How and Why Lights Attract Fish

FISHING with artificial light has been around for many years. In the early days the most common method was to hang a lantern over the side of a boat. Some of the old timers thought the light attracted bugs (which they did), and in return the fish surrounded the boat in hopes of getting a meal. There are still those who believe the old theory of more bugs, more fish, but new technology has done much to disprove that theory.

Projecting light in or on top of the water simply starts a natural food chain reaction by attracting a concentration of small microscopic animals called plankton. Bait fish such as shad and minnows are drawn to the light to feed on the plankton; and larger game fish move in to feed on the bait fish. It’s not uncommon to see bait fish stacked in columns 15 feet thick under the lights, with game fish suspended directly below them.  If you do not have baitfish congregating around the light after 30 minutes, move to a different area. Game fish follow the baitfish, so don’t waste time in area’s that do not hold baitfish.

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The Basics

Rods, lures, fish locator’s and Underwater Lights all help increase your chances of catching your limits on a daily basis, but they are not magic. In order for lights to attract fish, there has to be fish to attract. If you have a dock that sits in 2 feet of water and you have never caught a fish in the area, chances are the lights will not be the magical solution to the problem. If the water is unsuitable to hold fish, not even lights will help lure fish into unhealthy water.  Fish require good quality water, underwater structure to hide in and an open escape path into deeper water.  If your dock is lacking any of these features, the number of fish you will attract to the light will be less.

With that said though, the use of artificial light WILL attract fish to your Boat or Dock if the boat or dock is located in water capable of holding fish and if you follow the below suggestions.

Fishing From a Boat

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Anchoring Your Boat

THE BOAT MUST BE ANCHORED IN ORDER FOR THE LIGHTS TO ATTRACT FISH! If you are drifting, the plankton and bait-fish will never be able to gather around the light which will stop the food chain before it ever starts. ANCHOR YOUR BOAT WITH AT LEAST (1) ANCHOR AND PREFERABLE (2) ANCHORS SO IT CAN NOT PIVOT ON ONE ANCHOR LINE. The more stationery the better!

Set Up In An Area Where There Are Fish

Lures and Boats won’t help you a bit if you’re not fishing in an area that holds fish. If the water is to shallow, to deep or doesn’t have sufficient structure nothing will help you catch fish. This holds true when fishing from a Boat, Dock or thru the ice! Fish ALWAYS relate to water temperature and some kind of structure. This can be a drop off adjacent to a river channel, submerged brush or even a pile of rocks. If you aren’t fishing on or near some type of underwater structure your chances of attracting or catching fish are greatly reduced.

Remember, 10% of the water in any lake holds 100% of the fish. The rest of the lake is dead water….with or without a light. To fish, an old river channel running through the lake is like a highway to other areas of the lake and it provides cover and different depths of water for them to forage in. Ideally, a point or a bridge that has the old river channel running adjacent to it is hard to beat. Try and find a spot on the point where there is a good drop off. If the top depth is 10′ and drops to 50′ very fast, you would want to set up in 15′ to 25′ of water to start. If you don’t have any luck there, move deeper or shallower until you find the fish.

Attracting bait fish is a MUST! If the bait fish do not show up in the first 30 minutes after setting your lights, move to another spot. Just because they weren’t at one spot doesn’t mean they won’t be at another spot further down the lake. Water temperature and oxygen content are key factors in attracting large numbers of bait fish. If the water temperature is below 70 degrees or the oxygen content is poor, there will be less bait fish and game fish around the lights. If you boat or dock is sitting in good quality water which provides good structure, lights can attract baitfish by the thousands.

How Many Lights Do You Need When Fishing From a Boat?

IF POSSIBLE, it’s always better to use (2) lights compared to (1) light in most circumstances. Using two lights spread 3′ to 4′ apart will give you a much wider radius of light and will allow more fisherman to fish in different zones of the light. However, if you have a smaller boat, one light will provide sufficient light.

Using (2) lights will also let you experiment with different colors so you can see which color is attracting more bait-fish on any given night. For example, starting with one white light and one green light will let you see which light is attracting the most bait-fish at that particular time. Once you see which color is attracting the most fish, you can switch both lights to the same color. Our new SuperBrite X2 DUAL Color lights work great when experimenting.

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Fishing From a Dock

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First, the water around the dock has to be deep enough to hold fish. The use of lights will not attract fish to area’s that are not capable of holding fish. If you have never seen or caught fish around your dock before, lights will probably not help attract them to it. In order for an area to hold fish you have to have sufficient water that will maintain a stable water temperature, oxygen level, food source and structure for protection. If you dock does not provide these necessary features, chances are the number and quality of fish around your dock will be limited. With or without the use of lights.

Above Water Lights


Most dock builders now prefer the use of above water lights such as our DockPro 3500 and DockPro 16000. Above water lights require no maintenance and still attract just as many fish as the underwater lights do. Above water lights not only attract fish to your dock, but also aesthetically pleasing. Above water lights can be used to not only illuminate the surrounding water but also above water structures and boats.

Underwater Lights

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While most dock builder prefer above water lights, many people prefer underwater lights like our DockPro 5000 and DockPro 12000 because they give you the ability to illuminate the water from the bottom up which allows you to see the fish in deeper water. The biggest draw back to Underwater Lights is that they require maintenance. Underwater lights have to be removed on a routine basis and cleaned or they will soon be overtaken by algae and or barnacles.

It is very important to find an underwater light that does not require you to put AC Voltage in the water. Most Mercury Vapor, Sodium and Metal Halide lights all require 120VAC power to operate them. If the power-cord is cut or the light is somehow broken and the GFCI outlet is mis-wired or malfunctions, high voltage in the water can be deadly to anything and anyone around it. With the advent of the new High Intensity LED lights like our DockPro 5000 and DockPro 12000  which runs on safe DC Voltage, there is no reason to use high voltage lights. The new LED lights produce more lumens per watt, draw much less power and most importantly are safe to use in the water.

The DockPro 5000, DockPro 12000 lights sit on the bottom and shine upward, illuminating the water from the bottom up.  The SuperBrite 8000-X2-D and SuperBrite 4800 lights hang vertically over the side of your dock and illuminate 360-degrees horizontally.  The SuperBrite 8000-X2-D and SuperBrite 4800-D lights should be suspended vertically and never laid flat on the bottom.  Underwater lights are preferred by some because they do give you a better view of the fish, but contrary to what some people think, they do not attract any more fish than above water lights.

The DockPro 12000 light is hands down our best and brightest underwater light.  If it’s in your budget, we would recommend this light over all other underwater lights.  The light is made from high grade stainless steel and uses a hardened glass lens that is barnacle resistant.  The light typically sits on the bottom and shines upward but in shallower water, the light can also be mounted on a pier post as shown below so the light shines outward which does illuminate more overall water and prevents damage from hooks and propellers. The downside to mounting the light horizontally is that you will probably have to get in the water to mount it.  Remember, these lights are underwater lights and must be mounted at a depth where they will not be exposed during low tides or other low water conditions. You can purchase heavy duty zip ties up to 2’ long at most hardware stores as well as other stainless steel mounting bracket options like shown below. Do to the large array of options, we do not carry zip ties or other types of brackets for this purpose.

While sitting the lights on the bottom and letting them shine up is popular these days, the diameter of light you see on top is determined by the depth of the water.  If the water around your dock is less than 8′ deep, the light does not have time to diffuse and spread out, so as much as 50% of the light is lost straight up in the air.  Also, fish are many times spooked by the addition of light in areas that are typically light free.  Many times, you will attract more fish by flooding the top portion of water with light because it is more natural to the fish.  Typically, mounting the light about 2ft under the surface at low tide, will provide the best overall coverage. and attract the most fish.  Fish are used to seeing light on top of the water, not on the bottom.

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Helpful Tip

When fishing from a dock you may see a lot of fish in the light but cannot catch them. Many of the larger fish will swim through the light but will not bite until they are in safer surroundings. Many fish are skittish of the bright light so they swim through the light in an attempt to scatter the bait fish into darker water. So, it’s always advantageous to not only fish directly in the light but also fish on the outer edge of the light. Many times, more fish will be caught on the outer fringe of the light then directly under or in the light itself. This is usually always true of snook that can be hard to catch when seen in the light.

The Importance of Colors

The color of light is also very important just as it is with fishing lures. Different colors of light travel further underwater than others in different conditions. Changing from white light to green light could make all the difference in the world from the eyes of a fish. Again, just because green light may not be working doesn’t mean white light won’t. And sometimes using both colors combined is the best solution to getting a bite. Our new SuperBrite X2 DUAL Color lights give you option of using white, green or both colors at the same time. As with all fishing, you have to be patient and try different methods in order to catch fish consistently night after night.

Lures and Bait

You should always try to use a lure or bait that looks like the bait-fish in the water you are fishing. You can never go wrong using live bait dipped from the same water you are fishing in, however artificial baits work as well.

Keep in mind though, If you are using artificial lures it is imperative to keep the lures looking as real as possible. If you are using a 1/8 oz. lead head jig with a rubber body, you want to make sure the jig ALWAYS hangs horizontal in the water. If the lure is hanging at an angle it will greatly reduce the number of hits you have. So, take time to straighten your lure out after catching a fish, it will increase your strikes 10 fold.


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