D. Meyer Asks:
Joel – I met you in Blaine at the show. I know I want a Marcum for winter fishing, which is best?
Thanks for the question.
While I’m guessing you didn’t mean to open a can of worms here, you did, but it’s a good thing! I’ve been meaning to do this for some time. On Facebook groups and at all of the shows I’ve attended in person this year, “Which Marcum Should I Buy” could be the most common question I’ve seen and heard. The answer is easy of course - it depends - on a number of factors, but we can do better than that.
Below I’ll do my best to describe a number of fishing styles and budgets to hopefully help you narrow it down:
The Hole Hopper – Personally, this is my style of fishing, but I’m not always punching holes and running around the ice. When I am, mobility and ease of use is key. I want something without a ton of settings, that has a great range of features but won’t get in my way or be difficult to tune in with gloved hands. The Marcum M5 on a Lithium Shuttle is the hole-hopper supreme. The M5 has adjustable zoom anywhere in the water column, which I set for the depth I’m fishing, and forget. It’s compact head and lightweight lithium ion frame make it the most sleek and quick fishing unit I own. If popping and dropping is all you do, the Lithium M5 is your unit. I will concede the the Lithium LX6 is another great option, especially if you’re married to the LCD display.
Inside and Outside Both– So often I’m going back and forth between a wheelhouse and/or portable, and the open ice. I want something that serves both needs without leaving me wishing I had more features and options once I’m inside, warm, and gloveless. That’s where the LCD display on the LX7 is really nice. Adjustable brightness display is great for later evenings, and the screen size on a 7 is phenomenal.
I’m able to customize my screen left to right from scrolling graph, circular dial mode, and the bottom zoom. I watch the main dial for fish 75% of the time, occasionally glancing at the historical scrolling graph to make sure I didn’t glance away and miss them on the main dial. Most of the rest of the time, I’m watching fish close on the vertical zoom bar on the far right. It offers the most resolution and best odds of playing your cards right for spooky panfish or fickle ‘eyes.
To Lithium or not, that is the question. If you do a bunch of hole hopping and a little bit of sitting, opt for the Lithum LX7. If you’re primarily sitting and only doing a bit of hole hopping, save some cash, get the LX-7 in the soft pack, and you can always add a lithium battery to it later.
All the Nuts and Bolts – If you want a do-everything unit, the best option is an RT-9. While the price point may have scared folks away at first, prices are coming down and the physical feature set of these are pretty incredible. GPS, sonar (multiple ducers if interested), and camera can be mounted to the back of these to serve as a wheelhouse command center. Integrated GPS mapping, enhanced with an optional Navionics card, allows you to RAM mount one of these to the dash of your truck, or the wall of your wheelhouse. Nothing else on the market will do what this unit can, and though it’s a niche product, pricing decreases have made it much more competitive a unit in the space.
Back to the Basics – If you’re satisfied with a circular display unit in a softpack, and want to protect the budget a bit – the M5 and M3 are incredible units. I think it’s important to remember that as recently as a few years ago, these were the pinnacle of sonar performance, target separation, and fish finding capability. Not to mention, they’re of the few ice electronics packages these days that still are offered in a softpack, which is an important consideration to many folks. Choose the M3 if you fish primarily featureless soft bottom lakes and don’t fish near many people, and the M5 with it’s switchable ducer for $100 more if you’re always fishing sharp breaks or tight to a buddy. Switching to the narrow cone will alleviate sonar shadow on steep drop-offs, and unit interference from nearby ice electronics.
Of course, if you could always get these offerings in a Lithium Combo, as both the M3 Lithium Combo and the M5 Lithium Combo feature the Lithium Shuttle (also sold separately) with extended run-time, incredible lightweight, and a host of other features. This category is the biggest, and really allows the consumer the most flexibility.
Entry Level, Youth, and Back-up– For just over $300, you can get a Marcum entry-level unit that exceeds the limits of all competitor starter setups. The M1 has bottom zoom, a softpack, and best in price class 2” target separation, meaning you don’t have to feel like you’re sacrificing quality to back off of price. I own a few of these, and they’re simple to operate, which means they’re great for my kids or first time anglers.
Also, don’t feel bad if this is the unit you prefer! The previous iteration of this unit was the VX-1, and I used it to really clean up on Red Lake walleyes back in the day. I appreciate features in more advanced units, but I also don’t feel handicapped having one of these along for the ride.
I always tell people that when it comes to ice electronics, especially these days, it’s hard to go wrong. Consider them an investment in your fish catching and fun, and an investment that’s easily recouped. Provided you buy them right, worst-case scenario, you’re selling a 1-year old unit on the used market during peak season the following year, and you lose $100. That’s the cheapest 1-year Marcum rental you’ll find anywhere, and is testament to the fact that these things hold their value. Especially the basic versions.
So be honest in evaluating yourself and how you fish, then take these recommendations to heart. I’ve fished with literally dozens and dozens of models of Marcums over the years, and this advice comes with myself, friends, family, and fellow ice-anglers in mind.