What lure colours catch fish?

The Science

In order to see colour, a fish needs to have at least two cone cell types in its eyes.

  • Bottom-dwelling fish have only one type of cone cell so they see everything in shades of grey - they can determine an object's brightness, but not its colour.
  • Many shallow water surface-fish eg trout have four cone cell types, allowing them to see all colours, including the hidden ones in the ultraviolet spectrum.
  • Other fish have two cone cell types, limiting their colour distinctions to black, browns, greens, reds and yellows. Double cones are the most common cone types in fish.

Unfortunately, there is no chart explaining the colour viewing capabilities for each species of fish. With this is mind, it is best to make colour selections based on colour contrast rather than actual colours. For instance, pick a lure with two colours that would appear differently, regardless of their actual colour.

Further information can be found at these links –

Kageyama CJ. 'What Fish See: Understanding Optics and Colour Shifts for designing Lures and Flies' Amato Publications, Portland Oregan. ISBN 1-57188-140-9

Karen L. Cheney, Cait Newport, Eva C. McClure, N. Justin Marshall 2013 ‘Colour vision and response bias in a coral reef fish’ Journal of Experimental Biology 2013 216: 2967-2973; doi: 10.1242/jeb.087932 http://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/15/2967

Pignatelli V, Champ C, Marshall J, Vorobyev M. 'Double cones are used for colour discrimination in the reef fish, Rhinecanthus aculeatus.' Biology Letters. 2010;6(4):537-539. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.1010. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2936199/#

Colour Filtration in Water

Water progressively filters light as it travels through water, and since all colour is actually coloured light, water will filter colours. Certain colours cannot be seen below certain depths because light is broken apart when it hits the water and certain wavelengths (colours) are filtered out. This is not a factor of depth but distance through the water, and so applies to viewing colours 'horizontally' through the water as well. The severity of this filter depends on the clarity of the water, wind conditions, time of day and lure depth; dirty water, high winds, deep water, and evening hours mean fewer colours. To understand these effects, we must first understand the relationship between light and water.

The colours of the spectrum (the colours of light) are Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. A mixture of all of these colours produces white. If an angler were to stand in the centre of a very deep lake and shine a bright light into it, the colours within the light beam would gradually disappear as it travelled toward the bottom. At 10 feet, red is almost gone, orange is disappearing, and yellow is starting to fade away. At 35 feet, orange is gone, and yellow is quickly disappearing. At 75 feet, yellow looks greenish-blue and the only visible colours are blue, indigo and violet. As we pass 150 feet, blue and indigo are hard to see and violet is disappearing. At a few hundred feet, ultraviolet is the only colour left, and it is not visible to the human eye anyway.

Neon colours, however, do not disappear when the spectrum colours do. This is because they "fluoresce", meaning that they glow when hit by ultraviolet light. We have heard reports of brightly visible fluorescent pink and yellow colours at depths of 125 feet and deeper!

Keep in mind, however, that these water colour filtration rates assume that the water is crystal clear. Pollutants, sediment, and wind can drastically affect these numbers by rearranging the filtration order and decreasing the overall depths of all colours. Under these circumstances, red-orange seems to be the most visible, assuming that your lure depth is not greater than 20 feet. That said, here are some tips from anglers on how to pick lure colour:

  • Super Clear: White or clear. Use glitter for colour. All colours are visible to 10 feet.
  • Clear Water: Blue is most visible. White is visible. All colours are slightly visible to 10 feet.
  • Green Water: Green is most visible.
  • Stained Water: Orange, green, and chartreuse are most visible. Red is slightly visible.
  • Muddy Water: Red is most visible.

Here are some additional suggestions to help with low light (first light until sunup), medium light (sunup until the sun reaches 20 degrees to the horizon), and high light (from 20 degrees to the opposite horizon) conditions:

  • Low Light: Blue, purple or black work best. Use with silver flash.
  • Medium Light: Red and orange work best.
  • High Light: Brown or gray work best. Use with fluorescent accents. 

Further information can be found at these links –

Daily View 2016 'Does Lure Colour Really Matter?' http://dailyview.co/view-from-below-does-lure-color-matter-underwater/

So... What Lure Colours Catch Fish?

At face value, this phenomenon of light and colour loss underwater diminishes the importance of colour in lures anywhere beyond shallow, ultra-clear scenarios, yet anglers the world over will continue to argue that one colour is better than another, even in deep-water jigging.  If you were to ask half a dozen fishers for their opinion on the most effective lure colour, you’re likely to receive six different answers.  Perhaps it’s time we moved colour to the bottom of the list of criteria when choosing a lure or fly, and placed far greater emphasis on the size, action, profile, and speed of our offerings.