Major breakthrough in ice lures resonates with sonar users
Nearly thirty years ago, ice fishermen started toying with a newfangled type of portable electronic device. At once, the formerly unknown factors of depth, fish presence and bottom content were revealed. What’s more, anglers were transfixed by the sight of their lure dancing on little neon-lit dials—direct reflections of the jigging motions of their rod. Soon, these “flasher” sonar units would transform a previously lackluster wintertime pursuit into an engrossing, interactive ice fishing event.
Today, of course, anglers take for granted that they’re able to observe on screen a precise representation of the action below. Indeed, the stationary fishing platform of frozen water yields the ultimate in visual, hands-on fishing. You see the depth along with the lake bottom; you see your lure in context; and eventually, you see the fish as they respond (or fail to respond) to your presentation. It’s like a sight-fishing video game.
Clearly, no single tool has been more instrumental in creating a generation of highly skilled ice anglers than the portable flasher unit. Like any pursuit, however, advancing the skill level of its practitioners requires new technologies—better tools for improving our efficiency in the field.
As a new ice season approaches, such a technology has emerged. Last winter, a select group of ice insiders were chosen to quietly test the final versions of a truly unique new category of ice lure. The results were groundbreaking. The concept, in fact, is a first in the realm of fishing—that is, a lure specifically constructed to bounce back a solid, vivid signal to a flasher-sonar unit. Fittingly, as it turned out, the new design had long resided within the minds of two of North America’s brightest sonar engineers.
To explain the theory behind the technology, designer Duane Cummings talks about the science of antenna theory. “When engineers designed the first concave satellite dishes,” says Cummings, “they drew on the precepts of antenna theory to build a reflective surface that most efficiently gathered electromagnetic waves. Essentially, we used these same concepts while engineering the new lure.”
Shortly after developing the MarCum line of flasher sonar units, Cummings, along with colleague and fellow engineer Ray Marzean, started playing with the idea of a “flasher-friendly” ice jig. Skilled ice anglers themselves, the duo soon began concepting body shapes, and tracing CAD drawings of what three years later would become Northland’s new Hexi Fly® jig.
Cummings continues: “Using a design model called Quarter Wave technology, we knew that to get maximum target return from a tiny panfish jig, we’d need to give it a reflective surface that matched the transmit frequency of most flasher-sonar units. Anglers who used the Hexi Fly® last winter immediately noticed its flat, slightly concave body. Some told us it resembled a satellite dish, which is, of course, no accident. We created the jig with a reflective surface and shape that sonar really likes—one that really pings the transducer.”
In fact, Cummings reports, the jig’s specially engineered surface contour reflects a “quarter wave-length signal that hits the sonar’s transducer with twice the intensity of similar sized jigs.” On the ice, an angler using this design will notice a marked improvement in their flasher’s ability to return a sharp, consistent lure signal. Given its sound basis in sonar engineering (this is no gimmick) the Hexi Fly® is a design and concept likely to be mimicked by other manufacturers in the near future. Beyond its practical applications with sonar, however, the most important question remained: What would the fish think?
“What really surprised me about using the Hexi Fly® last winter,” says ice fishing veteran Steve Hanson, “was its built-in action. When I first received prototypes, I was told to observe my sonar’s ability to read the bait at different depths, with lower gain settings, and also within dense weedbeds. No question, the jig gave off a really strong, consistent signal on my MarCum LX-5, especially given its tiny size.
“But what was particularly interesting to me was its swimming, fluttering action on the upstroke and fall. The lure’s flat, concave body deflects water, making it wobble sideways from the hole when you jig it and let it fall back. Just like a Jigging Rapala, anytime you can get extra horizontal coverage from your ice lure, that’s a big plus for attracting attention from fish—especially wandering bluegills and crappies.”
Hanson also reports that he scored best by dressing the lure with a micro softbait. Best plastics included the Slug Bug® and Bloodworm® from Northland’s Bro’s Bug Collection. “Clip the tails back, so you’re just left with a thin sliver of plastic,” says Hanson. “Thread it carefully onto the jig so the whole package hangs perfectly straight and horizontal. Jiggling the bait in place makes the little tail writhe and quiver, while the body of the jig quakes back and forth with a subtle cam action. It’s a beautiful combination—something I’ve never seen in an ice jig. Honestly, I don’t think the Hexi was designed with retrieve action in mind, but it’s a nice side benefit of the sonar-friendly shape. Panfish respond really well to this thing.”
Lifelike lure actions aside, the most striking facet of Quarter Wave technology is that it allows anglers to maximize flasher performance on the ice. “Because this jig returns such a strong return signal, you’re able to tune down the gain on a unit like a MarCum LX-5 and still clearly read the bait,” instructs Cummings.
“A reduced gain setting yields at least three positive results, as they relate to fishing,” Cummings continues. “For one, it means better target separation. With less gain, fish, lures and even bottom come through less distorted, more crisp. This means each target reads more distinctly, and less cluttered together. Second, it improves your IR (interference rejection) function. This means you can fish effectively close to other anglers, who are also using flashers. With less gain, the unit can more efficiently filter out noise from competing units.
“Finally, you’ll be able to fish in dense vegetation or other cover without losing sight of your jig within a cluster of signals. This has historically been a big issue with panfish anglers, and it’s one of the major reasons I’m so excited about this new technology. You can dial down the gain, eliminate the weeds, and still clearly see your jig, as well as fish targets, each as distinct signals. Particularly in shallow water, anglers will immediately appreciate how much more effective they’ll become. It’s a pretty big leap forward for flasher-ice fishing applications.”