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How a children's toy helped make a splash in the fishing community

Inventor Wes Braddock, lured to shallow waters.

When the flash of a children’s toy caught his eye, keen angler Wes Braddock wondered whether it might just do the same with fish. Ethan Neville puts his old science teacher’s ingenious invention to the test.

It was one of those quiet days on the water. Conversation was becoming increasingly tangential, and the snack supply was being attacked with the voracity only bored fisherman can muster; you can always tell how successful a fishing trip is by how fast the food gets eaten.

After James, one of two other anglers on board, started opening up about the complexities of his love life, we knew our situation was dire. Fish needed to be caught. My Glowbite lure had been in the water for an hour and attracted nothing more than a few nibbles. Scepticism was mounting over my former high-school teacher Wes Braddock’s claim that this nifty invention of his catches three times more fish than your standard tackle.

Such doubts soon vanished. With the tide still stagnant and the fish clearly not feeding, I managed three snapper in the next half hour. Nothing massive, but considerably better than the zero caught by my two mates.

The tide turned shortly after, and the current took us on a nice drift up the east side of Kawau Island. We all started catching fish, up to a respectable 4.5kg. It wasn’t until the end of the day, when we hit another dead patch, that my Glowbite again proved its worth, snagging a 7.2kg snapper while the other guys were finishing off the chips. We headed home with what we needed for dinner, and the rest of the fish, including my final catch, went back in the water to swim another day.

Read more: How a little-known New Zealand invention is revolutionising dairy farmingNo 8 wire and all that: What are the origins of Kiwi ingenuity?

Braddock’s Glowbite lure, at right, uses an embedded LED light to attract fish.

Wes Braddock is the embodiment of Kiwi ingenuity: a blend of innovation, humility and hard work. His Glowbite fishing lure – which looks rather like a colourful, mono-eyed baby octopus – is the first to use an embedded glowing LED light to attract fish.

Marketing and distributing the lure is keeping him busy, although it should have been no surprise to me that he also does a bit of beekeeping on the side; still, I was unaware of his other enterprise until he dropped in at my place wearing a full white beekeeper’s suit.

Braddock’s Glowbite story began in 2009, when he left Auckland for the Far North, to take up the role of principal at a small school in Kaitaia. Surrounded by some of the most fertile fishing grounds in the country, he began dropping a line from his kayak, with fresh-and-free family dinners in mind. It didn’t take him long, however, to start thinking about new ways of catching fish.

Sitting at home one evening, watching his daughter play with a small toy, he saw the light: a flashing LED light. Most fish species have colour vision and are sensitive to light; Braddock had a hunch that an underwater, flashing LED might make an attractive lure. He was right.

Immediately, he started work on developing a design with an embedded LED light. In 2013, he accepted the position of head of Senior School at Kings-Way School, on the Hibiscus Coast, so he and the family moved south again. But his work on the lures continued.

There were a number of issues to solve early on, particularly when making the moulds by hand and from clay. Finding an LED light durable enough to survive New Zealand conditions (big fish and deep water) was also a pressing challenge with no easy solution. It wasn’t until 2014 that he found a light meeting his specifications. Not only was it thoroughly waterproof, but it was operated by a sensor, so it lit up when the lure hit the water and automatically turned off when dry. This meant the 50-hour battery life would be drained only when fishing.

Another successful Glowbite test-run off Great Barrier Island.  Braddock releases a 6kg snapper.

It took two more years of development to ensure every kink was worked out. Extensive testing took place; that is to say, many fishing trips took place under the guise of business. What his research confirmed was that fish were drawn to the light, not blinded by it. However, as a former science teacher, Braddock knew anecdotal evidence would not suffice. So, he set up an underwater experiment filming two lures, one with a light and one without. To his joy and relief, the lure with the light attracted three times as many bites from the fish.

In 2017, he settled on a design for the kabura-style lure – which has a heavy sliding head combined with light tassels and two small, sharp hooks – and the first bulk order was placed with a manufacturing company in China. Now, the real work could begin.

That December, a campaign was launched on Kickstarter, where orders for Glowbites could be placed in advance by the general public. It didn’t take long for Kiwis to get on board. The first shipment sold out soon after arriving from China, and the campaign allowed him to quickly place another order.

Braddock took this shipment took to the Auckland Boat Show, in May 2018. Despite half the delivery arriving mid-show (forcing Braddock to drive to Auckland Airport and do the pick-up himself), all the lures were snapped up. Retailers, too, were beginning to take notice. By the end of the year, Braddock was supplying more than 50 outlets, and successful fishing stories like mine were piling up in his inbox.

Braddock’s second innovation, the Glowbite jighead, has now hit the stores. A hook with a small LED-embedded weight on the end that’s used in soft baiting (a fishing method that involves casting soft plastic lures instead of metal or traditional baits), it’s attracting attention from the fishing community. With more lure designs already patented and inquiries being fielded from offshore buyers, the Glowbite story is far from over. Braddock, of course, still keeps a few bees. I don’t think he’d have it any other way.

This article was first published in the March 2019 issue of North & South.

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