What Colours Do Game Fish See Best?
There is no doubt, anglers love a tackle box full of jigs, lures, and soft plastics and you can bet your bottom dollar there will be a wide variety of colours within that tackle box. However, does colour really matter?
Numerous scientific studies both in the wild and in a controlled environment such as aquariums on how a fish’s vision works and what colours they see have been documented and proven and disproven since the mid-1960s. It’s been proven that fish species with larger eyes such as walleye, lake trout, and northern pike, for example, see differently than species with smaller eyes such as catfish and sturgeon which rely heavily on scent. However, even fish species with larger eyes see differently from species-to-species at different depths and under different water conditions.
All predator gamefish rely on their eyesight in one form or another to navigate their environment, avoid predators, spawn, and to hunt down a food source. Walleye have an incredible daytime vision. However, a walleye’s large marble eye makes them very sensitive to light which has blessed the predator with incredible vision in lowlight and stained water conditions and is second only to its close cousin the sauger for the best freshwater night vision. However, regardless of your favorite species to fish, they all have the ability to see during low light conditions.
All game fish and even baitfish have cone cells within their eyes that detect colour when exposed to daylight. Rod cells distinguish different shades of gray and allow vision when sunlight is extremely low or non-existent. However, a walleye and sauger eyes contain a larger proportion of these rods than the eyes of other gamefish and baitfish that are commonly active during the day. Mentioned above is just the very basics of the internal workings of a fish’s eye. But who cares about the scientific studies? What colours do gamefish see best?
Fishing 2 to 20-feet in depth
I’ve never got to worked up on my colour choice. I always pick my jig or lure colours to “match the hatch” as the fly fisherman say. For example, I like lures, jigs, and soft plastics that are silver, gold, brass, yellow, white, pearl, orange, black, and chartreuse, or lures, jigs, and plastics that have a combination of these colours blended together. I believe that not only are these colours picked up easily by the cone cells and rod cells within the inner workings of a fishes eye, but these colours also match the colours of the natural food source such as minnows, leeches, perch, whitefish, and small northern pike, and walleye, within most North American water bodies. The colours mentioned above are my go-to colours in water 20-feet and less.
Fishing 20 to 40-feet in depth
All colours will gradually dull and fade out as they drop deeper in the water column. However, red, orange, and pink have proven to be the first to fade out at deeper depths. At these depths, I put more emphasis on silver, gold, brass, yellow, white, pearl, and chartreuse.
Also, flash and vibration become a greater factor at these depths. When jigging these depths, you certainly want a jig with high-quality glow paints such as Big Sky Jigs. The head of the glow jig will stand out even in deep depths as it’s bounced off the bottom. This is also the depths where you will notice the difference between quality glow paints and inferior glow paints. I’ve seen this ratio as high as five fish (walleye) to one.
Fishing 40-feet and deeper
At these depths, my biggest focus is on flash and vibration so I choose lures that will give off a thunderous vibration and I put way more emphasis on solid silver, gold, brass, and pearl colours. If jigging, I go large solid silver, gold, brass, and pearl, and they must be painted with quality glow paints. If I’m tipping the jig with soft plastics, I like bright pearl-colored soft plastics.
The question of what colours fish see best will always have room for debate. Once you throw in water depth, water clarity, an angler’s lucky lure, and different fish species, the debate may never end. However, lure companies like Lucky Bug Lures, Buzzbomb Lures, Len Thompson Lures, SteelShad Lures, and Big Sky Jigs, that understand a fish’s sensories and make their jigs and lures to create lots of flash and thunderous vibration, then painted with quality glow paint, plays into more than just what colour a fish can see. And, if you want to set the hook into even more fish, put a little bead of Liquid Mayhem on your presentation before you make your next cast!