competition has really driven prices on fishing electronics to more affordable levels.  Flashers and cameras are by no means “cheap” but competitive pricing has leveled the playing field.  Costs between the two are now quite similar.

Let’s take a quick look at what you should expect to pay for quality flashers and underwater cameras. You can check out current prices at either BassPro or Amazon by clicking the link.

Flasher cost

As with most products, quality and price go hand in hand.  From low cost budget flashers to the most advanced top-end technology, you get what you pay for.  

At the budget end of the spectrum, flashers cost as little as $300.  Flashers like the Vexilar FL-8SE, Marcum M1 or the Humminbird ICE 35 fit into this group.  All these flashers are highly capable fish catching machines.  Yet, they are low on features and are not the most versatile units on the ice.  Target separation (the ability to differentiate your lure from a fish) is also not the best.  

Move into the mid-range flashers and you get significantly better technology for fine tuning to match your ice fishing conditions.  Expect to pay around $400 to $500 for this privilege though.  Flashers in this peer group include the Vexilar FL-18, Vexilar FLX-20, Marcum M3L or the Humminbird ICE 45 or ICE 55 units.  As an added bonus, several of these include lithium batteries and a charger.

It’s time to shell out some big bucks once you get to the high end flashers.  Don’t be surprised to see units costing between $600 and $750.  Keep in mind that you are paying for the best technology and superior fish detection.  

Every feature you could ever want is standard in this group plus you get added perks like lithium batteries, premium carry bags and the ultimate in target separation.  Vexilar’s FLX-28 and the  Marcum M5L are among the best ice fishing flashers money can buy. 

Underwater camera cost

There are plenty of underwater cameras in the budget category.  As their popularity grows, so does the production of cheap knock-offs that aren’t worth buying.  At a minimum, I would say you need to spend at least $200 to get a functional underwater camera with tolerable image quality.  Anything less is a waste of money.

In the budget category, Aqua-Vu’s Micro Stealth is priced around $240 and has decent image quality.  It’s a small hand held screen so viewing fish strikes is a challenge.  However, it is a great scouting tool to see bottom composition and weed lines.  

You really start to get some bang for your buck when you spend a little more.  Cameras in the $500 range provide excellent functionality and image quality in most situations.  The Aqua-Vu Revolution 5 Pro and the Marcum Pursuit HD are all you would ever need for ice fishing.

If you are serious about ice fishing or you want the best in underwater viewing it will cost you at least $850.  The Aqua-Vu HD7i Pro Gen2 is arguably the best underwater camera on the market.  It has the highest video resolution and all the features to make it a powerful ice fishing tool.  

For a more affordable price of $630, the Aqua-Vu HD7i Gen2 gives up a few features from the Pro model but has the same fantastic image quality.  In addition, battery life is a bit better.

Above the $850 range, you start getting diminishing returns.  The Aqua-Vu HD10i Pro Gen2 gives you a bigger screen but that’s about it.  The $1100 price tag doesn’t quite justify the step up from the HD7i Pro.  

Portability

Ice anglers, more than ever, are always on the move.  The sit and wait approach is not always effective so hole hopping is essential for increased success.  That means portability is a must with ice fishing electronics.

Both flashers and cameras are reasonably portable.  In fact, most handheld cameras are much lighter and more compact than a flasher.  Although, larger cameras like the Aqua-Vu HD7i, are fairly bulky and similar in size to a standard flasher unit.

Where the flasher and camera portability comparison starts to diverge is the speed of deployment.  

Nothing beats a flasher for running and gunning.  With a rod in one hand and your flasher in the other, you can jump from hole to hole, simultaneously checking depth and locating fish in seconds.

A camera is a whole different animal.  Hole hopping with a camera involves managing a long cable and orienting the camera to see the surrounding water.  It also won’t establish depth as easily or quickly.  

When it’s time to pack up, flashers stow away neatly in a bucket or their own case.  You only need to coil up the length of cable that was used to lower the transducer below the ice.  A camera, on the other hand, involves retrieving many feet of wet camera cable.  It’s not the end of the world but something to consider none the less. 

Setup and use

There is always a learning curve with any technology.  Flashers and ice fishing cameras are no different.  Of the two, a flasher is going to be the easiest and fastest to setup.

Once you drill a hole in the ice, just drop the flasher transducer down and you are ready to fish.  The default settings on a flasher are generally usable with little need to  adjust for gain or interference.  

After a few trips out on the ice, you’ll be able to setup and dial in your flasher in minutes.  

An underwater camera isn’t overly complicated either but setup is a bit more involved.  You need to start by drilling two holes through the ice.  One for the camera cable and one to fish in.  

With a flasher you can fish in the same hole where you put the transducer down.  It’s easy enough to quickly yank out the transducer after hooking a fish.  No tangles.  

It gets dicey trying to fish in the same hole as a camera cable.  There’s no way you will pull up the entire cable while fighting a fish.  And getting your line wrapped around the cable is unavoidable.  Hence, the second hole.

Controlling the direction your camera points is also a chore to figure out.  Unless of course, you purchase a battery powered camera panner.  The cable hooks to the panner and now you can change the direction of the camera using a remote.  

Actually using the camera is a piece of cake.  Most models just power on and you’re good to go.  There are adjustments for camera angle, lighting, screen views and brightness.  

The only other adjustment you may need to make is the camera distance from your bait.  Depending on water clarity, you may need to drill new holes and redeploy the camera closer or further from the bait.   

Battery life

When it comes to battery life, there’s no comparison.  The battery life with a flasher far out strips what any camera can achieve.  With a 7 or 10 Ah lithium ion battery, flashers will run for well over 20 hours solid.  That’s several days on the ice without worrying about recharging. 

You’ll be lucky to eek a full day on the ice with a camera.  Most cameras get around 4 hours on a similar size battery unless you use the lowest screen brightness.  Then you might get 6-8 hours.  

Some handheld underwater cameras with integrated lithium batteries, like the Marcum Pursuit HD, get around 6 hours of use on a single charge.  Not bad, but that’s as good as it gets for now.  

I’ll admit most of us only go ice fishing for the day and head back to our cozy homes where we can easily recharge our electronics.  Therefore, the limited battery life of a camera is not a big deal.

Need the longest battery life possible out on the ice?   Then get a flasher.

When is a flasher better

When your goal is simply to catch more fish, using a flasher is better than an underwater camera.  Flashers maintain optimum functionality in any water clarity and at the widest range of depths.  No matter what lake you plan to ice fish, a flasher will help you quickly catch more fish.

Here are the situations where a flasher is better than a camera:

  • Low light conditions during prime time bites or night fishing
  • In deep water where cable management is difficult
  • In stained water with decreased visibility
  • When hole hopping
  • When you don’t know what depth fish are suspending at
  • For multi-day trips where battery life matters

If you mostly fish in any of these scenarios, consider buying a flasher before splurging on an underwater camera.

When is a camera better

As instrumental as flashers are to an ice angler’s success, cameras also have a place in your tackle kit.  

When you need to refine your skills and learn how fish respond to your lure presentations, nothing beats a camera.  Only with a camera can you get real-time feed back on fish behavior.  Underwater cameras are also fast becoming essential tools for scouting underwater terrain and vegetation.

Here are the situations where an underwater camera is better than a flasher:

  • When seeing fish behavior and how they interact with your jigs is paramount
  • For light bites that are hard to detect even with a sensitive rod
  • For sheer entertainment that no other electronics can deliver
  • For scouting submerged structure or looking at vegetation growth
  • In clear water where visibility is best
  • When making fishing videos on Youtube

If you plan to do the majority of your ice fishing in the above situations, you will get amazing use from a camera.

Are ice fishing cameras worth it

So, after comparing flashers to cameras, are ice fishing cameras actually worth the money?  

For the average angler, underwater cameras are not worth the expense.  They offer a few perks that flashers don’t but whether or not they improve your success on the ice more than a flasher is debatable.  

Certainly, a quality camera is worth its weight in gold in some situations.  For recording engaging video content, a camera is a must.  When you want to add an unbeatable level of entertainment to the sport, a flasher doesn’t even come close.  And capturing video to show non-anglers why you love to ice fish easily justifies a camera purchase.

We also like a camera for perch fishing. Light bites area challenge to detect even with the most sensitive rod setups. Actually seeing a perch slurp in your bait means you’ll hook up more often and have fewer missed bites.

Do underwater cameras scare fish

This is actually an important topic to cover.  What good is using a camera if it continually costs you fish? 

There is plenty of Youtube footage that debunks the myth of cameras scaring fish.  However, from experience we can say that on occasion, the proximity of the camera changes a fish’s behavior.  

In clear water, you can get the camera far enough away from your bait so it’s not a problem.  Using the 45° down view or straight down angle also helps to keep the camera away from your bait.  

But here is the problem.  These cameras utilize a fairly wide angle view which means anything further away than a few feet, such as your bait, looks miniscule.  In slightly tinged water this fact is further exacerbated.  You therefore need the camera even closer to make out your jig on screen.

In most cases, the camera needs to be within 3-6 feet of your jig or bait for the best visual.  In clear water, it is possible to move the camera further away.

Perch, crappie and bluegill easily adjust to the presence of a nearby camera.  Trophy trout and finicky walleye may not.  There is no real way to measure the affect a camera has on your hookup ratio.  Just keep in mind that you may be giving up a few extra bites for the opportunity to film.

Side by side comparison

Now let’s put it all together in a concise summary of features.  Flashers and cameras are both exceptionally useful to ice anglers but only one will check off all the boxes for you.  Take a look at the comparison chart below.

FeaturesIce Fishing FlasherUnderwater Camera
Budget cost$300-$400$200-$300
Mid-range cost$375-$550$350-$600
Top end cost$600-$800$1000+
PortabilityExcellentGood
Ease of setupEasyTime consuming
Ease of useTakes practice but easy to masterRequires fine movements to adjust camera (Need camera panner)
Battery life Well over 20 hoursLess than 10 hours
Water clarity useAll water clarityClear or slightly stained
Working depth2-300+ feetLess than 60 feet
Depth measurement YesOnly on mid to high grade units
Bite detectionWatch your rod tipReal-time view
Fish behavior interpretationSome fish movement can be interpreted with experienceReal-time view
Open water versatilitySpecifically for iceAll season application

If you can only choose one

Sure, we all want to own the best flasher and our very own camera but it’s not always feasible.  Although, if you could only pick one, which should it be?  A flasher or a camera?

Out on the ice, a camera can never replace the utility of a flasher.  From a fish catching perspective, a flasher is all you need.  An underwater camera is entertaining but too limited.  So, if you are trying to choose between a flasher and a camera, fork up the dough for a good flasher instead. 

Best ice fishing camera and why we picked it

If there is one underwater camera that can satisfy all the needs of most ice anglers, it’s the Marcum Pursuit HD.  Even if you decide a flasher is the better option, this camera is worth considering.

It’s our number one choice in underwater camera technology and here’s why we love it.

Marcum Pursuit HD

Quite simply, the Marcum Pursuit HD perfectly balances superb image quality, portability, battery life and a convenient integrated video recording system.  All in a tidy package.  

We have yet to find a similar camera of this caliber for the price.  At under $600, our decision was easy.  

It’s 5” high definition screen provides easy viewing and on-screen display of depth, camera direction, water temperature and battery status are a nice touch.  Included is 50 feet of camera cable on an attached cord reel.  All of which fits in a soft sided carry case.

By far, the best feature of the Pursuit HD is its ability to record HD video.  Marcum has made it about as easy as it gets to record awesome footage.  Your video captures are saved to a Micro SD card up to 128GB (not included).  Aqua-Vu cameras still require a separate DVR purchase to record underwater video.  

In order to simplify cable management, consider buying the camera panner as well.  It’s a worth while addition to this kit.

Check out the Marcum Pursuit HD on Amazon.

Sonar vs Flasher vs Underwater Camera

Sonar units for ice fishing are fast becoming a popular alternative to the flasher.  Units like the Humminbird Ice Helix 5 or 7, have real-time sonar screens with a scrolling history.  They also have responsive flasher modes while incorporating GPS and mapping.  It’s really the most versatile unit on the ice.

Comparing sonar to underwater cameras falls in line with the flasher versus camera comparison.  Sonar wins our vote as the more useful of the two.  You will catch more fish with sonar than you would with a camera.

It’s deciding between a flasher or sonar that is the more important question.  Luckily for you, we have put together the most thorough flasher versus sonar comparison out there.  Make sure you are getting the best ice fishing electronics for your money and check out our article.