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Fish Science
A Few Thoughts On Color

Friday, August 19, 2011
by Dr. Keith Jones

Photo: Berkley
Dr. Keith Jones suggests that anglers concentrate on how a bass perceives a lure from what angle and against what background.

It's certainly to one's advantage to use a lure with colors a bass can detect. Although the lateral line is critical, nothing substitutes for what the bass can actually see.

Color must be used with care in cases where bass are known to feed heavily on a preferred prey species, such as threadfin shad or crayfish. Under these circumstances, the bass can be expected to develop a strong visual search image for its favored food. Matching the prey color as closely as possible could spell the difference between going home the victor or the vanquished.

Despite the importance of color, bass anglers still worry about it in situations where it makes little sense. Fine variations in lure color may be important while fishing surface waters, but physics dictate that colors become increasingly less relevant in deeper waters where they are filtered out.

Moreover, in very muddy waters, reds, oranges and yellows are about the only colors of light available. It is pointless to fret over the exact shade of a blue lure when all the blue light's gone.

We might do better instead to attend to lure detectability. The ease with which the bass can spot the lure against the prevailing background is often more important than the lure's color. After all, having a bass successfully locate the bait is the first step in catching it. It helps, then, to know the direction from which the bass will most likely view your lure and against what directional backdrop.

For example, will a bass view the lure from below against the bright, mirror-like background of the water's surface, or will the bass be looking down on the lure against the darkness of deep water?

Or, if the lure will be viewed predominantly from the side, is the prevailing background likely to be more of a weedy green, a muddy brown or a sandy amber? Try looking at the color choice from the perspective of the bass instead of relying on the way things look while standing in the boat.

For aggressive bass ready to feed on whatever moves, the more the lure stands out the better. For less aggressive bass, or in those cases where the bass are accustomed to a particular prey, lure detectability may need to be kept in balance with other factors.

Bass anglers typically have individual favorite colors based on past experiences. There's a consensus to use dark colors on dark days, light colors on light days, but it's still true that one specific color isn't reliably better than all others at all times, in all places.

Dr. Keith "Doc" Jones is director of research at the Berkley Fish Research Center in Spirit Lake, Iowa. His book "Knowing Bass, The Scientific Approach to Catching More Fish" is available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers.

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