By Dan Potts
(Published Feb, 1992, Utah Fishing & Outdoors)
Many ice fishermen here in Utah never really acquire any understanding of the importance of light under the ice. They fail to realize that the fellow next to them is catching more fish because of the intentional or even inadvertent use of light.
When I refer to light I am talking about two different kinds: ambient light and reradiated light. Ambient light is that produced from the sun, a spot light or a lantern.
Reradiated light is usually referred to as phosphorescent light or in the fishing industry as ‘glow-in—the-dark’ or ‘glow’ for short. The use of ambient light to improve fishing success is all too often ignored. Ice fishermen are willing to drill hole after hole, and change from lure to lure in search of the elusive limit of trout or pile-of perch.
Other anglers, however, have learned to park themselves in one spot and wait for the fish to come to them. Why would the fish come to them? Easy, chumming with light. That’s right! Light.
When you are out on the perch flats and the schools of fish are spread out like antelope in Wyoming the chances of catching them consistently may be next to the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack. With enough snow on top of the ice to functionally shut out almost all of the light below it, fish tend to move around very slowly. The school of eatin’ size fish you were waiting for may never reach you. But, when you are able to produce a beacon-in-the-night to attract them from a long way off, your catch rate can go up drastically.
The most common method of lighting up your fishing area is simply by shoveling the snow off the area that you plan to fish and allow the daylight to penetrate the ice. This light initially attracts microorganisms and ‘jump starts’ any algae (bottom algae in shallower waters, and phytoplankton in deeper waters) present which start generating oxygen. The presence of increased oxygen, microorganisms and light attracts smaller fishes, and ultimately larger fishes. It may take a while, and you may want to leave the spot to look for other opportunities as the spot "warms up."
To increase the amount of light penetrating the ice you may want to spread water out across the shoveled area to make it clearer. I usually use my spiraled auger to pump water out onto the ice and then spread it with the snow shovel. Caution should be taken when doing this, as this will definitely make for slippery and dangerous footing.
I use ice cleats, but spreadinga little coarse sand around from time to time after the water freezes on top will also work well.
Utah law now permits the use of artificial light to attract fish. Fish will spread out throughout the day on lakes with little snow cover. But at night an angler can use an artificial light to attract fish and spur a bite. A car headlight placed in a centrally located hole can be dynamite for crappie, bluegill, perch and even walleye. There are some "crappie lights" on the market that are already set up and ready to go for this application (read the instructions so that you don’t break the light).
Now, on to reradiated light. Glow-in-the-dark lures have been on the market for a while and many fishermen, especially ice fishermen, have caught on to their effectiveness. There are some basics, however, that are often i not fully understood. For instance, phosphorescent lures do not produce their own light, rather, they reradiate light that has been absorbed. This reradiation of light starts out the brightest and then dims with time until it gives up altogether. To recharge the lure, one must re-expose it to the sun or some other light source. When fishing at night artificial light is the source. Some anglers use a camera flash to recharge their phosphorescent lures. This allows them to reduce wasted time and to make one side of their lure glow brighter than the other. These effects often result in more fish. I use a portable ultraviolet (black) light.
The brightness of the glow can definitely affect one’s success. Sometimes a brighter glow will result in more fish attracted in from farther away. Other times the brighter glow will only scare fish away while a dim glow will elicit a better bite than no glow at all.
I can remember several trips where the brighter the glow the faster the bite. But, if I missed a fish and left the thing down the hole too long nothing would happen. I knew that fish were present because I could see them on my fish finder, so I reeled up to see if they had robbed my bait. Often times my bait was still present. But when I returned the rechargedlure to the fish I immediately got a bite. The moral — recharge the lure often.
There are literally hundreds of glow-in-the-dark lures available on the market today. I am going to refrain from advocating any particular one over another (at least until some lure manufacturers start paying me to do so!). However, I am going to suggest the use of some new phosphorescent lure paints that have recently appeared on the shelves. These new paints are fast drying and easy to apply to non-glow lures already in your possession. If applied over a lighter background and in several coats, they will glow more brightly. Applied lightly over darker backgrounds, they will have a more subtile glow. Larger spoons can be decorated with stripes, dots, or even covered entirely on one side to produce a flashingbeacon as they are jigged or rotated. Even single bait hooks can be painted for a smaller ice fly-type presentation. You can have a lot of fun painting up the old junk in your tackle box and you just might end up with some functional and productive stuff. Don’t forget to paint some of your open water lures also, for use at night later in the year when the ice comes off.
Although the use of both ambient light and reradiated light together might be anti-productive, using one or the other in the right situation can definitely improve your ice fishing. Remember, it’s dark under that snow covered ice and a little light can lead to the inevitable question from other fishermen.