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Color Matters: Scientific Approach to Lure Selection

Color Matters: Scientific Approach to Lure Selection

By Bob Schmidt

Understanding fish eyesight and behavior is not just a fascinating detour into marine biology; it is a strategic advantage for fishermen. Pro anglers and those who are consistently successful at putting fish in their boat know the science behind fish vision and behavior and take it into consideration when selecting lure colors and presentations to best match conditions.

Fish Vision 101: Look Beneath the Surface

Fish eyesight varies significantly across species, with each adapted to their environments in unique ways. Unlike humans, fish generally have excellent underwater vision, thanks to having specialized retinas that can detect the slightest movements and changes in light. With eyesight adapted to focus in watery environments, fish have magnified views of potential prey, predators, and hopefully, your tactically chosen lure.

Fish typically see colors, and their retinal cells, known as cones and rods, help them distinguish a wide color spectrum during the day. Rods, however, are more light-sensitive and contribute to their ability to see in low-light conditions, like dawn, dusk, or deep waters. Interestingly, several species of fish also possess UV vision - a capability that goes beyond human visual perception. 

Water Depth and its Effect on Lure Visibility

Water depth plays a crucial role in how fish perceive their environment. As you go deeper, water filters out colors from the spectrum, starting with reds and oranges and eventually leaving only blues and greens. This means that a bright red lure at the surface may appear dull or even completely different at depth, potentially making it less attractive to fish. 

Therefore, when an angler is preparing to catch fish, it is key to selecting the right lure color is understanding where the targeted species is most likely to be located and the water clarity at that depth. In clear, shallow waters, it is important to know that brightly colored lures can be incredibly effective, while in deeper or murkier waters, choosing a lure that retains contrast or reflects light, like silvers and whites, will likely be the better strategy.

Murky Waters: Tips for Lure Selection

Low light conditions, such as overcast days, can be both a challenge and an opportunity. One advantage is that fish in dark waters are less likely to be scared off by shadows or silhouettes from above, making them more approachable with your bait. In these conditions, their eyes are more sensitive to light and movement. Here you will want to opt for lures that create a silhouette against the lighter water surface or use reflective surfaces and materials that glint even in dim light.

It's also worth considering the use of glowing or UV-reactive lures and dodgers, like the Sling Blade, which is offered in UV. As mentioned, certain fish species can see UV light, which most prey in their natural habitat don't reflect. Lures with UV features can stand out remarkably well in murky or deep water, potentially proving irresistible to fish adapted to hone in on these unusual visual cues. 

Sound and Vibration: The Appeal Beyond Sight

When visibility is poor, fish rely more heavily on their lateral line system - a key network of sensors that detect vibrations and pressure changes in the water. Lures that emit vibrations or rattle are good at getting the attention of fish found in murky or dark conditions because they effectively tap into this sensory system. Look for lures with vibration to mimic the movements of live prey, alerting fish to the lure's presence even when it can't be seen. This is where the versatile Sonic Baitfish and the Cripplure stand out, although most lures provide some vibration.


The sound a lure makes can be just as important as its appearance. In noisy environments like turbulent water or near boat traffic, using a rattle can mean the difference between a catch and a calm day on the water. The key is to mimic the natural sounds of fish prey - not to overwhelm with excessive noise, which could scare fish away. It's all about balance, and seasoned anglers know how to use sound and vibration to their advantage. The Hum Dinger spoon is a go to lure for this tactic. It emits a constant "Hum" that attracts fish and creates strikes. See it in action. 


Knowledge is a Tactical Advantage

Armed with the knowledge of fish vision and behavior, let's piece together a strategy for upping your angling game. Here's a succinct guide:

  1. Color Selection: Choose lure colors based on depth and clarity. Go for natural, muted colors in clear water, and brighter or UV-reflective options for deeper and murkier environments.
  1. Depth Dynamics: If you're fishing deep, remember that colors lose their vibrancy as you descend. Transition to lures that reflect light or have a lot of light and dark contrast to remain noticeable. 
  1. Low Light Lure Tactics: In low light, use lures with glowing features or those that create a visible silhouette against the water surface. Reflective surfaces can also draw attention during dawn and dusk fishing trips. The bright crystal flash of the Wedding Ring is an example.
  1. Vibration and Sound: Integrate lures into your tackle box that vibrate or rattle, especially in conditions where sight is compromised. This taps into the fish's lateral line, alerting them to potential prey and causing them to strike. The Sonic Baitfish and Cripplure are great lures for vibration, and the popular Hum Dinger lure makes a "humming" sound.
  1. Match the Hatch: Always try to replicate the local prey in size, shape, and behavior with your lures. This means observing the ecosystem and understanding what fish are actively feeding on. PRO TIP: Open a fish you have caught to see what color prey it has been feeding on and match it. Keep a selection of Smile Blades on hand to quickly change the color or profile of your lure. Having a variety of sizes and colors to choose from makes it is easy to match the hatch.
  1. Add Scent: Fish rely heavily on their ofactory sense as well. In low light conditions or when you need to up the game a little, matching the scent to the hatch may be what it takes to get a fish to strike. Scents come in oils and gels in a variety of options that fish associate with feeding. 

  2. Test and Adapt: Fish can be unpredictable, so be prepared to test different lures and presentations. Observe fish reactions (or lack thereof) and don't hesitate to change tactics when fish are't cooperating. The best fishermen practice the art of observation, adaptation, and experimentation. Mack's Lure offers components so fishermen can customize their lures for the fish they are targeting.

Final Thoughts

The Pro Staff at Mack's Lure has long prioritized understanding fish vision and behavior since it offers an invaluable edge in the time honored dance between angler and quarry. By considering how fish see, you can select lures that catch the eye—and the lateral line—of your target species. With the interplay of color, depth, light conditions, and the added elements of UV features, as well as vibration and sound, you can turn each cast into a calculated and enticing proposition for the fish species you are targeting,

Whether you're hoping to land a prized salmon or outsmart a wily trout, remember that knowledge is as important as any bait or tackle in your arsenal. Study your environment, respect your underwater counterparts, and learn to fish smarter, not harder. With these strategies in mind, you will be even more prepared to tailor your lures to catch bigger and better fish. 

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