Fishermen have been using light to help them catch fish after dark for eons. Carrying torches by hand or fitting them to the bow to allow the open flame to illuminate the water below to attract baitfish and gamefish is a primitive angling method that is still used by subsistence fishermen in some areas of the world—and isn’t too far a cry from the gas or kerosene lanterns that are still popular among fishermen today as after-dark fishing devices. Lanterns and electric lights are suspended just over the water from docks or boats to allow their glow to attract flying bugs and baitfish—and the gamefish that follow—by anglers around the world.
By placing the lights directly atop—or under—the water, anglers eliminate the annoying flying insect factor topside (bugs, which some fishermen argue actually helps the fishing) while containing the alluring glow to the depths. Whether cast from above or generated from below the waterline, the artificial light attracts microscopic phytoplankton, followed by zooplankton and the baitfish that feed on both. If there are larger predator fish in the area, they will follow the baitfish and end up within casting range of the lighted area.
LEDs For All
Boat anglers have used everything from automobile headlamps floating in Styrofoam to a wide selection of portable, waterproof 12-volt lights that can be lowered over the side to attract fish. All are effective, but none have attracted the following—or the fish—like the after-market LED underwater lights that are designed for more or less permanent application aboard boats. Note I didn’t say aboard fishing boats, for popular marine light manufacturers such as OceanLED sell their share of underwater lights for aesthetic applications aboard pleasure boats as well as lights intended to attract fish for anglers. The Florida-based company makes underwater lights in a variety of design (and color) applications targeted toward everything from trailerable boats to ocean-going yachts, with several models intended for DIY boaters who want to add some glow to their hulls. As with several other popular brands, OceanLED Amphibian models are also popular for use topside in areas exposed to the elements.
Several pontoon and deck boat manufacturers now offer underwater LED lights as optional equipment. I attended a boat show this season where a Sylvan boat model fitted with a pair of Attwood underwater LEDS was drawing quite a bit of attention. Steve Huber of Sylvan explained that the lights are easily fitted to the brackets designed to hold washdown and livewell pumps and fish finder transducers and don’t interfere with those applications.
Dan Armitage is a feature writer in every issue of PDB magazine. He has some great articles planned for the July and August issues. Subscribe today so you don't miss them. digitals.harrispublishingpromotions.com/PontoonDeckBoat.aspx
Chad Taylor of Wilmington, Ohio’s South Shore Marina recommends using the pump brackets offered on the logs of several popular brands of pontoon boats for DIY underwater lights applications. Taylor added that if your pontoon’s logs don’t have them, welding a piece of aluminum “C” channel to the aft end of the pontoons to provide a surface for mounting after-market LEDs—as well as transducers, if needed.
According to spokesman Mark Wyrick, several Harris FloteBote models are offered with an optional Lumitec underwater light mounted on the aft end of on the starboard pontoon log. Advertised as a light to illuminate the boarding ladder, the LED is submerged and will function as a fish attractor. The light can be changed from blue to white to a mix of both. Most other pontoon and deck boat manufacturers offer some type of below deck or below waterline LED lighting as standard equipment or an option that can function as a fish attractor.
Decking Out Your Deck
Several aftermarket underwater LED lights manufacturers offer models or kits to allow their lights to be mounted on trim tabs, which is an option for deck boats. However, most underwater LED lights are designed for mounting flat on the transom, and require at least one through-hull hole to be drilled to accommodate the wiring. Of course, whenever you are drilling a through-hull hole below your boat’s waterline, great care must be taken to seal it and to make sure before drilling that there is nothing on the inside of the transom such as wiring, pumps, water tanks etc, that might be damaged during the drilling process.
Underwater fishing lights are available in three primary colors: white, blue and green. Darrell Keith, founder of Hydro Glow Fishing Lights (hydroglow.com) in Dawsonville, Ga., has spent years studying how lights attract fish and found that white and green wavelengths of light are most attractive to plankton, which is a primary food of many baitfish.?According to Keith, plankton migrate to light for reproduction, and his tests showed that both green and white lights were effective. However, white light is absorbed very quickly in water and doesn't penetrate very deep, so it's less effective than green, which maintains its color character at much greater distances and depths.?Keith found that some fish—baitfish and sportfish—are attracted directly by the lights rather than the plankton or bait. He learned that blue light, as with green, has a greater distance of effectiveness than white. He also learned that while blue light works in saltwater, it didn’t hold the same attraction to baitfish in fresh water as did the same power green light.
No matter the color you decide to try, if you're ready to experiment with underwater aftermarket lights, shop around. Cheap knockoffs exist, and LEDs that may appear similar may not be in terms of construction and safeguards. If you can, try to see the underwater lights you may be considering in actual use, either at the local boat shows or in the marina. Make sure you check standards, certifications and warranties on the models you are considering and consider having the lights installed by a qualified marine mechanic.
Go With Your Glow
Underwater lights won’t help you catch fish from your deck or pontoon boat if there are no fish to be attracted to their glow. Just as when selecting a place to wet a line during daylight hours, you need to position you boat, light and baits where you have the best chance of attracting baitfish and gamefish. Anchor over drop-offs or neat structure or both, and drop anchor from both the bow and the stern when fishing with underwater lights. It helps the boat—and the light—maintain position and make line management easier for the anglers aboard.
In man-made reservoirs, find the original river channel and anchor at the edge next to the deeper water to draw bait and fish following the natural migration route. In man-made or natural lakes or slow-moving rivers, locate a rock pile or submerged weed beds or brush-piles—or anchor and cast your glow over gravel bars and points used by night-feeding fish—and you may be on the money with your light.
You’ll know soon enough if you are casting your light over a productive area: near-microscopic “squiggles” of phytoplankton and zooplankton will show up first, right at the light, and minnows will soon follow. When you start to hear splashes or see shadows of larger fish darting through or suspending just beyond the edge of light, you’ll know that the predators have shown up, and it’s time to start fooling the gamefish with live baits and lures that match the size of the baitfish you have attracted with your artificial illumination.