Lure Colors

by Michelle Kelly

November 2010

Walk through the fishing tackle aisles of a large sporting goods store and you’ll be struck with a myriad of options – every lure more colorful, intriguing and enticing than the last - in every color of the rainbow!

jig sizes
jig tail sizes

You don’t need to buy lures of every color for your tackle box but, which colors will attract the fish you want to catch?

To be honest, I am likely to find just about any type of lure more alluring if it comes in some shade of pink. But I could be putting far more emphasis on the influence of lure color and the intricacies of lure finish than logic should allow. As one old-timer angler told me "…all them lures are designed to catch anglers -, not fish, don’t ya know!"

Depths colors are seen underwater

Depth colors are seen underwater

Most species of fish have excellent vision and can perceive color, although, as it turns out, (unlike me) fish don’t have predisposed attractions to particular colors. In fact, it doesn’t matter what color you throw into relatively deep water because "all colors" will soon begin to basically look the same. However, shade variations, or contrast is critical - contrast between the background and the lure under various water and light conditions.

Tips for Color Selection
Tip # 1: Remember, you don’t need to buy lures in all the colors of the rainbow.
Tip #2: Use dark colors at night. This may seem counter-intuitive, at first. When you think about it, all colors appear to us at night to be black or shades of dark grey. Also, fish usually attack lures from below at night and during low light conditions to maximize the benefit of any available light –albeit how limited. Against a lighter background a dark lure throws the best silhouette and is therefore the most visible. Black, dark blue and purple are good choices in late evening after sunset, night time, and early morning before sunrise.
Tip #3: During winter or periods when there is lots of particulate material in the water (such as silt or algae), reds and oranges are the first colors to be filtered out. Lures with plenty of yellow, green or blue appear the most colorful below the surface. Fluorescent yellow and greens are also worth a try under these conditions.
Tip #4: Red, orange, yellow, silver and metallic colors are most intense during bright summer days in clear, shallow water. However, note that metallic finishes have some benefits at depth because they have a tendency to create flash, even under relatively low light conditions. Of course all colors are visible under these bright conditions and if the fish are actively feeding on prey that are blueish in color, then blue is the color to use.
Tip #5: Color choice is not relevant if you are fishing deep, particularly under low light conditions or if the water is colored or dirty. The most important factors under these conditions are lure size, shape, action – and contrast.
Tip #6: When fishing topwater lures, here, too color is far less important than size, shape and action. A fish coming up below a surface or shallow running lure has the light behind it, making the lure appear grey or black. You can try this for yourself - hold a fluorescent lure up to the sun and view it from below. Black and dark colors remain the best for surface lures because the contrast creates a distinct silhouette.

MinnAqua’s Fishing: Get in the Habitat! Lesson 5:5-Flashy Fish Catchers provides an introduction to the interaction of the physical properties of water and light, and how color and contrast affect the attractiveness of a lure underwater - from the perspective of a fish.

sample flashy fish catcher Sample flashy fish catcher

Although pink may indeed be a good color choice under certain conditions, it turns out the reality is often that the size, shape, action or noise made by the lure will play a much more important role in eliciting a strike. Choose a lure based on the size of local baitfish, the water quality, season, time of day, and the depth at which your intended quarry is to be found and the action most likely to produce results. Then think about color, without getting too caught up in it. Unless, of course, you will be fishing in clear, shallow water - and then be sure to ask at the local bait shop if the fish are feeding predominantly on prey of a particular hue!

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