Do Lights Attract Bass by Donovan Kelley

A simple question. And a simple answer? Not in my experience. Young bass do seem to be drawn to fixed quayside lights situated in the tideways of nursery estuaries; but I am thinking of the larger bass. With them the position is much less clear. In fact I can think of no experience which suggests that adult bass are attracted to lights. And I can recall many which suggest they are not. Here we are concerned not with fixed harbour lights but with mobile pressure lamps commonly used on beaches, and less commonly on rocky shores.

I have used a pressure lamp on the rocks for 50 years – with pollack, not bass, in mind; I knew from experience of quayside lamps in harbours that Pollack were very much attracted to lights. Rocks were an extension of that experience, and Pollack came to the light in numbers not usually seen by day. So, infuriatingly, did squid when they were about. But it was very rare to get a bass. All the places I fished, in Devon, Cornwall and W. Wales, were deep-water sites, such as one seeks for pollack: anything from 20 to 40 ft of water close in. These were not conventional bass situations, and by day only a very occasional one would be caught, just as was happening in the night fishing: so the lamp did not seem to be drawing bass to it.

I would not claim that as conclusive evidence against the light. With beach fishing however the evidence against is stronger. I do not personally do any of the heavier type of surf fishing, on “storm” beaches. But experiences with a small seine on such beaches, when we were tagging adult bass in Anglesey, showed that for bass to be present it had to be dark – the darker the better. To check that memory is not playing me false I have compared the catch rates on dark nights with those on moonlit nights, taking in each case only those occasions when conditions were in other respects just right: calm, no bioluminescence in the water, no loose weed. The results on our best beach, in the best month (November), were –

No of net hauls No of adult bass Average
On dark nights 19 93 4.8
On moonlit nights 25 26 1.1
On the best summer beach, fished in June/July, the result was similar, although the prevalence of bioluminescence on most summer nights limited the number of acceptable occasions.
On dark nights 9 30 3
On moonlit nights 7 7 1.0
On dark nights with bioluminescence present the results, though not as poor as moonlit nights, were still not good (the net came at the bass like a wall of fire).
32 87 1.7

I have mentioned the tendency of young bass to be drawn to lights. In Anglesey we sometimes found 4-year-old bass present off one of the beaches: fish of about ¾ to 1¼ lb. They were encountered mainly in October, a time when were few older fish present. The local adult fish had departed for their winter haunts and the northern fish had not made their brief appearance on their way south. If the four-year-olds were members of a good year-class they were present in sufficient numbers for a comparison of catches on dark nights and moonlit nights to be feasible. The happened with two classes during the tagging programme, 1969 and 1971 – caught in October 1973 and October 1975, respectively. Here is the result –

No of net hauls No of juvenile bass Average
On dark nights 13 62 4.7
On moonlit nights 6 46 7.7

This seems consistent with experience in the nursery estuaries where young bass seem to be attracted to the harbour lights.

On one beach we frequently met and spoke to anglers passing our netting site on their way to a favoured local rock mark. They carried their pressure lamps with them, already lit. We never caught a bass when they were there, although other fish – flounders chiefly – did not seem to be put off.

Right from the start of that Anglesey tagging project we sensed that pressure lamps, or even powerful torches, would not be wanted. Our chest lights, which had to be used at times, e.g. when tagging the catch, were dim. We never had occasion to change our view, and the figures seem to support it.

The conclusion could be further tested by trying a pressure lamp at a known productive shallow-water bass site on a rocky coast. If fished sufficiently frequently, by day and by night (with lamp), the results would be very informative, one way or the other.

From ‘Life with Bass’ by Donovan Kelley

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