Dock Lights For A Nighttime Fishing Frenzy

Dock lights draw in bass, hybrids and crappie after dark.

John N. Felsher | June 4, 2019

On this moonless night, several black specters flashed in front of the glowing green orbs and vanished just as quickly as they appeared. Slowly, cautiously, we moved closer to investigate the apparitions. Soon, more shadowy objects materialized and disappeared near the faint green glowing spheres illuminating parts of the dark water.

No, we didn’t chase paranormal phantoms emanating from the lake or watch visiting extraterrestrials dropping out of the sky to abduct earthlings on this dark and stormy night. We concentrated on finding—and catching—more mundane little green creatures, although ones capable of providing incredibly exciting action. We fished for lunker bass around underwater lights at Lake Eufaula. 

“Eufaula has been producing a lot of good fish lately,” proclaimed David Pair, a fisherman from Abbeville, Ala. “A girl fishing with me one night in June, 2018 caught a bass weighing 11.25 pounds. We lost some fish that would have made that one look small. Her best five probably went about 35 pounds. I’ve caught numerous 10-pounders in the lake and even some 9-pounders on back-to-back casts.”

During the day, bass take a pounding from many different kinds of lures. In the summer, flotillas of jet skis and other recreational craft churn the waters of most lakes during the day. Fish under pressure or disturbed might come down with a severe case of lockjaw.

At night, however, fewer anglers and almost no recreational boaters venture out into the lake. During the week, night enthusiasts might not see another running boat on the entire lake. In the dark quiet, giant bass lose a bit of their natural wariness and might strike baits more aggressively.

In the darkness, some of the best fishing takes place near docks, marinas, bridges and other places with lights. Many property owners install lights that shine over the water off the ends of their docks. Light gathers plankton, which attracts shad, minnows and other small creatures. In addition, lights attract insects. Inevitably, some fall into the water where bream and other fish devour them. Largemouth, hybrid striped bass, large crappie and other predators gather to eat the small fish.

While my fishing trip took place on  Eufaula, the techniques outlined in this story will work on whatever Georgia lake you’re fishing after dark—if you can find the lights.

“Lights kick-start the whole food chain,” Pair explained. “Bass are for the more part nocturnal by nature anyway. In the spring, big female bass will leave the bedding areas to go to a nearby light to feed at night because there’s always food around the lights. Those lights always have fry, minnows, shad or some other kind of small fish around them.”

Most nocturnal anglers naturally gravitate toward docks with lights hanging over the water. Those highly visible lights can produce excellent action, but anyone can spot a white light shining miles away. Anglers can’t spot underwater lights as easily, but fish find them with no problem. Since fewer people can locate underwater lights, they don’t attract as much fishing pressure. During the daylight, nobody knows they are there unless they snag one.

Ashlyn Watford shows off a hybrid she caught while fishing dock lights. On some nights you may find only hybrids under particular lights.

“Sometimes, I fish lights hanging over the water, especially if they are down close to the surface, but I usually prefer to fish underwater lights,” Pair advised. “I do fish one overhead light where we sometimes catch fish on every cast for 10 to 15 minutes. One time, I might catch all 2- to 5-lb. hybrids. The next time, I might catch largemouth.”

Lights shining on the surface from above don’t penetrate the water as deeply. They also create some glare on the water so fish can’t see baits as easily. In addition, overhead lights attract more bugs, the bane of all night fishermen. Underwater lights don’t attract nearly as many mosquitoes.

“Underwater lights are sealed, weighted on the bottom and shining upward toward the surface,” said Pair, who not only fishes underwater lights, but sells them. “Most underwater lights are green, but some are white. With the lights shining upward, bass and other fish can see their prey a little better. People can watch the water and see a lot of fish activity around the lights. It’s like watching fish in an aquarium when the water is clear.”

On that dark night, we could barely see a dim outline marking the far horizon, but Pair knew a spot that traditionally produces fish. We motored across the choppy waters toward the gloomy black line punctuated by a few bright points. Soon, the familiar outline of a boathouse dock loomed out of the cloaking blackness, but we could still not see the patches of green illumination submerged near the docks almost until we came upon them.

“People can see overhead lights from across the lake, but people who don’t know what to look for will not see underwater lights,” Pair commented. “From a distance, the water just looks like something reflecting off it. The more stained the water is, the harder underwater lights are to spot. Even when the water is stained, we can usually catch fish off underwater lights unless the water turns too muddy.”

At night, any unnatural noise might spook a bass. Nocturnal anglers can catch fish under slick, calm conditions or rough conditions. Nobody likes to fish in a storm, but a little chop on the water muffles sounds and can disguise lures. Fish just see something that could be prey flashing past them, and it triggers a natural instinct to attack and eat it. Regardless of conditions, always approach lights with considerable stealth.

“When the current is running, I approach the lights from downstream and throw upstream,” Pair confirmed. “However, I have caught fish going the other way. Usually, we’ll pick up the easy fish by throwing upstream. Then, we might go around to the other side and fish downstream to pick up the more difficult fish to catch. Maybe I’ll get a straggler or two.”

On our night, Pair shut off the outboard some distance from the light and dropped in the trolling motor. We approached the first ball of green water from downwind as slowly and quietly as possible. Soon, we could see fishy silhouettes gliding through the illuminated water. At extreme casting distance, we tossed shad-pattern crankbaits toward the green glow. Almost immediately, we both hooked up, one with a largemouth and the other with a hybrid, the first of many fish we each boated that evening from several different piers with underwater lights.

“When we throw a bait around a light at night, we never know what we might catch,” Pair quipped. “It might be a big largemouth, a hybrid, a white bass or an occasional catfish. I’ve caught crappie exceeding 2 1/2 pounds while fishing big crankbaits around the lights. Sometimes, we’ll catch big striped bass. One particular light on the lake frequently gives up stripers in the 20-lb. range. Fishing around underwater lights at night increases the chances of catching many different kinds of fish and more big fish.”

Like in any fishing situation, some lights consistently produce more or bigger fish than others. Some lights normally hold mostly hybrid bass or largemouth. Some attract a variety of fish. Some attract more or different kinds of fish at different times of year. Anglers fishing any lake need to experiment to determine the best times and conditions to fish certain lights for specific species. In general, look for lights that give fish access to deep water and hold good baitfish.

“When I want to catch big bass, I look for shad about the size of my hand swimming around the lights,” Pair detailed. “In the first four months of 2019, I caught two 10-lb. largemouth and an 11.5-lb. bass around lights holding larger shad. 

“I fish some lights in about 28 feet of water, but most of the underwater lights I fish in the summer are in about 18 to 19 feet of water. In the winter, I usually fish lights in the 8- to 18-foot range.”

Since bass and hybrids routinely feed upon shad, Pair typically throws large, deep-diving crankbaits in shad patterns. He usually fishes Strike King KVD 2.5 models or 6XD series baits. Sometimes, he casts large, shad-pattern swimbaits. Bass also eat bream, so lures that mimic bluegills could also entice lunkers at night. 

David Pair shows off a largemouth he caught on a crankbait while fishing around dock lights at night on Lake Eufaula. Note the green glow from underwater lights near the dock. David actually prefers underwater lights versus those out of the water.

“Any shad pattern will work, but my favorite is sexy shad,” Pair remarked. “If the crankbait bite shuts down or the fish turn finicky, I might go back over the area with soft plastics, like a big dark-colored worm. I’ve caught some bass bigger than 8 pounds doing that. Sometimes, I’ll throw a weightless fluke whenever the fish are really finicky.”

Baits that resemble shad work equally well for both largemouth and hybrids. When specifically fishing for white or hybrids, move lures a little faster. Fish baits slower and more erratically when targeting largemouth. Sometimes, fish hang near the transition zone from light to darkness. At other times, fish hold tight to the lights. Thoroughly probe each area. Fan cast around the lights to determine where fish prefer to hunt at that time and place.

“When a light attracts a lot of hybrids, it will look like a racetrack with fish going around it,” Pair said. “The water will be nothing but black silhouettes with fish moving around constantly. When that happens, we can catch fish on just about every cast until we get tired of catching them. I’ve had times when I’ve caught fish one after another for 20 minutes. All of them were 3- to 4-lb. hybrids.”

Pair also catches large crappie off underwater lights at night. He keeps a light rod tipped with a crappie jig on his boat at all times just in case. One never knows what might bite best around any light on a given night. Sometimes, Pair catches big crappie on bass baits and sometimes large bass on tiny crappie jigs.

“In the summer, after most of the crappie have moved offshore, we’ll still see lots of large crappie around the lights in the middle of June or July because that’s where the baitfish are,” Pair explained. “I like a Big Bite Baits crappie jig in acid-rain color fished on a 1/16-oz. jig head. One night, I caught a limit of 30 keeper crappie in 15 minutes, even after culling some smaller ones. Early in 2019, I caught several 5- to 6-lb. largemouth on that small bait.”

Some older, high-voltage lights give off heat underwater. That heat may slightly warm surrounding water on a chilly night. Just a slight increase of a degree or two could make a big difference to cold-blooded fish during the colder months. On the other hand, fish seek cooler water during the summer and may shy away from hot high-voltage lights. Many modern low-voltage LED underwater lights give off little heat, making them excellent warm-water fishing.

“During the spring and winter, we can catch fish off lights anywhere on the lake,” Pair revealed. “We usually fish the creeks in the spring and fall, but when it’s hot, the main lake is the best place to fish. We might catch one or two fish off a light in one of the creeks, but in the summer, we might catch a flurry of fish off the lights on the main lake.”

As the summer heats up and lake traffic really picks up, consider stepping into your boat after the sun has gone down and the lights come on. David’s techniques can work on any lake in Georgia that you have lights either under the water or hanging above the water.

If you’re interested in purchasing some of David’s underwater lights, call him at 334.618.0458.

If you find success this summer while fishing the glow, let us know all about it. Send pictures and caption info to [email protected].

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