Can Fish See Color and Should It Matter To You?

From fly selection to the clothes you wear on the water, there’s no doubt color matters to all fish species—especially trout.

Trout’s eyes are keenly able to detect colors. So, color matters greatly to anglers and affects the choices you must make when you’re on the water.

Fly Selection

  • If you’re fishing a specific hatch, your best bet for success is to match your fly pattern to the color of the insects on the water. If you can’t produce fish on that color, then the fun starts. This is why there are purple, pink and fluorescent colored flies. Sometimes, matching an insect’s profile and then introducing a different color into the mix (like a Purple Haze or a Hot Spot nymph) leads to angling success.
  • The transitions between colors and the contrast it creates often triggers fish to take a fly. Many professional anglers know this. That’s why their fly boxes are filled with nymphs featuring gaudy orange collars or pink beads. Sometimes, fish prefer these to muted tones.
  • Because of the way light refracts and changes underwater, what trout see and what we see differ greatly. So, don’t be afraid to go gaudy with brightly colored flies. You may be surprised and catch more fish on a pink hopper pattern rather than on a more realistic, muted yellow one.

Fishing Clothing

  • Brightly colored fly-fishing clothes will make you stand out far greater than drab earth tones. While there’s no need for full camouflage, it’s a good idea to stick with clothing that’s far from bright or gaudy.
  • Drab colored clothing is crucial when fishing gin clear streams and slow moving or still waters.
  • If you plan to stalk trout in skinny water, stick to the earth tones. If you’re chucking-and-ducking indicator rigs from the comfort of a boat, it’s not a big concern.

Fly Line Color

  • While this is a long-debated topic, there’s no doubt a brightly colored fly line tossed through the air is going to cause more of a commotion than a drab colored one.
  • Unlike other aspects of color selection, fly line selection is tougher because earth tones lines are harder for you to see than the more common fluorescent lines.
  • Find the balance in fly line color selection based on your needs. You can get away with fishing brightly colored lines when fishing for spooky fish by lengthening your leaders and avoiding false castes above the fish as much as possible.

Be Careful With Colors

Color should matter to all fly fishermen when they decide which flies to tie on, which clothes to wear, and which fly line to spool up. You can get away with a lot of indiscretion when you fish tannin stained ponds or muddy water. But if you plan on fishing spooky trout in spring creeks or super clear water, going as drab as possible will pay off.

It may not mean you’ll catch more fish, but it’ll certainly mean you won’t be spooking as many due to bright fly lines and easy-to-spot clothing.

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