Seeing Red

As any fisherman knows, the color red is prevalent in fishing tackle.  Red beads, red chins on topwater baits, red jig heads, red eyes, and the list goes on.  Well, I’m fixing to burst the bubble.  Truth is, most inshore fish, including trout and redfish, simply do not see the color red.  My curiosity was piqued a while back when an article in the excellent CCA Tide magazine made brief mention of this fact.  I did a little digging, and finally found a research paper by Andrij Z. Horodysky from the Department of Fisheries Science atTrout Eye Color Response the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.  This paper “Comparative visual function in five sciaenid fishes inhabiting Chesapeake Bay” discusses research on how fish can be tested for their visual response to the color spectrum.  It’s very interesting and can be summarized by the charts shown.  In effect, the fish would see maybe just a hint of red, but mostly a gray color where we would see red.  Of course, they can still see contrast, so light/dark next to each other would still be seen.  I think the best comparison is to deer hunters who wear bright orange vests because other hunters see it, but a deer cannot.  Rather, it sees a neutral gray.  In actuality, our favorite game fish see best in the dark blue / violet part of the spectrum, and even a little in the ultraviolet (where we cannot see).  I suppose this is why the Zman Ralph’s Shad and Gulp Sapphire Shine colors work so well, since they are directly in the most visible part of the fishes visual spectrum.

I think there is likely an evolutionary reason for this, as a secondary factor is that as you go deeper in the water, the red part of the spectrum disappears first.  So, in order for a fish to identify its prey, it is of no use to see reds, as there are no reds to be seen.

Well, time has proven that lures with red produce fish, but really is it the color that makes the difference?  Or is it that we as fishermen us them most because we believe in them?  So, any fish caught reinforces the belief in the color.  My opinion is that it’s the latter.  This knowledge has changed my personal choices, and it is why I prefer to use our glow or pearl jig heads over our red.  Why?  They provide the best contrast, and I believe the fish can identify the jig as an eye the best.  This is not to say our red heads don’t work – I have many pictures to prove that they do.  But, to be perfectly honest, I have never even tried one.

I hope this article was thought-provoking.  Since my day job is optical science, this is a subject that I find very interesting, if you couldn’t tell 🙂


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