GRAND FORKS -- I was crappie fishing on Cutfoot Sioux Lake in northern Minnesota the first time I ever tried a Vexilar FL-8 flasher.
That was way back in the early ’90s, and I was absolutely blown away by the flasher unit’s ability to show me -- in shades of green, orange and red -- what was going on below the surface. Especially impressive was the ability to “see” suspended crappies I never would have caught if the reddish-colored blips on the depthfinder screen hadn’t betrayed their whereabouts in the water column.
I bought one as soon as I got back to Grand Forks.
I graduated to a Vexilar FL-18 a few years later, and it’s been my go-to ice fishing depth finder for the past 20 years or so. Besides an “interference reduction” feature that allows me to run the unit in the same fish house as other electronics, the FL-18 has a zoom function that highlights the bottom 6 feet of the water column.
My FL-18 is old technology by today’s standards, but I can’t imagine going ice fishing without it.
There have been numerous developments in fishing electronics since I got my FL-18 -- underwater cameras, side imaging and brighter screens among them -- but nothing has caught my attention in recent years like the Garmin Panoptix LiveScope technology that’s now on the market.
I’m not an expert in electronics so I won’t even try to explain what’s going on to deliver the imagery that appears on the screen. But in lay terms, watching the screen on a Panoptix unit reminds me of a cross between an ultrasound machine and an underwater camera.
Fish actually look like fish on the screen, and they move -- or respond to a bait or lure -- in real time, but they also have kind of a ghostly appearance.
Eerie, perhaps, but also really cool.
Aaron Wiebe of the “Uncut Angling” fishing show has the best demonstration I’ve seen of Panoptix technology put to practical use in a video segment published Nov. 15 on his YouTube channel.
In the segment, Wiebe and his dad use Panoptix to jig for muskies during a fall fishing trip to Flag Island Resort on the Northwest Angle of Lake of the Woods. Fishing in Ontario waters, they catch multiple muskies up to 44 inches by watching the Panoptix screen, which is highlighted in Wiebe’s footage along with video of what’s happening in the boat.
You can see clouds of baitfish, you can see their lures and you can see the elongated shapes of muskies responding to the lures.
The “wow” factor is undeniable.
Wiebe, a young Manitoba angler who’s made a name for himself in recent years, hands-down has the most entertaining fishing content I’ve ever seen, and the Panoptix segment is just one example. Besides having a colorful personality -- actually, that’s an understatement -- Wiebe has a knack for explaining what he’s doing on the water or on the ice and why he’s fishing the way he is.
His fishing knowledge is without question, but at the same time, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. No wonder his Panoptix muskie clip has been viewed nearly 140,000 times. You can see it for yourself by going to YouTube and searching for Uncut Angling.
I’d highly recommend checking out and subscribing to his YouTube channel.
As for Panoptix, at a price tag of nearly $2,000 for the ice fishing unit, I’m not ready to take the plunge, but I have no doubt it’s going to catch on among the more hard-core anglers with the financial means to make the investment.
A friend who’s gained a reputation as a bit of a “pork-and-beaner” for his thrifty tendencies on fishing trips actually surprised those of us who know and fish with him a few weeks ago, when he purchased a Panoptix ice unit.
I haven’t heard if he’s had a chance to put it to the test yet, but he’ll be part of a crew I’m joining for a snowmobile-ice fishing trip to Oak Island on Lake of the Woods later this winter. Whether he’ll let the rest of us commandeer the unit for a few hours remains to be seen -- I’m not holding my breath -- but I certainly plan to look over his shoulder once or twice to see how the Panoptix works on Lake of the Woods walleyes and saugers.
Will it catch more fish than our older technology?
Time will tell.