Anyone who’s suffered a sunburn is painfully aware of the power of ultraviolet radiation. It’s a simple concept: soak up too many rays without decent sunblock and you’re going to get burned. For many anglers, however, the notion that UV light can also help them catch more fish remains a bit of a mystery.
Still, this too is based on straightforward science. "Special coatings that reflect and react to ultraviolet light can make it easier for fish to see your lures in certain conditions," says noted fishing expert and UV believer Scott Glorvigen. A veteran guide and decorated tournament competitor, he’s convinced that such optically brightened baits can also boost fishing success.
To set the stage for a discussion on UV, Glorvigen begins with thoughts about another, far more widely practiced form of visual enhancement.
"I’ve been a fan of glow, or phosphorescent finishes for years," he begins. "In fact, if I had to choose one jig color to use every day, all season long for walleyes, it would be Northland Fishing Tackle’s glow watermelon. Obviously, the blend of lime green, chartreuse and orange appeals to their predatory instincts because it mimics perch and other baitfish. But it so often out-produces non-glow fire- tiger, which has similar base colors, that I know the glow must have something to do with it. And I believe it’s because the glow makes it easier for fish to find my jig."
Glow and UV finishes help hungry predators home in on jigs and other lures.
Like glow paint jobs, UV finishes raise the bar in visibility-though in ways that are hard for human eyes to appreciate. Fish, however, see it clearly. That’s because the eyes of many predatory fish species are designed to see UV light with wavelengths ranging from 400 to 315 nanometers. Unlike color, which quickly fades as depth increases, short-wave UV light penetrates the water with ease, and scientists tell us it’s visible to fish at depths of 100 feet or more.
In case you’re wondering what lurks in the abyss that’s worth seeing lit up like a black-light poster on a teenager’s wall, fisheries biologists report that everything from fish markings to the tiniest building blocks of the food chain reflect UV light. Which means walleyes and other predators likely use these cues to home in on everything from schoolmates to dinner guests.
"UV isn’t just a deal for deep water," Glorvigen notes. "It’s a factor in the shallows during low-light periods, and in stained water, too."
In fact, Glorvigen’s UV epiphany occurred while plying the shallow, stained waters of Lake of the Woods while ice fishing with his son. "We were fishing shoulder to shoulder, using the same Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoons, and I was absolutely putting on a clinic," he grins. "The only difference in our presentations was my spoon had a UV finish. When he tied on a UV Buck-Shot, his catch rate soared."
After initial acceptance on ice, UV baits are gaining ground in open water.
Fellow Northwoods guide and fishing ace Tom Neustrom notes similar successes on ice and open water. "UV hasn’t caught on as much during the summer, but it’s gaining ground," he says. "I’ve seen it make a big difference when trolling Rapala Shad Rap crankbaits for walleyes in shallow, windswept areas where suspended sediments had reduced the water clarity. It’s also a factor in deeper, off-colored water."
Both Neustrom and Glorvigen are quick to point out the differences between UV and glow finishes. Glow emits light for a period of time after being charged with an external light source. UV treatments reflect existing ultraviolet light from the sun. It’s a key difference for several reasons, and understanding them can help you decide when to fish one or the other-or both.
"Glow works in low-vis daytime conditions and at night," Glorvigen explains. "UV is great in stained water and low light, too, either from heavy cloud cover or early and late in the day. But because it comes from the sun, it’s largely a non-factor at night, although some anglers are experimenting with lighting systems."
Veteran guide Tom Neustrom says UV is a factor in low-vis conditions such as off-colored water.
By crafting a blend of reflective base coats, special matte finishes, fluorescent paints (which emit light that’s already been absorbed) and optical brighteners, savvy lure designers are able to create finishes that absorb UV radiation and re-emit it in vivid, fish-attracting colors. As with other elements of a presentation, finding UV patterns that trigger strikes under specific conditions takes a little experimenting. Variables ranging from the fish’s mood to predominant forage and even the chemical makeup of the water can tip the odds in favor of one over another.
Fortunately, the number of UV options is on the rise. The concept first caught on among trout and salmon seekers in the West, and after a fast start in the ice fishing market is seeing gradual gains among multi-species anglers in open water. For 2014, choices range from jigs and spinner blades to crankbaits, jigging spoons, soft plastics and more.
Given the nearly unlimited possibilities for applying such technology to the art of catching fish, both Glorvigen and Neustrom foresee a bright future for UV. "As companies like Northland, Rapala and others continue to produce a growing number of UV options, more anglers will embrace and experiment with this new frontier in lure finishes," Glorvigen predicts.
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