BEMIDJI, Minn. (AP) -- The series of blips that lit up the depth finder screen meant a group of crappies were swimming below the hole.
And they weren't interested in biting.
Darkness was approaching on the small northern Minnesota lake, a body of water that wasn't known for its evening fishing. Right on schedule, the crappies shut off when the sun hit the trees. Fish that eagerly rose to the bait half an hour ago now sat stationary, as though glued into place.
Then they saw the light, a glowing red luminescence. About as fast as you could flick a switch, they came back to life.
The source of this renewed interest was the ''Fire-Light Glow Stick,'' a new product from Northland Tackle Co. If the response of the sluggish crappies was any indication, this might be one of the most significant fishing developments to come along in quite some time.
''It's going to be big, both for ice fishing and for summer,'' said John Crane, promotions manager for the Bemidji-based tackle maker. ''Before, you had to rely on your painted jig and your live bait.''
But now ...
''It's revolutionary and it's for real,'' Crane said.
Northland's new product is a miniaturized version of those popular glow sticks that have been on the market for years. The Fire-Light Glow Stick is a tiny, 1-inch plastic tube filled with Kailume, a chemical that emits a glowing light when activated. Give the tube a quick snap and a few shakes and it will glow for at least eight hours -- more than enough for a full day's fishing.
The Glow Stick's big selling point, Crane says, is its miniature size.
''There are some other battery-powered products out there, but they're real big,'' Crane said. ''This is small and sleek. The fact that you could put an artificial light in something so small as an ice fishing lure, that's unheard-of.''
Available in six neon colors -- blue, red, pink, chartreuse, orange and green -- Northland's Glow Sticks are inserted into a silicone ring that can be attached either to the line or the lure.
The idea, of course, is to get the fish to look at the light and then trigger them to take the bait.
In the case of the sluggish crappies, the Fire-Light Glow Stick had an incredible effect. Fish that couldn't be coaxed into moving just minutes before, suddenly raced toward the glowing source of light.
They nipped at the light and ignored the jig. But at least they were interested.
It's no coincidence that Northland unveiled the Fire-Light Glow Stick this year. In Minnesota, at least, using any kind of external light to attract fish was illegal until last spring. That all changed when the Minnesota Legislature passed the so-called ''Lighted Lure'' bill. The measure legalized lighted lures; Northland's product, by definition, fits that description.
According to Duane Peterson, Northland's vice president who founded the company with his brother, John, the law change offered a perfect opportunity to market the Glow Stick. They'd kept the idea -- and the product -- in their back pockets a couple of years.
''We've had this in mind for a long time,'' Peterson said, ''but we didn't feel marketing it without Minnesota was worthwhile for us.''
Peterson says he thinks the Glow Stick will be especially effective in places such as Upper Red Lake, where crappies typically bite best after dark, and Lake of the Woods, a bog-stained body of water where light doesn't penetrate very far. The Glow Sticks also would be worth a try on Devils Lake.
So far, keeping up with the demand has been a challenge and the Glow Sticks are hard to come by in sporting goods stores. Crane said a stock of 30,000 Glow Sticks sold out in a week. Northland markets the sticks in single packs that include a Glow Stick and silicone ring and retail for $1.49.
Although using a light to lure fish into striking range might cross the lines of fair chase in the minds of some people, Crane says he's had no complaints about Northland's Glow Stick.
''In contrast to the depth finder in the late '70s and the Aqua-Vu (underwater camera) of the last couple years, I haven't heard anything about this,'' Crane said.
From a fisheries perspective, it's just one more way anglers can become more adept at catching fish. Although that's not bad by itself, managers say, the cumulative impact of these technologies warrants further attention.
''Our perspective is to counsel folks that if there are continued technological advances and anglers get more effective, then ultimately that will lead to more restrictive regulations if we want to keep the number and size of fish acceptable,'' said Ron Payer, fisheries chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. ''We've got a bunch of very smart, very savvy anglers out there.''
Measuring the specific impact of a technology such as the Glow Stick is where the waters get murky, Payer said.
''This in itself, in most waters, probably wouldn't have a great impact,'' Payer said. ''But in certain waters, bog-stained or some of the deeper waters are where maybe it would be more effective. People should be aware it's just one more technological advance that makes it a little easier to catch fish.''
Crane, the Northland promotions manager, said Minnesota was one of the last states to legalize lighted lures. They're also legal in North Dakota.
''Virtually 98 percent of the states have them legalized,'' he said. ''We're just finally caught up with the times.''
(Distributed by The Associated Press)
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