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Vexilar FL-8 SE Review – Are Flashers Still Relevant in 2021?

Humminbird Helix and Vexilar FL-8 SE

My Dad has had a Vexilar FL-8 SE on the shelf in his garage since I was just a kid. Growing up, I had no idea how to use it, so I never did. Once I started ice fishing again as an adult, I quickly realized the value that a flasher held in my ice fishing arsenal. After I collected the basics, such as rods, an auger, and a tent, I knew my next purchase would be some sort of flasher. 

My first flasher was a Humminbird Ice 35, I enjoyed using a lot and it made a huge difference in not only how I fished but my enjoyment of the sport. The biggest difference was that I could actually see how fish reacted, or didn’t react, to my presentations. It was a mind blowing revelation. Later that same season I received a Lowrance ice unit with an LCD display. I found the square display to be more intuitive to read and the side scrolling sonar history was a big benefit to fine tuning my jig cadence. Needless to say, my Ice 35 started to gather dust. Since I wasn’t using the Ice 35 anymore, I sold it.

For the last few years I’ve been running my Lowrance and Humminbird LCD fish finders on the ice. While I appreciate the newest technology like Autochart Live and Chirp sonar, for some reason I find that I miss my old flasher. So this season, I dug my Dad’s Vexilar out of the shed and pressed it into service once again.

Vexilar FL-8 SE Review

I’ve used the Vexilar for a couple months now and I’ve also had the chance to let some friends test drive it as well. The Vexilar FL-8 is an excellent flasher. The settings are basic, but that makes this unit very easy to use. There are 6 depth ranges to choose from (20-120 feet), gain adjustment, and interference rejection. Three LED colours are used in the display, red for strongest sonar return, yellow for medium and green for weakest return. Peak power is rated at 400W and, at the shallowest depth setting, the unit has a minimum target separation of 2.5 inches. That target separation isn’t great by todays standards, my Helix Chirp sonar boasts 3/4 inch target separation, but it gets the job done 100% of the time. One of the best things about flashers such as these is that it just sips power. The FL-8 is rated to draw 275mA, which means your standard 7aH battery will probably last all season! (Joking of course, but it’ll last a long time) After using it for the past couple months, my only complaint would be the fact that it can’t zoom in on a section of the water column, a common feature found in other flashers. I primarily use the Vexilar for hole hopping because its so light and durable, and as a second flasher for when I have company because it’s easy to understand. I find the simplicity of a flasher like the Vexilar FL-8 SE very refreshing to use and by trimming away the fluff, I can better focus on the task at hand.

All that being said, I love my tech, and flasher technology really hasn’t changed since the 60’s. With the plethora of advanced technology available in today’s fish finders, do the old-school flashers still have a place in the world?

Analog Flashers

A lot of people yearn for a simpler time. Case in point – vinyl record sales surpassed CD sales for the first time in 34 years in 2020. And not unlike vinyl, analog flashers have a similar tactile feel. Flick the unit on and the display spins and lights up with a mechanical whir. Bulky knobs are used to fine tune the gain and buttons push in with a satisfying click. Using a mechanical flasher such as a Vexilar or Marcum is a delight to the senses. Couple that feeling with hefty and robust build quality as well as untold longevity, and it’s easy to see why people still buy new flashers today. 

Digital Fish Finders

Fish finding technology has come a long way. Even in the last five years we have seen an explosion in fish finder advancements. There are new LCD displays that don’t lag in the cold, precise chirp sonar for unrivalled target separation, built in mapping and GPS, new high frequency imaging technology now lets you identify fish from distances up to 200 feet in any direction you point it. I really like using the latest technology, but with prices for the newest tech also exploding, I have to ask if we really need all of it?

If you’re in the market for a new fish finder I’m sure you’re doing your research. That’s likely how you found this article! Unfortunately, every buying guide you read will likely not offer much clarity because they all say the same thing – it depends. It depends on what kind of person you are (tech savvy), how much money you have to spend, and how much you will use all the features. I can’t pretend to say much different though, after all, spending that kind of money is a personal decision. But if the question is should you buy a flasher or an LCD fish finder, I do think you can boil your buying decision down to one big question:

How much do you want to fuss with your fish finder?

You, the user, will have to dedicate some time to learning how to use your new flasher. Each and every advanced feature on your new fish finder means more time has to be spent in learning how it works.

A flasher is as basic as ice fishing sonars get. I can pull it out of my sled, drop the transducer in the water, turn the unit on, and see the bottom in less than 5 seconds. It honestly takes longer to get my lure in the water. A flasher also reveals all the important details too, such as how deep the water is, is the bottom hard or soft, where my lure is and how far it is off the bottom, and most importantly, I can see that fish swim up to it.

My Helix, on the other hand, takes significantly more time and energy to use. Once I hit the power button, there’s startup time and warning screens to key through. Once thats done the unit has to send power to the transducer before it will populate the screen with a readout. Even after all that, I won’t have a GPS fix on my location yet.

Once my Helix is up and running it’s definitely a powerful tool. The target separation that chirp provides is amazing, if you have multiple fish at your lure you can see each of them instead of one big blob. I’ll also never go ice fishing again without the ability to drop waypoints or create maps as I go. These are powerful features, and they are worth learning if you know you want to use them.

The advanced features of modern fish finders are great, but they can, and usually do, get in the way of actually catching fishing. I’m guilty of spending way too much time messing with settings and flipping through menus only to have fish come up, bite my lure, then swim away without me noticing.

Don’t get me wrong, I live for the new tech, but I’ve dedicated a significant amount of time to learning how everything works. Not everyone is going to be so patient or even have need of all the features available on modern fish finder units. If you are looking at buying a new fish finder or flasher, my advice would be to carefully consider each feature, and really think about if you will use it. If not, flashers definitely keep it simple.

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