August 2020 Equipment

Break Out the Lights for Summer Catfish by Keith “Catfish” Sutton

Many people restrict their summer catfishing time to daylight hours for reasons of safety and convenience, but if you want to catch a monster flathead like this, fish when the fish are most active—at night. (Keith Sutton photo)


Break Out the Lights for Summer Catfish

by Keith “Catfish” Sutton

Lights made for night fishing can greatly increase your catch if you select the right ones.

Despite what many anglers think, summer isn’t the best season for catching catfish, especially when your fishing is restricted to daytime. Most whiskerfish spawn this season, and when laying or protecting eggs in underwater cavities, they seldom eat and are hard to catch.

This shouldn’t hinder your summer fishing, however. There are tactics that will increase your success when temperatures soar, such as fishing at night. During hot weather, many catfish work the late shift, and anglers should, too.

Also consider using lights while fishing—not just lights to see by, but specialty lights that draw fish close to your boat. The latter work by attracting tiny animals called zooplankton, which attract baitfish such as shad, herring and minnows, which in turn attract catfish. Cats gather in the circle of light to feed. The angler drops in some bait to catch them.

Floating Lights

Early fishermen often used torches to illuminate the water where they fished. Lanterns also have been used for decades, including the veritable Coleman lantern, a mainstay among many night fishermen even now.

Floating fishing lights like this model by Optronics have been an important part of the catfish angler’s toolbox for decades. (Keith Sutton photo)

One of the earliest specialty lights used for night fishing was a traditional floating model featuring a Styrofoam flotation ring surrounding a white, sealed-beam light similar to a vehicle headlight. This type of light is inexpensive and still widely available. Most run off 12-volt systems, with alligator clips attached to battery posts for power. The angler places the light (sometimes several lights) beside the boat where it floats with the beam of light pointing down to attract baitfish and gamefish.

In recent years, floating lights with more energy-efficient LED or fluorescent illumination have become widely available. Also, green lights have become available in addition to white. Power for these models may come from standard 12-volt alligator clips, a cigarette-lighter plug or alkaline batteries. A molded handle on some of these units allows them to double as spotlights, camp lights or boat lights. The best also have safety fuses and long, safely insulated cords. Some have a built-in black light on top to help illuminate your line.

Submersible Lights

Floating lights were the standard of night fishermen for many years, but the users of these lights often had to contend with annoying swarms of insects drawn to the lights along with fish. For this and other reasons, submersible lights were developed that slide beneath the surface and light up the depths. Battery-powered, 12-volt, LED and fluorescent models are available, with white or green lights.

Many submersible models are weighted internally or otherwise constructed so they sink immediately when put in the water. Others sink only after the addition of a weight to a swivel clip on one end of the light. These lights float without a weight, so the user can vary where they are positioned in the water column for increased versatility. Submersible lights that use fluorescent bulbs often are available in different lengths (9-inch and 21-inch, for example) as well.

Combinations—a pair of floating lights positioned above two submersible lights, for example—tend to be the most versatile, lighting multiple levels of the water column to attract fish no matter where they are. When possible, use both light styles.

Studies show that green lights work better than white for attracting plankton, baitfish and catfish. (Keith Sutton photo)

Fishing Light Colors

Fishing lights are available in two primary colors: white and green. You might wonder why red lights aren’t used, or blue or purple. Why white and green? Which color is better? Does it really matter?

Darrell Keith, founder of Hydro Glow Fishing Lights (, has spent years studying how lights attract fish. He said white and green wavelengths of light are most attractive to plankton. Plankton is a primary food of many baitfish, so when plankton gather in the lighted portion of the water, baitfish move in to enjoy the banquet. The baitfish in turn attract hungry gamefish.

“Plankton migrate to light for reproduction,” said Keith. “Green has best ability to cause this to happen. White works, too, but white light is absorbed very quickly in water. It doesn’t penetrate very deep so it’s less effective than green, which maintains its color character at much greater depths.”

Some fish—baitfish and sportfish—are attracted directly by the lights rather than the plankton or bait, and once again, green is superior for this purpose.

“Blue like green has a greater distance of effective area,” said Keith. “But for some reason, blue light works in saltwater but won’t attract bait in fresh water. For example, when we dropped a blue light in a freshwater lake in North Carolina, blueback herring wouldn’t come to it. But green light was very attractive to these baitfish.”

In some experiments, Keith put five different colors of lights in the water at the same time, and green always attracted bait (and thus sportfish) far better. This fact is common knowledge now among manufacturers of fishing lights, so green lights have quickly become most prevalent. White lights are still available and still effective to some extent, but not as effective as green. So, when you have a choice, purchasing green lights is best. And if you still have white lights you use, adding one or more green lights will increase the effectiveness of your illumination efforts.

Black Lights

Black (ultraviolet) lights also are useful night-fishing aids. They illuminate fluorescent monofilament, making it more visible over a greater distance. When the ultraviolet lights are on, you can keep an eye on your line and watch for the slightest twitch or movement indicating a bite. Rods with fluorescent tips also glow brightly under black lights. And a dab of fluorescent paint on frequently used tools and tackle will glow, too, so the items are more easily found when you need them.



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