ICAST: Ultraviolet Wave

ORLANDO, Fla.  The fishing industry is full of gadgets and trinkets. From fancy tackle to expensive electronics, anglers are constantly looking for the latest and greatest to improve their odds on the water. But with thousands of products released each year, some trends are more marketing than science.

One trend that is showing up at the 2009 ICAST trade show is ultraviolet-reflecting bait. The technology is nothing new  it has been used by fishermen in the Pacific Northwest for a few decades  but many lure manufacturers are expanding their product lines to include the technology.

Unfortunately for consumers, the reasons for using ultraviolet reflectors in lures are a complicated mix of chemistry, physics and fish biology. And manufacturers don't help the situation when they use confusing terminology in their product descriptions. For instance, here is a gem from a newly-formed manufacturer's press release:

"The homogenous infusion of nanoparticulate causes the bait to exhibit a unique spectral phase shift when subjected to the simultaneous combination of water and light."

That is enough to make your eyes glaze over.

While there have been plenty of studies on the interaction of fish and ultraviolet light, patching together scientific-sounding phrases can confuse more than inform.

The truth is that some fish can see ultraviolet light, even though humans can't. And in clear water, ultraviolet light can penetrate deeper under water than visible light. So it makes sense that the more visible your bait is, the more likely a predator fish will strike. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

Dr. Keith Jones, Director of Research for Pure Fishing, explained how that information is misused.

"In clear water, all colors begin to fade as light travels through the water," Jones said. "Red is taken out first and is pretty much gone at 25-feet down. At deeper depths, all that is left is blue, violet, and eventually just ultraviolet.

"But in muddy water the opposite is true. In dirtier water, ultraviolet light gets filtered out first. It turns out that red goes the furthest."

That means UV-reflecting baits are wasted on most freshwater lakes and rivers. But clearing up the water wouldn't solve the problem. Jones contends that most game fish can't detect UV at all.

"There are a number of fish which see ultraviolet light  like carp, minnows, salmon, and assorted coral reef fish," Jones said. "But a large percentage of modern fish, including the entire bass family, don't have the proper receptors."

According to Jones, bass have only two receptors, for just red and green. That is appropriate for a fish that lives in murky water, where red light is more common.

"Bass retinas can't even detect blue, let alone ultraviolet," Jones said. "If you use ultraviolet reflection in bass baits, you would be wasting your time."

Does this mean that Pure Fishing, the parent company of Stren and Berkley, has steered clear of UV technology? Not exactly. In fact, Berkley has been including UV brighteners in their baits since about 1990.

John Prochnow, Director of Bait Development for Pure Fishing, said many white Berkley baits include a UV brightener  a chemical similar to what is found in common laundry detergent.

"I don't think it is as big a deal as some people think," Prochnow said. "I have used it for decades in my own bait, and have included it in some Berkley products, but it was introduced without any marketing, and is sometimes just a side-effect of other features.

"Scent is our big technology. That gives us a market advantage because many companies have a hard time duplicating it. Companies that don't have that technology try to get an advantage by touting other characteristics like UV."

Prochnow is confident that UV-reflection is more of a fad than a revolution in bait technology.

"It will be something they can talk about. Normally, bait sales are all around the decoration. Higher-performing baits can be outsold by something with a colorful gel coat. It is a jewelry thing. Cosmetics is huge for the folks pulling [lures] off the shelves."

That makes sense to Ryan McBride, owner of UV Blast. His company has manufactured UV-reflective coatings for many years in the tackle craft industry. And with about half his business going straight to manufacturers, he has seen a demand for UV products.

"We have [lure manufacturers] come to us and say 'Here is what we are wanting to do,'" McBride said. "We aren't making any claims about our products, but we have seen a new demand in the last few years."

One such customer is Worden's Lures. They have used coatings on their rooster tails for several years, but in 2008 introduced UV-reflection across all their product lines. When asked how their new baits were holding up in the popular bass market, Mark Masterson was cautiously optimistic.

"It takes a while to educate the public," Masterson said. "If it catches fish, then it'll stick around."

Brett Ware of Tightlines Lure Company was not nearly so reserved. Offering UV-reflection in almost exclusively bass-targeted soft plastics, Ware was confident that not only does his product have an advantage, but will be commercially successful.

"[UV] is in Europe right now, and it is the hottest thing out there," Ware said. "In the next couple years, it will come to the U.S. You can either be an innovator, or a follower."

In tough economic times, few can fault a company for producing the type of product that sells, even if the line between gimmick and feature is blurred.

Understanding both the retail market and the manufacturer's perspective, McBride summed up the industry like this: "Sometimes it isn't about catching more fish  it is about catching more fishermen."