Deeper Smart Sonar Pro+ shown with optional smartphone mount and optional translucent orange cover for night time fishing.
Ice fishing without sonar is almost like shooting in the dark. I have used a Vexilar sonar unit for over 10 years. I can hardly think of fishing blindly through the ice, as even when the fish aren't biting, at least you can see them on sonar. Recently smaller and more portable sonar units have come out that make use of your phone's display for the flasher/graph. I wanted to put one of those to the test, back-to-back with my Vexilar. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to compare my new Deeper Smart Sonar Pro+ with the old trusty Vexilar.
The Deeper sonar comes with a USB charging cord, a standard black plastic cap (more on that later), and a very handy neoprene carrying case which can be affixed to the outside of your ice fishing suit for convenient transportation. I could hardly wait for the Deeper unit to finish charging as "last ice" was quickly melting on my favorite local lake.
It was time to get down to business.
After drilling a few holes, I marked some fish. As you can see from the picture, there is very little difference between where the Vexilar and the Deeper marked the fish and the jig. I was using a very small jig so I the gain turned up on both units and had to fight a fair amount of interference to get some good back to back comparisons.
Placement of the transducer
The familiar Vexilar transducer is held to a fixed depth in the hole with a float. The Deeper transducer floats in the water at the top of the hole. If you have ice that is 2' thick this might pose a problem for the Deeper, however I was unable to verify this as the ice was only 6" thick when I did my testing. The Deeper does have a 15 degree transducer mode so with a large enough hole this likely won't be a problem. The plus side for the Deeper is that there are no pesky wires to get your hook, line, or fish tangled with. No need to quickly pull the transducer out of the water when a fish is on.
The Deeper claims to work down to 260ft. I was unable to verify this on the lake I was fishing. The Vexilar FL-18 works down to 200ft. The really nice thing about the Deeper is that since its display on the phone is totally dynamic, it is able to auto-range and there is no need to do multiplication to figure out the displayed marks.
Those of us who have used Vexilars have come to appreciate the immediacy of their response without delays in the response. I found the Deeper's response time to be very acceptable. You can see this demonstrated in the video below. Note the reflection of my rod tip in the display. The Deeper delay was 1 second at the most.
While I did not test the Deeper until its battery was exhausted, it seemed to endure the several hours of usage with minimal battery usage however the ambient temperature was on the warm side for ice fishing. Since the battery is contained in the transducer/float of the deeper it is at a major disadvantage to the much larger battery in the Vexilar. Battery replacement is easy with the Vex but the Deeper must be sent in for this (Deeper claims a 300 full-charge cycle life). Since the Deeper automatically turns itself off when out of the water when hole hopping, this will help.
Vexilar has long had an "Auto Zoom" feature which allows you to split the screen with one side showing the entire water column and the other side showing the bottom 6 feet. The Deeper not only matches this but does one better by allowing you to determine exactly what part of the water column you wish to zoom in on (not limited to the bottom 6 feet). This would be very valuable when fish are suspended off the bottom.
Demonstration of the Deeper zoom capability allowing for zoom anywhere in the water column.
Display and Apps
Well there is really no comparison here. The Vexilar is stuck with its fixed display. By contrast since the Deeper's display is driven by an app, it is only limited by the app and the device the app is hosted on. This means it is virtually limitless. The next time I fish with the Deeper, I really want to take my iPad along for the ultimate display!
While I wasn't planning on reviewing the Deeper app itself, I found its features so compelling that I would be remiss not to go through them. The app has a whole host of features including downloadable lake maps for offline use, and the ability to record notes and take pictures associated with each location (determined by Deeper's on-board GPS, or your phone's GPS with other Deeper models) where Deeper was deployed. The Deeper app automatically notes each hole fished as the float knows when it is deployed in water and automatically starts recording the history. The entire history from the full day's session of fishing can replayed later. You can see my jig being reeled to the top of the hole from one of the recordings made during the day in the screen shot below! The calendar feature is also very handy as it shows the lunar phases many anglers like to reference.
Features only on the Deeper
With the Wifi version of the Deeper the range between the floating transducer and the phone is VERY good (Deeper claims 330 ft, and from what I was able to observe this is likely accurate). This is to support casting the Deeper unit with a fishing pole in the summer to take remote readings of structure and fish in the Boat or Standard mode. This could also be applied in the winter while ice fishing allowing you to deploy the Deeper on a remote hole with a tip up while watching the action from a heated shanty up to a couple hundred feet away.
There is also a translucent cover available for the Deeper which I tested. This allows you to put the float in a "night fishing" mode which periodically lights up the translucent cover for a good visual of where the float is located. The folks at Deeper seem to have thought of everything.
There is also an available rigid clamp-on arm to attach the Deeper to a float boat or Kayak in the summer for the soft water. Of course the Boat and Standard modes of the app mimic a "fishfinder" type display. Can't wait to try this out when it gets warmer.
Overall I found the Deeper to be very capable sonar unit which more than held it's own against my tried and true Vexilar. So much so that I will be inclined to leave the Vex behind and travel lighter with the Deeper sonar unit.