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South Williamsport, PA
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Do Fish See Color?

I was leafing through my Bass Pro/Cabela’s fishing catalog the other day and, as usual, I was in awe of the vast number of lures being made available to fishermen these days. Even more interesting was the vast number of lure colors and patterns showing up on page after page. Of course, there were many

I was leafing through my Bass Pro/Cabela’s fishing catalog the other day and, as usual, I was in awe of the vast number of lures being made available to fishermen these days. Even more interesting was the vast number of lure colors and patterns showing up on page after page. Of course, there were many “natural-looking” colors and patterns available, but there was also a large selection of brightly colored lures — bright greens, bright oranges, deep reds, and a host of other colors and unique patterns. Like a lot of avid fishermen, I too have my fair share of those lures from the natural-looking colors and patterns to the more bizarre colors and patterns.

So I guess the real question might be — are all those lures designed to catch more fishermen or to catch more fish? Maybe another way of saying it is, do the fish see what we fishermen see? Like humans, fish have rods and cones in their eyes; rods sense light intensity and cones identify light and color. Some species of fish see color better than others — bass, for example, see color better than walleyes.

There are, however, other factors that affect how well certain colors can be seen. Water and the minute particles contained in it may make colors less distinct. Also, the deeper you go, the less light penetrates the water, and the spectrum of color diminishes. Red is the first color to disappear, yellow is the next to fade, and blue is the last to disappear.

As a SCUBA diver, I have seen this phenomenon many times. While diving and photographing a shipwreck in the relatively clear waters of the St. Lawrence River, I soon discovered that the bright red of my wet suit appeared to be a dull brownish with just a hint of red, and that was in less than fifty feet of water. While diving in the highly acidic, brownish-colored water of the famed Loch Ness at fifty or sixty feet, not only could I not see color, I couldn’t even see the diver only a few feet from me.

With all of these factors in mind, then why fuss over color?

To be honest, when it comes to enticing fish, color is often further down the list of importance than some other factors. For example, it doesn’t matter what color you are using if it is not being presented where the fish are; if the fish are suspended at ten feet and you are fishing on the bottom at 20 feet you’re out of luck. The action you impart to a lure may also be a factor in attracting hits maybe even more than the lure’s color. Also, the flash of a lure may be more important than its color.

Don’t misunderstand, while color may not top the list, it may still be a factor. It is believed that walleyes may be more sensitive to certain colors — green and orange are believed to be visible to walleyes at depths where humans see no color at all.

Generally speaking, I usually opt for some kind of natural color and pattern, especially in relatively clear, shallow water. Like a lot of fishermen though, I will sometimes go to a more brightly colored lure in deeper more brackish colored water; fishing a bright orange plastic worm in deep water may prove successful on walleyes.

The bottom line is if I’m not catching fish on my lure of choice and you’re catching fish on fluorescent green with bright bubblegum stripes running through it — I’m switching to what you are using. I don’t care what the scientific explanation is for why it’s working; I just want in on the action.

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