Equipment May 2021 Techniques

Light it Up to Create Your Own Food Chain, by Scott MacKenthun

Night crappie fishing

Vermont crappie guide Capt. James Vladyka swears by Hydroglow lights to attract crappie.


Light it Up to Create Your Own Food Chain

by Scott MacKenthun

One crappie guide shares his nighttime crappie secret


All crappie are stimulated by changing light levels, particularly at dawn and dusk, a phenomenon known as crepuscular activity. These daylight periods are the golden hours of the day, but are often short lived. In trying to stimulate those increased crappie activity levels, anglers all across North America have turned to the use of lights. It might be a glowing lantern in winter, a jury-rigged spotlight in summer, or a fancy underwater fishing light.

Proof positive that underwater lights create a food chain – attracting plankton, which in turn attracts bait fish which then attract predators, including crappie.

Vermont fishing guide Captain James Vladyka has been using lights for nighttime fishing since he was a kid, but credits HydroGlow green lights as helping him really turn up his success. Vladyka started using HydroGlow green lights around ten years ago and has popularized the practice in the New England area.

“I’ll look out on Lake Bomoseen at night and it’ll be lit up all green and think ‘Wow, everyone’s doing it now” said Vladyka. “It seems like the green light is something the fish really like. The zooplankton are drawn in and you see a lot of minnows too.”

Vladyka’s experience with using lights in fishing began as a young man. “I’ve seen minnows attracted to white light before,” he said. “When we were kids, we’d be fishing on summer nights for rainbow trout. We’d take a car battery and an old junky car headlight, the old round ones, and we’d make our own lights. You’d be lucky to get four or five hours before the battery ran out.

Vladyka said while they were trout fishing, they could see the rainbows swimming underneath the boat. But they would also see these other fish, fish that they couldn’t quite make out what they were.

“I’ll look out on Lake Bomoseen at night and it’ll be lit up all green and think ‘Wow, everyone’s doing it now.”

“One night we decided we were going to figure out what those odd fish were,” he said. “After downsizing several times and sliding a chunk of quivering plastic on the hook, I dropped down and finally got one to eat. I cranked the fish up and it was a beautiful crappie. That was a lightbulb moment.”

He discovered something of a food chain reaction.

Vladyka learned more with experimentation – where to use the lights and how to use them to catch more fish. His approach in open water starts with setting up to take advantage of spring prespawn crappie migrations.

“After the ice goes out,” Captain James says, “the crappies come into the tubes and setbacks and shallow bays. We also have suck holes. There’s a train track that runs down the New York border; New York and Vermont is divided by Lake Champlain. All the tubes that go into the back bays become pinch points that we call suck holes. We’ll sit sideways with our boat or on shore, run a light, and intercept those fish that are coming into the warm water ahead of the spawn. That time of year is a great time to fish suck holes; it’s your best chance at a trophy crappie.”

Deploying the lights is fairly easy, but you do have to resist the temptation to drop the lights too far down.

Various brands and models of lights will work in a portable, 12-volt configuration for your boat or can be adapted to run off of 110-volts from your dock.

“We’re not submerging the lights any more than just underneath the surface,” Vladyka says. “You’re getting that light to go out and down and then you’re fishing in the immediate area around the light. Come summer time, we’ll put a couple lights down and one of the great benefits is you aren’t getting bugs swarming into your face like you would while wearing a headlight. Instead, those bugs are going in the water and becoming food. You also can see your line as the HydroGlow will make it stand out, almost like a black light. It doesn’t seem to bother the fish but it still allows you to see what you are doing and you can keep your boat dark and not spook the fish.”

Later in the summer and into the fall period, Vladyka is chasing crappies that have moved deep, but he’s working places that he expects to encounter fish at night.

“It’s all about finding structure – cribs, logjams, weedline edges, deepwater ledges – any place that is adjacent to deep water that will hold fish or draw them in during the night. These are the places you’re going to find crappies and draw them in with a light.”

There are several brands of light similar to HydroGlow, some underwater lights such as Amarine or floating spotlights sold by Deerback. You can learn more about those in the April Issue of CrappieNOW.

Vladyka uses his lights as a tool. The lights work as a fish attractant, but are only truly effective if you already know where you will encounter fish.

“It’s not magic,” he says. “You can’t just take a light, stick it in the water, and assume you are going to catch fish anywhere. You still have to be on a weedbed or a deep hole, or a place the fish will frequent. Then it makes it that much better. You can see the difference – one person fishing and catching with a light and one without. I think it has a lot to do with the brightness and the spectrum that a HydroGlow light emits.”

For open water stationary crappie angling, give night lights a try. Invite aquatic insects, zooplankton, and small minnows into your setup and the crappies won’t be far behind. A good fishing light can help you set off your own food chain reaction.

(Scott Mackenthun is a fisheries biologist and freelance outdoor writer from New Prague, Minnesota. He can be reached at

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