Bass Eyesight and Color Preference

With the copious amount of lures and accompanying color variations on the market today, it may be difficult for anglers to make a color decision that will work to their advantage. Is the lure company really producing lures of different colors to increase your chances of hooking up? – or are they just producing lots of color options for the average consumer to be hooked into buying them?…

There is a scant amount of scientific research on largemouth bass vision, but enough that we can utilize what little we know in making a fairly well educated decision before buying a lure in several different colors.

In this article I will discuss color variation along with a fish’s ability to see or prefer one color over another.


Bass Vision Crash Course

Bass are visual feeders, which means above all other senses, they utilize their eyes for catching prey. They have binocular vision directly in front of and above them, and have blind spots to their direct rear and below their rear. Because the eyes are positioned at the sides of their head, they have nearly 180 degree peripheral vision at either side of their body, however depth perception is greatly reduced due to the lack of a well defined 3-dimensional image that a single eye can only produce. Just like us, fish have the ability to focus on objects at varying distances. While they can visualize objects far away with just one eye, they need to be fairly close (5-12 inches) before they make a quick decision about whether or not to strike. The color of your lure can have a significant effect on whether or not a waiting bass sees your lure drop in the water 30 feet away – or does it?


Color Vision in Fish

Like humans, fish have both rods and cones in their retinas which means they can see color and have some night vision. However, the fish eye contains only two types of cones whereas a human eye contains three different types of cones which allows us to distinguish a wider variety of color wavelengths – more so than a fish would be able to. According to some research, bass see green and red much better than other colors, but this doesn’t mean they will bite more often when these colors are presented to them. There are many factors that go into choosing an appropriate color such as water clarity, local forage, vegetation density, available light, and depth.


Depth and Color

As you might already know from looking into deep water, visibility decreases significantly the deeper you get as more light is absorbed by the water. As a result of this, you should consider the depth you are fishing at when selecting your lures. Lures that are light in color at the surface will look darkened or “washed out” when fished at increasing depths. The colors that stand out the best in deep and dark conditions are those close to the black end of the color spectrum. Lures of this dense dark color will actually appear darker than the surrounding water, thus creating a silhouette that the fish can see. A lighter lure can still be seen by a bass, but it may not be as obvious as a dark silhouette. If you are purchasing a lure to fish in the shallows and the water is fairly clear, considering buying a lure color that matches prey, as bass (especially older, larger ones) will be suspicious when they see a blue or purple fish in clear shallow waters. As the research suggests, try using green or red lures at shallower depths to imitate a green bluegill or a red crawfish. There may be a correlation in that bass have evolved to see these colors better because they may resemble the most common natural prey available to them. This is not a known fact, but a reasonable observation and assumption.


Water Clarity and Color

A lure’s color is only effective if the fish can see it in the first place. The shape, the color, the action should all be considered when trying to attract bass, and water clarity has a huge impact on the visibility under water.

At times when there is a lot of rain runoff such as in early spring, water can be green, murky, and visibility can be severely diminished. This is when reflective properties shine! Lures with glitter or other light reflecting surfaces can do a great deal in attracting a distant bass to come closer for an inspection, even in muddy water. As you would expect, lighter colors such as white or chartreuse can be used effectively where light can penetrate the water. If the water is too muddy, these colors will be muted, just as if they were in the dark or deep.

When the water is clear, you want to make your lure seem as natural and as real as possible. This means choosing a color that doesn’t seem outlandish to bass – so don’t purchase a firetiger lipless crankbait for use on a clear sunny day! A green pumpkin with black fleck or watermelon with red fleck are great natural colors to use that won’t put up any red flags.


Selecting a Lure Based on Conditions

When the weather and water conditions are at their worst, you would be keen to use lures that also have other attractive capabilities such as rattlers and reflectors. Remember that the bass can only be attracted to profile, color, and size only when the lure is in their direct line of sight. Getting them to take a closer look at your lure is the hard part, and playing to their other senses can be highly beneficial. Bass can see, smell, taste, and feel minute changes in water pressure – which means they can feel vibrations. Lure color comes secondary to long distance attraction when the waters you are fishing are littered with structure and heavy cover, or if the water is heavily stained.

Above all, match the bass’ prey. If you see crawfish crawling around near the bank, consider using a green-orange jig with a matching craw trailer. If you see silver bait fish swimming around, consider using a fish head jig with a spinner and a white or silver paddle tail swim bait of an appropriate size. This type of strategic color matching and prey mimicking, in my opinion, is paramount in provoking a largemouth bass to strike. Getting the fish to see or feel your bait in the water is half of the battle, the other half is convincing the bass that what he/she is about to eat up is completely edible.


I hope this article has helped to remove the factors of indecision when it comes to choosing colors. Hopefully you will be able to narrow down your color selection of your lures so that you can keep your costs to a minimum and efficiency to a maximum.

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