Lit Up Fishing

Deploy lights to attract more fish offshore.
Ric Burnley

For the fish that live in the nighttime abyss, the sea is still full of light. The moon, stars and bioluminescent creatures come together to create a marine fireworks show. Anglers can capitalize on the nighttime feedings that often accompany these natural phenomena by using fishing lights to illuminate the dark water and draw fish to the hook.

There are two ways to deploy fishing lights on the boat: permanent or portable. Permanent lights can be mounted in the hull while a portable wand lights can be hooked up to a 12-volt battery and dangled over the side. Both systems use LED bulbs that last for thousands of hours, produce almost no heat and draw very little power. Of course, it's best to combine systems, but you have to know when and how.


Capt. Bouncer Smith spends many nights off Miami waiting for a swordfish bite. "I have both types of lights on my Dusky," he says, "but I don't use both all the time. I have the flush mount lights that point straight down, angled out at 25 degrees and pointing straight back so that light is shining three-quarter of the way up the side of the boat and around the stern."

Smith explains that he'll use his portable and permanent lights together when seas are calm. But when the sea turns rough and the boat rocks back and forth, the hull mounted lights swing and flash like a disco dance floor. "It messes up my night vision and confuses the fish," he says. Under these conditions, Smith switches off the hull lights and drops his Hydro Glow stick light over the gunnel.

Joey DeFusco on Hot Reels notes that the orientation of the lighting can matter when he's targeting tuna and swords on the canyons and banks off Rhode Island. He has seen times when only the flush-mount light pointing straight back off the transom brought in the tuna. "When we turned on the down lights, the fish stayed deep."

"We'll switch between light systems depending on the bite," DeFusco says, "the fish tell us what lights to use."

Most of the time, DeFusco just uses his green portable light. "I turn off all the lights on the boat except navigation lights and just run the Hydro Glow," he says. "Green seems more natural and I think the fish acclimate to it better." DeFusco adds that this light drew in his state-record 434-pound swordfish. "We've had fish come right under the boat," he says, "the light really brings 'em in."


Darrell Keith, owner of Hydro Glow lights, believes that lights don't actually attract the fish directly. "The light stimulates the growth of plankton," he says, "and that brings in the baitfish." The bait then attracts predators and the rest of the food chain. "It's like a living chum slick under the boat," Keith says.

Keith points out that green light travels the farthest underwater and stimulates the plankton. "We've worked hard to develop a light that works at the perfect wavelength for the plankton," he says.
Keith recommends moving the light around the boat until you find the place where it shines best. "Move it to either side, the front or the bow, wherever it works best."


Smith plugs his portable lights into marine-grade plugs mounted under the cover board of his 33 Dusky while DeFusco runs the power line directly to his 12-volt batteries. "Always attach a safety line to the light," Smith urges, "Don't rely on the cord to hold the light."

Attaching a heavy sinker to the light to lower it below the boat will spread the light around under the boat and keep the lamp from breaking the surface in choppy seas. "Don't let the light bang into the boat," warns DeFusco, "and keep it from swinging around!"


It isn't enough to just bring the fish up to the boat, you also have to get them to bite. To accomplish this, night anglers attach compact waterproof lights to their fishing line. Smith and DeFusco use battery operated lights just ahead of the bait.

DeFusco attaches a water-activated Lindgren-Pitman Duralite Diamond strobe to his swordfish rig, on a 100-foot leader of 300-pound test monofilament. "I like the heavy mono to keep the whole rig stiff," he explains. He crimps a 300-pound test Spro swivel fifteen feet above the bait. "I use rigging floss to tie the light to the swivel," he says, explaining that the swivel keeps the light from twisting the line. He attaches a second swivel and another light five feet above the first in case one unit fails.

Smith also attaches small strobes to his rig and adds a larger multi-colored Lindgren-Pitman Electralume light to his snap swivel. "The light changes colors from red to green to blue to cover the fish-attracting spectrum."

For fish swimming the dark ocean, lights can signal an easy meal. Anglers fishing after dark can ring the dinner bell by lighting up the bite.

A portable fishing light dropped over the side of the boat at night can draw an entire food chain to your boat.
Lights can really pay off at night when targeting striped bass.
A school of squid congregates around an underwater light. The more squid you bring into your lights, the better your odds of success.
Find the right configuration of hull-mounted and portable lights to draw in big tuna.

Save time and fuel with the FishTrack app.