If you’re like me, the lures in your tackle boxes exhibit akaleidoscope of colors. Some of my boxes contain only one lure type—spoons, forexample, or jigs. However, none contain lures in only one or two colors. Nomatter what artificial I’m casting, I have a rainbow of colors from which tochoose, and every angler I know is similarly equipped.
A reasonable person might wonder if all these colors actuallyare necessary. Can fish really distinguish different hues?
Scientists say yes.We know many gamefish have color vision because their eyes contain conescells responsible for color vision. But some colors may be seen better thanothers.
Take largemouth bass, for example. In his book Knowing Bass, Dr. Keith Jones, who hasstudied bass senses for decades, notes, “Their color vision is strongest in theareas of medium-red to green. It fails rapidly moving into the blues andpurples, as it does toward the far reds. These color extremes are seen aslighter or darker shades of gray or black. Very pale colors of any shade arelikely seen as simply light-colored, whereas dark reds, greens, blues andpurples are interpreted as simply dark.”
This suggests color is meaningful to bass in some cases butnot others. Worrying over minor shade differences in blue, dark-purple and dark-redlures is pointless because bass see all shades of these colors as essentiallythe same. On the other hand, for mid-range colors where bass discriminate best,it makes perfect sense to offer a variety of lure colors when even small variationscan make a big difference.
Here’s how this might affect your fishing. Let’s say you’refishing a heavily pressured lake where many anglers use dark-purple plasticworms. After a while, bass here might avoid all dark-purple worms equally becausethey view them as the same and have had bad experiences when eating things thiscolor. But bass that have learned to shy away from watermelon worms might see watermelon/redflake worms as distinctly different and therefore an OK meal.
We’re talking about bass in this example, and other fishspecies may or may not be similar when it comes to color detection. There aresome factors, however, that come into play regardless of the species you’re targeting.For example, lure depth should be considered when selecting colors because aslight penetrates water, different wavelengths in the color spectrum begindisappearing. Subtle variations in lure color may be important when fishing onor near the water’s surface, but colors become increasingly less relevant indeeper waters where they are filtered out. Moreover, in muddy water, it’spointless to fret over the exact shade of blue or green because reds, orangesand yellows are about the only colors of light available.
Any color readily seen provides an advantage, but the easewith which a fish can spot a lure against the prevailing background often ismore important than the lure’s color. It’s helpful, therefore, to know theposition from which a fish will view your lure and against what backdrop. Ifthe fish will see your lure from the side against a weedy green background, alure that contrasts with that background will stand out better. This is why,for example, a dark-colored lure may work best at night. After dark, predatorfish often position themselves so they can see silhouettes of prey passingoverhead against the somewhat lighter sky, and dark colors create sharperoutlines.
Many other factors relate to how well a fish sees a lure orlure color—so many, we can’t discuss all of them here. Time of day, windvelocity, types of dissolved particles in the water, sky color, season—allthese and more affect one’s ability to catch fish on a certain lure color.
The fact is, however, we often worry too much about allthese variables and whether or not this color or that will catch the most fish.While knowing why fish may respond in one way or another to a particular coloris useful, it’s possible to over-analyze the facts and fail to enjoy ourfishing. I much prefer using some basic guidelines that have proven helpful regardlessof when and where I’m fishing and what I’m fishing for. Perhaps they will beuseful to you as well.
- What’s on the menu?I always start by learning what the gamefish like to eat where I’m fishing.Asking a local fisheries biologist or angler usually produces this information,and then I try to “match the hatch” so to speak—using lures closely mimickingprey color, size and shape. Baits resembling predominant forage almost alwayselicit more strikes than baits that don’t. Be sure, however, you use the rightlure for the right cover and structure. If you know a lake has lots of shad init, for example, you may want to throw shad-colored lures, but only if you’refishing areas where shad will be. If you move from open water to shallow grassbeds, it may be best to tie on a crawfish imitation instead.
- What’s hot? You’lloften hear about a specific lure in a specific color that all the locals reallylike. Don’t discount the value of using these “hot” baits. Often there’ssomething subtle about baitfish coloration, the behavior of a certain forage animalor the color of the bottom or water that makes a particular color (or range ofcolors) work best. If you hear the lake you’re planning to fish is a “greenlake,” stock up on your favorite baits in colors like watermelon and greenpumpkin.
- Are the fish telling you anything? Sometimes you must experimentand let the fish tell you what they want. Switch colors periodically withoutchanging any other variables, and pay attention to details when fish hit. Ifyou can fish with multiple poles or multiple lures, start with a mix of colorsand see if fish show a preference. Often a single rod gets all the action untilyou switch all lures to the “color of the day.”
- What colors do Ireally like? Every angler likes some colors better than others, and it’s amistake to underestimate the importance of angler confidence when fishing. Wetend to persevere longer and try harder with a lure we have had success with inthe past.