Ice anglers lean heavily on sonar to relay relevant news and information from the underwater world. Watch closely and your display’s colorful flickers and flashes will tell you plenty about cover, structure, the mood of the fish and more.
While sonar has been a staple of the hardwater trade since the early days of the Ice Fishing Revolution, the recent arrival of cutting-edge CHIRP acoustic technology has added an exciting twist to this time-honored tool. Short for “compressed high-intensity radar pulse,” it uses long-duration ‘chirps’ to sweep a wide range of frequencies. “This new way of sounding takes sensitivity, resolution and target separation to such new heights, it has actually changed the way I fish in the winter,” reports veteran guide and decorated tournament ace Scott Glorvigen.
One of the biggest gains, he explains, is the ability to see fish like never before. “Target separation is so good, you can pick out predators holding within a ball of baitfish, and even identify individual fish within a large school,” he says. “For example, when a big cloud of crappies or bluegills rolls in, CHIRP allows you to separate them all out, and even zero in on the largest fish in the group. Or if you’re looking at a school of juvenile perch, the individual baitfish show up as tiny lines, while walleyes holding within or just below the school are represented by thicker returns. Traditional sonar can’t come close to revealing that much detail.”
By revealing all fish in a group, CHIRP allows anglers to confidently and effectively present baits within the school. “Most of the time, people fish above a school because they can’t see their jig if they drop it into the fish,” says Glorvigen. “CHIRP lets me see the jig throughout the entire school, and position it slightly above the biggest fish, even when that fish is moving up or down within the group.”
He notes that in most cases, attacks are best launched from above the school, to avoid spooking and scattering its members while plucking a schoolmate from their midst. But when small fish dominate the upper layer of the group, being able to effectively work deep into the crowd can produce big fish other anglers can’t touch.
Lowrance territory manager and avid iceman Dan McGannon, who’s put the technology through its paces on the company’s new HDS Gen3 units, also notes that CHIRP identifies fish tucked tight to bottom. “While walleye fishing on Minnesota’s Mille Lacs Lake, I was able to pick out fish tighter to bottom and separate between individual low-riding fish better than traditional broadband sonar,” he says.
Another plus, Glorvigen adds, is that CHIRP makes it possible to predict the species of fish that appear on your display with surprising accuracy. “Line width largely reflects fish size, but if you couple that with subtle details such as how a fish moves and the margins of its return, you can begin to see the difference between sunfish and crappies or perch, and tell walleyes from pike or bass,” he explains.
In a similar vein, CHIRP reveals much about a fish’s mood, as well as how it responds to various jig strokes. “On a scrolling display, traditional sonar provides a great history of how quickly a fish moves through the water column and how it reacts to different jigging cadences,” he says. “CHIRP paints an even clearer picture of the fish’s attitude and reactions to the subtlest tweaks in your presentation.”
If you often fish near other anglers, you’ll also appreciate CHIRP’s resistance to interference. “You can fish with a buddy in the same portable and not be bothered by their sonar signals causing unexpected blips or vertical bars going across your screen,” says Glorvigen.
The secret to CHIRP is its ability to scan the world beneath the ice with long-duration sonar pulses that sweep a wide range of frequencies, typically from around 50 to 83 kHz all the way up to 200 kHz.
“These broad-spectrum, high-power beams yield much better detail than standard sonar, which relies on shorter bursts of single-frequency sound,” Glorvigen explains. “You don’t have to tweak settings as often as conventional sonar, and you can even set the unit for low, medium or high signal ranges, to fit the conditions or your personal taste.”
CHIRP technology is compatible with standard Lowrance transducers for the company’s Elite CHIRP and HDS Gen3 series. On units equipped with Broadband Sounder, StructureScan HD and DownScan Imaging, you can even use multiple windows to view returns from the different systems simultaneously.
“Coupled with user-friendly operation, these units make it easy to take advantage of everything CHIRP has to offer, and put this exciting new technology to work the first time you try it,” Glorvigen adds. “Whether you use it to put more fish on the ice or find more fish on open water, CHIRP gives you a distinct advantage.”