Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Right Dock Fishing Lights
Fishing at night can be exciting, but it can also be challenging. Certain dock fishing lights require on-going maintenance, while others require virtually none. To save you time and money - we are going to walk you through what to expect for each dock fishing lighting option.
The lights in the cover photo are 3x Underwater Green Fishing Lights, customer-installed in a Florida home.
Different Types of Dock Fishing Lights
Dock fishing lights come in many different types; with the most common being LED, and various types of high intensity discharge bulbs (HID). Each fishing light type has its strengths and weaknesses; which include cost, maintenance, rigidity, energy efficiency, brightness, and true color wavelength output.
LED Dock Fishing Lights
As one of the most efficient lights available, LEDs have become one of the most popular types of dock fishing lights for a variety of reasons.
Reason's to choose LED Dock Fishing Lights:
- LED fishing lights such as this Underwater Green Fishing Light can be color optimized for the true-green wavelength fish are most attracted to.
- Cost significantly less to purchase as well as to operate on a monthly basis than their high intensity discharge (HID) bulb counterpart.
- Can be designed to last a long time - stay away from the LED strip lights wrapped around PVC (these do not last if permanently installed due to improper heat dissipation and proper sealing. High brightness LEDs must be sealed very well and have a great heatsink design despite being underwater).
- Here's a great article that goes into depth on what design constraints to look for in underwater green fishing lights.
- Can be very low maintenance
- Significantly more environmentally friendly compared to HID bulbs.
These traits vary from one manufacturer to the next, as there are always ways to cut costs. Make sure you choose a reliable manufacturer of dock fishing lights.
Underwater LED Lights
In terms of attracting fish, there's no argument that underwater LED fishing lights at your dock will accomplishing that. It can be argued that LEDs are the best illumination source to attract fish because of their true-green wavelength output capabilities.
- Closer to the fish - light travels through the water column rather than reflecting off the water surface as an above water light may do.
- Illuminates deeper into the water column than the equivalent above water light.
- Installation depth can be adjusted depending on how shallow or deep your dock is.
- Higher maintenance - must be run dusk to dawn to burn off barnacles (compared to above water version)
- Low tides can expose dock lights, causing them to overheat.
- Passing boats and rod and reel fishermen can damage the lights.
- Cut power line from fishing hooks underwater will eventually lead to corrosion and a short. (we recommend installing power cord in PVC underwater because of this)
- We've seen countless lights damaged during day time because a boat passes by when it's not on and the prop hits it.
Above Water LED Lights
If you want a dock fishing light that you can put up and forget about in terms of maintenance - look no further than a quality above water green fishing light.
- As low maintenance as it gets - turn it on when you're fishing or leave it off while you're gone. No worries about potential for barnacle growth.
- Capable of true-green wavelength to attract fish to the surface, easier to catch fish at your dock this way.
- Everything is above water, so no worries about passing boats and rod and reel fishermen damaging the lights. It's still possible - but far less likely.
- Choose from an above water flood light for illuminating more water surface area to bring fish up to the surface or an above water spot light for penetrating deep into the water depths. Not sure which one is a good fit for you? Here's a comparison of spot vs flood above water fishing lights.
- High brightness above water green fishing lights can shine through the water column to the bottom; but if you skimp on quality, you may not be happy with how far the green light travels. Save your money by buying quality up front.
- Some light will reflect off the water surface, so if you're in a canal with houses across the way they may not appreciate a bright green light running every night. To combat this - keep the light mounted closer to the water surface and only turn it on when you're fishing.
The primary reason most people choose an above water light over an underwater light is because they don't want to deal with the potential for maintenance problems down the road. Here's some more information regarding maintenance free dock fishing lights.
High Intensity Discharge (HID) Bulbs
As an age old technology that continues to be used in dock fishing lighting, high intensity discharge (HID) bulbs are sought-after for their high brightness and ability to easily burn off growth and barnacles as long as they are used dusk to dawn.
Unfortunately, they do not do so well in the other categories and typically fail prematurely for other reasons related to be underwater. Their glass bulb is among the most fragile; they commonly break with heavy tidal currents, being snagged by a fishing line, or can even break after a barnacle latches on the glass if they aren't run dusk to dawn consistently to burn them off.
HID bulbs are actually a family of bulbs; including mercury vapor, metal halide, high pressure sodium, and sodium vapor bulbs.
Underwater High Intensity Discharge (HID) Lighting
For underwater lighting on your dock, the color rendering is extremely important - you want the bulb to be as close to a true-green color as possible. Hence the reason LED has become so popular. Because of this, metal halide and high pressure sodium bulbs are rarely used. However, due to color rendering properties of mercury vapor bulbs - a "greenish" light output can be achieved. The color is still more warm white than green, but it is the best available among the 3 HID lighting options.
To help you understand the color rendering of an HID mercury vapor bulb (by Deep Glow) vs the true-green wavelength of an LED underwater green fishing light (by Outrigger Outdoors), here's a side by side comparison:
The mercury vapor HID bulb is on the left, outputting a more warm white color than a true green color. The LED Underwater Green Fishing Light is on the right, outputting a more vibrant true-green color.
We highly recommend that you do not swim near any HID bulbs. Unlike LED which enters the water as a lower DC voltage, the voltage of HID lights enter the water as a very high AC voltage. This is extremely dangerous to swim around - so please do not do it!
- In terms of light output among HID lighting, mercury vapor is the least efficient (high pressure sodium is the most efficient) but has the best color rendering properties to achieve an output that is close to green.
- Mercury vapor ballasts were banned by the United States for general illumination purposes on January 1, 2008 due to their toxic nature. They are still allowed to be sold for specialty applications though - hence why they are still used for dock fishing lights.
- Metal halide ballasts can be used to power mercury vapor bulbs, but mercury vapor ballasts can not be used on metal halide bulbs.
Mercury Vapor Usability Underwater
- Will burn off barnacles and growth if used dusk to dawn (don't let sit for long periods underwater without turning on, because once barnacles latch on the glass can crack and break when the light is turned on).
- Very fragile - consider mounting them in a low traffic area and run the power cord inside PVC conduit underwater if possible to prevent crabs and fishing lines from cutting the cord and causing a short. (A short with AC voltage can be very dangerous!)
- Some underwater mercury vapor lights have cages that surround them to protect the glass from other objects hitting it.
- This is a great idea worth considering if you're set on an HID option - but the glass can still break from regular boat traffic so be considerate when choosing where to place your light.
Above Water High Intensity Discharge (HID) Lighting
There are three common types of above water HID bulbs - metal halide, high pressure sodium, and mercury vapor.
- Takes ~ 5 minutes to warm up to full brightness
- Incredibly inefficient as they draw a ton of power, but do output a lot of light.
- Bright white color, not ideal for a dock fishing light
High Pressure Sodium
- Takes ~ 5 minutes to warm up to full brightness
- The most efficient among HID bulbs, but not near as efficient as LED as they still have high power consumption with their high brightness.
- Amber warm white color, not ideal for a dock fishing light
- Takes ~ 5 minutes to warm up to full brightness
- The least efficient among HID bulbs
- Color rendering capabilities allow these to be the most green color among all HID bulbs, making them the most ideal option for a dock fishing light among HID bulbs.
As an above water fishing light, there really is no advantage to an HID dock fishing light compared to an LED dock fishing light. LEDs are more energy efficient, brighter, true-green color, and resilient to the elements than HID bulbs.
Consider the Wattage and Color
The wattage of the light, in most cases, correlates to the brightness of the light. Meanwhile, the color of the light correlates to the ability to attract fish. It's true that fish are most attracted to a true-green wavelength of light, followed by a warm white wavelength of light. Some people in extremely clear waters opt for blue lighting, but it's been found that blue lights can startle some fish and aren't the best for night fishing.
Green dock fishing lights are tried and true, regardless of the water conditions or location.
Choose a Durable Design and Finish
A durable dock fishing light design seems intuitive, but there's a lot that goes into it. Factors include water resistance, causes of electrolysis, rigidity, coatings, and more.
- Quality dock fishing lights will use cured-in-place seals to prevent the possibility of water intrusion.
- If a light is made from stainless steel or utilizes dissimilar metals, STAY AWAY! Electrolysis will make it look like an alka-seltzer tablet in no time.
- Rigidity includes methods of protection from other objects. This means quality polycarbonate lenses for LED lights and protective cages for HID bulbs.
- Coatings are a tough one - despite it being used for many things, stay away from powder coated coatings. Electrophoresis and anodized coatings hold up better underwater.
The Luminosity and Beam Angle of the Light
The luminosity and beam angle of a dock fishing light can usually be found out by just looking at the light.
If it's flat and lays on the bottom with a flood style reflector, it may only have 180 degree beam angle but it's going to flood the entire area and do a great job at it.
If it's a bulb suspended off the bottom, then it's probably a 360 degree beam angle but it's not going to flood any more or any less than the 180 degree light sitting on the bottom.
Another-words, don't get too wrapped up in this metric.
As far as luminosity goes, HID bulbs have general ranges of lumen output based on their wattage. LED dock fishing lights on the other hand are becoming more and more efficient. Some high efficiency lights such as this underwater green fishing light are capable of outputting over 160 lumens per watt, which is nearly double that of most HID bulbs.
Recommendation: the Best Dock Fishing Light
If you've read the article up to this point, you can tell that the best dock fishing light is going to vary depending on what your needs and toleration for maintenance is.
If you're looking for an extremely low maintenance light that you don't have to worry about running dusk to dawn on a daily basis, then the best dock fishing light is an Above Water Green Fishing Light.
If you're set on an underwater light; but don't want to worry about constantly breaking bulbs and high power bills, then the best dock fishing light is an Underwater Green Fishing Light.
If you're buddy keeps pushing you saying LEDs can't burn off barnacles (although good quality ones can) and you're set on high intensity discharge (HID) bulbs, then you should settle for an underwater green dock fishing light that utilizes a mercury vapor bulb. These will broadcast the closest to a true green color out of all of the HID bulbs. They are becoming harder to find though - so it's a good idea to keep an extra bulb and an extra ballast on hand.
Not Satisfied with Just Dock Lights? Combine with Other Fish Attractors
If you're looking to attract fish to your dock, a dock fishing light is without a doubt the best way to get started. If you find yourself looking for more - then the next best thing is to consider looking into fish attractors, which are basically artificial reefs you can drop to the bottom near your dock.
Natural Fish Attractors
- Christmas trees are the most common fish attractor used, yet they don't last very long due to their small branches and soft wood.
- Oak and citrus trees will last longer than Christmas trees, making them more ideal as a natural fish attractor option.
Artificial Fish Attractors
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife agencies use these to add cover to lakes that have wide open bottoms. This gives fish a place to live.
- Most artificial fish attractors are made from PVC and will last much longer than any natural fish attractor option.