Anglers use underwater lights to bring fish to them

You’ve heard of fishing under the lights at night, now try fishing over them.

So there I was, walking the crowded aisles of the New Orleans Convention Center, looking at the displays of tackle, baits, boats and all things pertaining to fishing, during the week of the Bass Classic. I remember saying it was like a toy store for fishermen, and I was soaking in as much as I could.

One of the booths that caught my attention advertised a high-powered submersible lighting system called Fish Vector, and I stopped to watch a short show on their TV monitor. I met Craig Dennis, inventor of the system, and we exchanged business cards and talked about the possibility of making a fishing trip together so he could demonstrate how his product worked.

Fast forward a few months, and I’m at Dennis’ house in Eden Isles late one summer evening, helping him load up his truck with gear and bait, and most importantly, his Fish Vector lighting system. The plan was to head to a camp on the Pearl River, where a few of his buddies were waiting for us. Once there, we’d board a 32-foot Twin Vee owned by Kevin Thomas, run down the river to Lake Pontchartrain and fish in the passes that night. Dennis said they’d caught some really nice trout there the night before, and we had high hopes to repeat that success.

We got to the camp shortly before dark, but had to hit the pause button on our plans. There were thunderstorms and lightning showing up on the radar, and none of us wanted to get caught in a storm. So we sat at the camp and watched the radar, and Dennis told me the story of how he
developed the light.

The short version is that while living and working in Bermuda, his job brought him into contact with several marine biologists, one of whom had developed an underwater vibration system that he said would attract fish like a game call. Eager to try it out, Dennis attached it to a submersible light system he’d been toying with, and that, over time, eventually became the Fish Vector system.

Initially, Dennis had no intention of marketing it as a product. He lived on the water and simply wanted to install it on his dock so he could fish at night. When he moved to Eden Isles in Slidell, he installed the system at his dock and was soon catching fish at night, right off the dock in his own backyard. Soon, several of his neighbors wanted him to install one just like it on their docks. Many of them weren’t interested in fishing as much as they enjoyed the serene ambiance the underwater light produced, and all the fish they could see under the water at night. Orders came in, Dennis continually improved and fine-tuned his product, and before long he realized he had a business on his hands.

The original product he marketed was a high-powered 1,000-watt fixed-mount system utilizing a glass bulb. It was mounted in place, underwater, usually at a dock but sometimes just off the bottom a few yards off the dock. The bulbs were glass, and while replaceable, intended to last for a considerable amount of time. That’s why Dennis thought it odd that one of his customers, Kevin Thomas, was coming to his shop to buy replacement bulbs every couple of weeks.

At first Thomas seemed reluctant to tell him why he was going through bulbs so fast, but finally he spilled the beans. He was dangling the bulbs overboard at night off the side of his boat. The bulb and fish-call were attracting huge trout and redfish to the boat, and they were having a ball fishing at night, avoiding both the crowds and the oppressive heat, and wailing on the fish.

But the bulbs were glass and brittle, and not intended to be portable. Once they got hot, the slightest bump or tap of a sinker would break them; hence, Thomas’s repeated trips for replacements. But that triggered a new quest in Dennis’ mind — make a portable system specifically designed for use off a boat or to be carried to a dock with a break-resistant bulb. And after another year of trial and error, the portable Fish Vector underwater lighting system was born.

And it was Thomas who owned the camp where we waited out the rain, and once the radar screen cleared, we hopped aboard his boat and headed down the Pearl to Lake Pontchartrain.

Thirty minutes later, we passed under the old L&N Train Bridge over Pass Rigolets (now called the CSX Bridge), and Dennis Jordan, one of Thomas’s buddies, snagged the bridge with a rig hook and held us steady in place.

The rain that just ended left the air cool, even on one of our summer nights, and a subtle breeze acted almost like an air conditioner. My watch said it was 9:30 p.m., and the deck was alive with activity. Dennis set a portable generator on the deck at the bow of the boat and unpacked one of the 1,000-watt Fish Vector lights. He wrapped the cord along the rail on the gunnel and then around a cleat at the stern. Then he attached a weight to the cord, and set the light overboard to a depth of about 5 or 6 feet and secured it. Next he started the generator and plugged in the light, and a green glow began to appear beneath the surface at the stern of the Twin Vee.

Meanwhile, Thomas turned on the interior lights — long, waterproof fluorescent tubes attached to the front and rear of the T-top. The lights were wired into his boat and provided plenty of light for us to see to walk around and fish by and tie knots under, which is always a big
concern when night fishing.

The drone of the generator was noisy, but not obnoxious, and the light off the stern seemed to grow brighter by the minute.

“It takes 10 or 15 minutes for the light to warm up and gradually increase to full power and brightness, but if you look at the surface you’ll start to see baitfish attracted to the light almost immediately,” Dennis said.

Sure enough, a variety of baitfish began to appear, and it seemed the longer I watched, the more bait appeared. Soon, the boat was being circled by swarms of pogies. Thomas came prepared with a well full of live shrimp, and Dennis brought some finger mullet, but Jordan couldn’t resist the easy pickings of the baitfish and made a few casts with the cast net. Each time, the net came in loaded with live bait. If we failed to catch fish this night, it wouldn’t be for a lack of bait.

“But we always bring bait with us,” Thomas cautioned, “because it never fails, when you count on catching bait like this, they don’t show up. It’s Murphy’s law of fishing.”

“People have been fishing under the lights forever,” Dennis said as the generator hummed. “We used to fish the flares at night, or rigs that were all lit up, and we had success.

“Lots of anglers bring lights to fish by at night, but 95 percent of the time, they are above-surface lights that shine down on the water and barely penetrate it. Plus, those lights attract the bane of night fishermen — bugs. The mosquitoes can be horrendous. But we’re taking a
radically different approach, using a bright amber subsurface light that illuminates the water from the bottom up. We see the bait swimming around in the light, and the predatory fish we want to catch will hang out just outside the bright circle of light, like the predators they are.

“One mistake people commonly make when using a submersible light is they drop it too deep. They try to get the light all the way to the bottom. But it works much better when you drop it down about 5 feet below the surface. We’re fishing here in 20 feet of water, and I have the light down about 5 or 6 feet.

“The other mistake is to think the fish hang in the light itself. Actually, the fish are going to hang right at the edge of the darkness, where they can hide and strike the prey that gets close. So cast to the outside of the circle of light and let your bait settle to the bottom. They’ll find it.”

So we tossed our lines out, all rigged with sliding sinkers and loaded with either live shrimp or one of the baitfish we caught in the cast net. I was first to get a big hit on the end of my line.

“Redfish,” somebody hollered, and sure enough, after a
five- to 10-minute struggle, we netted a nice-sized red, just over 28 inches long.

For the next 30 minutes we wailed on the redfish, one after another, until we nearly had our limit. Most of the fish were running 24 to 25 inches, with a few slightly bigger. But Thomas had enough.

“Time to move,” he said. “The reds are fun but we’re after big trout tonight.”

The plan was to move farther down the bridge into shallower water, so Craig unplugged the light without pulling it up.

“You have to let this bulb cool off for a few minutes before you pull it out of the water. It produces a lot of heat and will scald your hand if you try to pick it up while it’s hot.”

Five minutes later, we were rig-hooked onto the same bridge, just 30 or 40 yards down. Dennis lowered the light down about 5 feet, and within minutes we were fishing in a circle of amber light.

It really is quite serene, and I was actually surprised at how cool and pleasant it all was. And then the trout started to bite. Once they cranked up, we had steady and continual action. The trout ate up the live shrimp, but they actually seemed to hit the pogies even faster. At times we had hits on every cast, and then it’d slack off a bit, and you’d have to make two or three casts before you got a taker. Most of what we were catching were 1½ to 2 pounds, but we did have a few whoppers show up, one tipping the scale at just under 5 pounds.

“The light will work anywhere the fish gather,” Dennis said. “We’ve had some great trips out to the rigs and caught some really big trout. Just fish it the same way we‘re doing here. But if you’re going to use the light in the
shallow marsh, I’d suggest using the 400-watt light instead of the 1,000-watt. The 400-watt system is perfect for most shallow-water applications.

“We use it to fish at drains, at the mouths of bayous, around reefs or anywhere in the marsh. If you’re fishing in big water, in open lakes or big bays or at rigs, that’s when the brighter 1,000 watt light is the way to go.”

We stayed and fished until 3 a.m., long past my bedtime. But we came back to the camp with ice chests loaded with specks and reds. We beat the oppressive summer heat, we could fish in any of the popular hotspots without interference from other anglers, and we slammed the fish. I was definitely impressed with how well the Fish Vector worked. And, yes, in case you were wondering, I already bought one.

Craig Dennis can be reached at (985) 718-0434.

About Rusty Tardo 363 Articles
Rusty Tardo grew up in St. Bernard fishing the waters of Delacroix, Hopedale and Shell Beach. He and his wife, Diane, have been married over 40 years and live in Kenner.

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