Last updated on November 11th, 2020
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When visiting most tackle stores – whether online or offline – you’re likely to come across a huge selection of lines and lures in almost every color imaginable. While some might assume this is just to catch the eye of a browsing angler, the fishing line color and the color and pattern of lures have a much more significant impact on the bite than we might first think.
In fact, the impact of color on fishing is one of the most hotly debated topics among anglers. The big question many ask is whether the color choice of lures and lines truly has an effect on fishing results. So let’s take a closer look and see what is actually the truth on the matter.
So… Can Fish See Colors?
Perhaps the first question we need to answer is whether fish actually see colors. Simply put, yes, most fish can.
This is made possible by two important types of cells present in the fishes’ eyes called cones and rods (no, we’re not referring to fishing rods here!). Cones photoreceptor cells in the retina process color during daylight and can distinguish between various colors, while rods only provide night vision and can’t process them – although these cells do recognize differences in light intensity.
Certain species have a higher presence of one of the two cells. For instance, freshwater species often have more cones, so they are better at distinguishing different colors. Conversely, fish that are night feeders or deep dwellers tend to have more rods, as they live and feed in darker conditions.
As a result, some fish see color better than others. So, the likes of bass, salmon, and trout all have far better capabilities than other species that feed at night, such as walleye. It’s even believed in some circles that rainbow trout and Pacific salmon see colors similarly as humans do.
Taking it further, tarpon, a species adapted to both freshwater and saltwater, may have even better color vision capabilities than we humans. While we have 3 different cone cells in our retinas, adult tarpon have 5! It’s speculated that their ability to process colors could be as much as 10,000 times greater than ours. That would explain a lot about this incredible gamefish.
How Light Affects Colors in Water
There are several variables that impact the ability of fish to process color, namely how light acts in water, the depth of the water and other water conditions.
For example, colors of light with the longest wavelengths (e.g. reds, oranges) are the first to be absorbed (disappear) in clear water, while shorter-wavelength ones (e.g. blues, purples) remain visible in deeper water (this is why our oceans appear blue).
So, putting red fishing line in clear water sees it become completely absorbed (disappear) by around 20 – 25 feet, while blue goes as deep as the sunlight penetrates into the water. Fishing for shallow-water species means you can use more long-wavelength colors, while deeper fishing requires the use of those with shorter wavelengths.
Should the water be less clear, then each color wavelength is absorbed even faster. As a result, you can use colors to greater effect in clear water conditions, such as in a freshwater lake, as the colors are generally more noticeable and remain present at deeper depths.
Furthermore, the deeper the color goes, the less intense it becomes. For instance, putting a yellow lure down 50ft will still be visible as yellow to some fish, but it won’t be as bright a yellow compared to a depth of 20ft.
Of course, the weather also plays a role in the visibility of light and colors. A cloudy day sees light penetrating at a much shallower rate compared to a sunny day. Similarly, evening times have less light penetrating, resulting in reduced light intensity for all colors.
Therefore, there are various lines and lures produced for different water and light conditions. A color that works well in shallow water during the day is going to be less effective as one used for fishing in the dark, which is why we see such a wide variety of colors in lures and lines! So let’s see
Be Invisible with the Right Fishing Line Color
Having different types and colors of line in your tackle collection is important. Each one offers certain benefits, and the color of the line certainly plays a key role in maximizing your success on the water.
Fluorocarbon lines are highly touted for the ability to remain virtually invisible in all water conditions. That’s one of the reasons (in addition to having higher abrasion resistance and low stretch) for their higher cost.
Pink versions of fluorocarbon are very popular as they are quickly absorbed, making it virtually invisible in water. However, as fluorocarbon is pretty much invisible, to begin with, color is less of an issue with them. But it does play a bigger role in other types of lines.
For example, monofilament lines are available in a wider range of color choices designed to either be harder for the fish to detect or easier for the angler to see (hi-vis fishing line). Here’s a breakdown of how colored fishing line impacts your fishing:
- Yellow – Ideal for dirtier water conditions, it’s easy for the angler to see above water and lets you detect bites better, although it is more visible in clear waters.
- Red – The first color to lose its light underwater, red becomes invisible underwater yet is easier to see above water. Great for use with spoons, plastics, or almost any bait.
- Green – Blends well into the water, making the line harder to detect underwater, with most water featuring vegetation and green hues. A versatile, all-around fishing line choice that is good for various water conditions.
If you like to fish with braided line, as I often do, keep in mind that although braid has several advantages over monofilament, with a higher strength-to-diameter ratio being one of them, it is also going to be more visible to fish in the water.
So, you will follow the same recommendations as for mono but you’ll want to attach a good length of fluorocarbon line directly to the end of the braided line. Now you have the best of both worlds – strength, and invisibility.
Lure Selection – Match Colors to Water Conditions
So, just like choosing our line, there are some important things to consider when picking lure colors for best results fishing.
But whereas invisibility is the goal when choosing our fishing line, we want our lures to be to be detectable underwater by the fish. Remember, colors lose their light intensity as soon as they are submerged, and the deeper it goes, the less bright and visible they become. So then, our approach to selecting lure colors has to be different.
Also, keep in mind that the condition of the water greatly impacts how much light and brightness is produced by the lure. We have to consider varying water conditions whenever we think about what is going to be most effective.
For example, in clear water conditions, bright pigments like red and orange work well closer to the surface or for species found in shallow waters, as they have yet to be absorbed and lose their hue. However, the deeper you go, the less colorful are your options, with greens and dark colors like black working best.
In dirty water, a dark lure should be used even at shallower depths, as light penetration is much weaker. This would be even poorer in dark conditions, where bright lures lose almost all effectiveness!
Finally, if you are fishing in deep or muddied waters, you really should go with darker lures, especially blues, purples, and blacks.
Well, that’ll do it for now. But the bottom line is that fish are not colorblind as was once thought, and the fishing line and bait colors we choose can have a big impact on our fishing success.
For many of us, the information here is really nothing new – it only reaffirms what we’ve already known through years of fishing experience.
But if you are new to recreational fishing, just want to catch more fish or are simply curious about how fish see colors, hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this post and found it useful.
Leave a comment, we want to hear your thoughts. Let us know what line/lure color schemes (under what circumstances ) have worked best for you.
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I really enjoyed this info about the role color plays in fishing. I would have never known that fish can see different colors. When I make my next fishing trip, I will definitely put this info to use. Many thanks!
I’ve always wondered why anglers use colorful lures and whether the fish can see them. Not only did I learn about fish and their color vision, but I learned about the variations caused by freshwater and saltwater, nighttime fishing, and daytime fishing. Excellent article, I’ll have to put some of this information to use.
Hey Ryan. Yeah, color schemes in tackle selection can have a big impact on your results. Give it a try and let us know if you notice improvements in the bite.