The debate over whether LED or bulb-style underwater lights get the nod for brightness, reliability and cost may be waning. LED technology advances by leaps and bounds each year; companies that shunned LEDs in the past now make them, and a number of boatbuilders now offer underwater LEDs as optional or even standard equipment.
For anglers, a question still remains: Do underwater lights - of any kind - help catch fish?
Consider the following:
1. Light attracts bait. Light draws phytoplankton, followed by zooplankton and then baitfish.
2. Bait and light attract predators. We fish shadow lines at bridges and docks for snook, and we light swordfish baits.
Night and Day
"Baitfish actually push their faces up against the lights," says Peter Miller, whose Get Lit fishing team out of Miami captured the 2003, 2007 and 2009 World Sailfish Championship titles, among other tournament wins.
Miller and crew, aboard the 53-foot Viking, decided to experiment with underwater lights about eight months ago. They replaced previously installed white xenon lights with six OceanLED (954-523-2250; www.oceanled.com) blue LED lights and two LED strobes - one green, one blue.
On a clear night, they flipped on the blue lights, which shine outward from the transom and hull sides, and watched a school of threadfin herring chase the lights as they idled along. Miller says the white light had never really affected their fishing much, but the blue lights do.
"It was miraculous the number of fish coming into the lights," he says of the baitfish experiment. "We're not 100 percent sure, but we feel like the lights just may raise that one extra sailfish."
Ariel Pared, co-owner of SeaVee Boats - which offers OceanLED lights as an optional accessory - recently installed six Amphibian blue lights on his personal boat. Three shine aft from the transom, three down. He saw instant results when catching bait and fishing for tarpon but hasn't had the chance to try the lights for swords.
"When we used [submersible light tubes], ... depending on current, we'd get hot spots of light. Now we should get even light that will attract bait. Where the bait is, the pelagics will show," Pared says.
Besides using the lights to catch bait at night or early in the morning, the Get Lit team uses its LED strobes - mounted on the hull bottom - during the day. "In low-light conditions, we found the green strobe works better. We don't have it down to a science, but we feel like the fish that were swimming inshore or offshore of our kite spread were seeing it. We'd turn on the green strobe, and we'd get a fish in the spread."
The blue strobe seems to work best on clear days. And when night fishing for swords, Miller switches on the complete visual orchestra.
Blue light penetrates deeper through water than most other colors, followed by green. White light comprises all colors in the visible spectrum.
Anglers have yet to agree which color works best. Swordfishermen, many of whom began using green chemical sticks and later green underwater lights, swear by that color.
Just how deep any light shines depends on the brightness and power of the source, the clarity of the water and the eyesight of the target species. Most scientists say at least some fish can see color. However, the deeper a fish lives, the less its need for full-spectrum color vision.