It’s cold this week. I noticed this morning as I walked my dog and the wind was biting through my less-than-optimal layers. This is the kind of transition that drives many of us nuts – just a bit too cold for most to go fishing. I say most, because I know there will be some of you die-hards out there today that are too stubborn (or smart) to stay in. I suppose I’d rather be there with you, but for now I am indoors working and can’t help but admit, thinking about ice fishing.
The local ponds are far from freezing. The bitterness of today’ weather had me wishing I’d drive by some iced-up waters, but when I passed by, they’re still just as wet as normal. I used to consider this time of year a time for rest – when I wouldn’t press so much to get out fishing and was content tying flies and working. Then I picked up on the ice fishing thing and I haven’t looked back.
Each year it gets worse (or better) and I delve a little deeper, getting more gear, doing more prep. This year I am in the market for a new ice fishing sled (suggestions appreciated) and better boots. Last year I got new electronics for my boat and rigged a backpack so I could take it on the ice – a setup I truly love. I am happy with my hand auger, and the rest of the not-so-high-end ice gear. What I need more of, though, is knowledge of the waters I tend to fish most.
So I’ve been doing some of that research, thanks to a cool little tool I caught wind of this summer. Some of the ponds I ice fish don’t allow boats, meaning I cannot do any meaningful sub-surface mapping with my trusted boat fishfinder. And without good info on the lakes I am fishing, I get antsy. I am one of those guys you’ll see drilling hole after hole, moving quickly, and experimenting to find drop-offs, structure, weed-edges, etc. I am not content sitting in one spot just waiting for fish to swim by. Therefore, getting to know a lake’s bottom is essential for the sake of my arms and the patient fishing partners who get left behind.
In comes Deeper Smart Sonar PRO+
. It is my new toy this year and comes awfully close to being exactly what I was hoping for in my quest for research. I met Deeper at ICAST and they sent me two to check out. This PRO+ unit is a shoreline-castable transducer that has one feature separating it from other units – on-board GPS. With the GPS built in, you can cast it out, reel it in, spot structure, baitfish, and cover… and make maps while you’re doing it. The unit transmits its readings to your phone via wifi, meaning you can cast it a long way and it does just fine (up to 330ft according to their site).
So, I’ve taken it out to a couple of local ponds recently and started exploring. Right out of the box, it took me a bit to get used to the setup. You can use the transducer on a boat, on the ice, or reel it in from shore – there are settings and connections for each of those. You can switch from basic view to advanced view and change the cone from wide to narrow. I got that figured out and my second time out was much easier. (The important thing if you want to map: in Settings, set the “Sonar Mode” to “Onshore GPS Mode”- this will start tracking your casts and making maps.)
I learned that when I cast, I need to wait several seconds while the unit rests and the app catches up to the GPS signal. Once the icon on the map stops moving, and the GPS signal icon turns green, I slowly retrieve. The maps and the sonar readings appear real-time on my phone, which is a bit tricky to handle when both hands are committed to the rod and reel. It looks like they sell a rod-mounted phone holder which I should probably one next year.
I stay in one spot and cast a few different angles to cover water before moving a bit further down shore and repeat. The bottom contour map draws in real-time in the phone app as you go.
Every once in a while I had disconnection issues and fumbled around trying to get it back. I learned to turn my phone to airplane mode, enable wifi and reconnect – that seemed to help. But not great when your wife is trying to call (could be a benefit for some?) On one visit to the pond, the GPS was completely wayward from when I had recorded a week earlier. I casted out, the GPS signal turned green, but the unit icon was showing it was behind me and across the street. I disconnected, reconnected, shut down the app, and did everything I could think of but the GPS was still not right. I believe the issue had to do with heavy overcast skies. Next time out, it synched fine with my previous outings.
The unit is a bit heavier than it appears, topping out at about 3.5 ounces. Think giant muskie bait. The heavy spinning rod I used at first wasn’t quite the match, but it worked well enough. I decided to take my muskie rod out on subsequent trips - this works a lot better. Using 65-pound braid makes it a bit more comforting when throwing a $240 “lure”. (Note to self: Try to figure out a way to put my phone # on it so I can get it back if it flies off! Note to reader: it floats.) I can chuck this thing pretty good now and haven’t noticed any difference with the signal.
The deepest part I’ve found on my main test pond is just over 8 feet, which doesn’t make for terribly interesting contours. But the little things matter. There have been subtle depth changes worth noting. And more importantly I’ve found brush and other sorts of interesting sub-surface characteristics that are worth revisiting this ice season. They show up in the “replays” I can see in Deeper’s web app.
The maps you create and data you’ve logged can be uploaded privately to Deeper’s mapping web app called Lakebook. In Lakebook, not only can you review your maps, but you can view all the sonar recordings you’ve made. Using these, I have gone back through my casts watching for anything interesting. What is lacking at this point is the ability to mark the maps. So instead, I’ve resorted to getting the coordinates of the spots - which can be obtained by clicking on the map, and manually entering them into my fishfinder.
For what I want to do, this unit is nearly perfect. Resolve some of the connection issues (wifi and GPS) and make the mapping app a bit more applicable to marking and transferring waypoints for later use, and this is about as useful of a tool as I can find. In talking with the Deeper folks, I understand they are working on things like this – and I feel assured they live up to their word.
Deeper offers two other units, which don’t really fit my needs for this kind of “work”, but are nonetheless high-quality. Both look to have great technology, minus the GPS, and are great if all you need is affordable and transportable sonar data from shore, boat or ice.
Here’s the kicker. When I finally get to trod onto hard water, I now have a very capable second fishfinder to take out on the ice with me. My son or friends can use it, or I can set it up on a second rod hole and watch my phone from a distance. It is light for carrying (hello hiking trips) and powerful enough for some deep lakers this winter (they say it is good to 260ft deep… I’ll let you know later this winter!)
You may see someone up in Fort Collins hurling a big black ball around the local ponds and staring at their phone this fall. If you do, come say hi and I’ll show you what I’m doing. I may not be able to cover the entire pond, but what I do cover will help tremendously once I’m able to walk out on that slab of ice – and pe