In the hours of darkness, when lesser souls have given in and gone to bed, these hardy souls seek and find angling salvation in a pool of electromagnetic radiation. In other words, night fishing around lights.
And they’re not alone in getting a charge from luminous landmarks. Striped bass, white bass, and the hybrid progeny of the two figured it out first.
Lighted areas, particularly those offering cover—boat docks, piers, and bridges—are like a watering hole during a drought. All life gravitates to them. Predators and prey share close quarters, creating a smorgasbord of dining opportunities for those at the top of the food chain.
Noted bass researcher Doug Hannon, host of cable television’s The Bass Professor and Sportsman’s Challenge, agrees with the light-loving trio of Procell, Beach, and Taylor. “Lighted docks present a super opportunity for anglers.”
The Main Attraction
Hannon says the primary reason lighted docks and similar structures draw fish is that, “Docks are fundamentally attractive to fish. When such a structure is illuminated, its features become obvious. It stands out.
“Roving schools of baitfish that would normally swim past an unlit dock become aware of it and pause, creating a logjam in the flow of life,” Hannon says. “It’s like a car wreck on an interstate. If traffic is heavy, it can back up for 10 miles for no reason other than people slowing down to look.
“Predatory fish such as stripers, whites, and hybrids see the light and the structure it reveals. They instinctively sense the potential feeding opportunities it presents. “Predatory fish are primarily daylight feeders, and light attracts them and shadows conceal them. Their basic feeding strategy is to see to catch prey,” Hannon says.
“By nature, light decreases exponentially from the source, Hannon explains. “So, around docks and other lighted structures, light fades quickly, creating a strong edge effect. Predators like bass hide in the darkness, see their prey, and catch it without much effort since the prey’s unaware of the predator’s presence. Also, when predators chase their prey into a different environment, such as darkness, the prey must deal with other factors besides a predator on its tail. Lights on structures definitely create a predator exploitation situation.”
Docks That Rock
While virtually any dock, pier, bridge, pump station, or other light-related structure will hold at least a few gamefish most nights of the year, certain structures outshine others in attracting bass. And the most productive may vary from night to night. Always among the best, however, are those illuminated consistently all night, every night. Large main-lake docks and those over or near deep water usually rate higher than backwater landings. Both floating and stationary docks are enticing to bait and predators. “Floating docks, however, often run out farther and span over deeper water,” Hannon notes.
The number, intensity, positioning, and type of light fixtures also determine the likely fish-holding ability of a dock. “The more light, the more fish,” says Dallas-based veteran guide Johnny Procell (972/264-1352). Landings with lights low to the water or aimed at the surface indicate dock owners with fishing on their minds. These residents often sink brushpiles next to their docks in hopes of creating backyard fish habitat.
Also, at times, different types of lights attract the most fish. Hannon suspects that the yellowish glow of sodium bulbs penetrates water more effectively and creates greater visual contrast than white lights such as mercury vapor or halogen. This is why fog lights are yellow. Procell and Jerry Taylor (817/549-0072), long-time guide on north Texas’ Possum Kingdom Reservoir, concur, each saying they generally find more fish around sodium lights. All experts agree, however, that no significant source of illumination should go ignored, because, at times, white lights produce larger catches than yellow.
Anglers lucky enough to locate submerged swimming pool lights, reveals Taylor, have found the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. “The surface glows, like a giant aquarium. Shad, white bass, and stripers swim in big circles. When we had them here on Possum Kingdom, we’d catch 100 stripers a night. It was unreal. We caught them first on shallow-running baits and livebait, switching to jigging spoons and slabs for deeper fish,” Taylor says.
Like fish and fishermen, insects love lights. And these swarming pests present a further attraction and stimulant for baitfish. Procell, Beach, and Taylor have observed increased baitfish and bass activity around lights abuzz with bugs. “I wear dark clothing because insects are less attracted to it. If my partner is wearing a white shirt and all of a sudden starts jumping and swatting, I know we’re on the right dock,” Procell says.
Right Time + Right Place
“Surface temperature,” says Hannon, “delimits the times striped, white,and hybrid bass can dine around shallow structure. Water temperature largely determines where they can live and feed. In general, lighted docks are best for stripers when water is in the 50°F to 60°F range. Their preferred temperature is 54°F, and they’re temperature sensitive. Hybrids and white bass, being more temperature tolerant, are more common feeders around docks. A good indicator of when stripers and other species will feed near lighted docks is times of year they school on top.”
Virginia Beach, Virginia, striper expert Ken Beach, who fishes at least 150 times a year, has spent many a night angling for big striped bass under the lights of the U.S. 13 causeway at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. He finds that saltwater stripers begin to move upward as the surface temperature falls toward 70°F. “Best times in the bay are from November through March, when the water is below 70°F. When it drops into the 60s, I can almost walk across the top of the water on them,” he says.
Spawning runs and other traditional seasonal movements also provide obvious clues to when docks in certain areas will hold concentrations of fish. Taylor says fish gravitate to certain docks most of the year on Possum Kingdom, a relatively deep, clear lake. “They usually aren’t off the docks for more than a week or two at a time,” he says. In fact, Taylor finds that fish key on main-lake deep-water docks all year. During winter and spring, most well-lighted wharfs including those in confined shallow areas, such as the backs of sloughs, can offer considerable big-fish action. “In colder months, especially early spring, I catch more big stripers around docks than during the rest of the year,” Taylor says.
Procell, who fishes several Texas lakes noted for outstanding striper, hybrid, and white bass angling, including Ray Hubbard, Tawakoni, and Texoma, says he starts hitting the docks and other lighted areas late in the year. “My favorite time is from September until it gets too cold to fish at night. In the dead of winter, we catch stripers ranging up to 18 pounds by fishing around docks in water 16 to 20 feet deep.”
The fall-through-spring period presents the window in which tolerable waters surround most lighted structures and therefore presents the optimum chance for anglers to find feeding stripers, whites, and hybrids on docks at night. During warmer months, a lighted structure over deep water still provides action as deep as 25 feet or deeper.
Moon phase also plays a role in the light-fishing equation. The blacker the night the better. Moonlight tends to dilute the effect of artificial light, scattering baitfish and making docks less obvious. Cloud cover nullifies this effect, however. Clear or slightly stained water also produces a better night feed. And a modest wind that creates a slight chop on the surface aids in hiding the presence of anglers from shallow, easily-spooked fish.
Proceed With Caution
Approach a lighted dock with patience, stealth, and caution. The largestfish generally lurk on the shadowy fringes. “Most feeding stripers will work the outer edge of the light line, usually in constant motion, trying to flush and force schools of bait into the light,” Hannon says. “Predators often hunt from below, driving prey to the surface, where they get caught in the light. Direct light is detrimental to the defensive system of minnows, especially at night, when they really flash.”
The softly glowing line that appears on the surface to mark the edge of a light’s reach may actually be several feet closer to the fixture than the subsurface edge. Usually the light travels at a downward angle from the source and penetrates and spreads through the water like a transducer cone. “Light illuminates the water beyond the dark surface edge, and that’s where the fish position,” Hannon says.
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