Fishing Lures have evolved significantly in the last 50 years, with wave after wave of improvements to shape, coloration, sound, action, and consistency. Bait companies can now create hyper-realistic baits that should be more dialed in on getting bites than ever before.
These new and improved baits come in a variety of shapes, sizes, crisp color patterns, all of which are very appealing to anglers cruising the aisles of their local tackle shop. While these ornate lures may be appealing to anglers on dry land, the question remains: how much does it matter to the fish?
The importance of lure coloration depends on the eyesight of the target species. Different species of fish have varying levels of eyesight—ranging from catfish that typically have poor vision, to tarpon with incredible vision.
Many fish are unable to see some of the colors humans can, with walleye being a prime example. Walleye can’t see the color blue, which to them, likely looks like varying shades of gray. While humans can see around a million different colors, tarpon are said to be able to see 100 million or more. While the quality of sight and ability to perceive colors varies for each fish, the environment can play just as big of a role.
Environmental conditions including water clarity, color, and depth change the appearance of a bait. As light passes through water, colors begin to get filtered out. Depending on how murky or stained the water is, different colors fade more quickly as the depth increases. Even in pristine water conditions, the perceived colors will look different at greater depths. Lures that have bright colors like yellow, orange, and red, are great for shallow water where there is plenty of light. As the water gets deeper and therefore darker, colors like blue, green, and sometimes black can be seen more easily.
Picking the right size lure is tricky because predatory fish are opportunistic feeders, but to survive they also have to be picky. Throwing a bait that is too big can discourage bites for any number of reasons. The two most common explanations are that food is abundant, so the fish doesn’t need to use the energy to catch a larger meal, or the bait looks unusual and isn’t worth the risk.
Because smaller baits are an easier meal, sizing down is typically an effective strategy. The only downside to smaller baits is they disturb less water, and therefore don’t have the same presence that can draw fish toward the bait. That being said, this presence can be influenced by things other than size, including the sound and action of the bait.
The action of a lure is how it moves while passing through the water. This movement is usually a combination of body roll, wobble, and flutter that gives the bait unique swimming characteristics on the retrieve or while trolling. Depending on how vigorous the action is of a bait, the amount of water that is distributed will change. This gives off vibrations that let fish know the lure is nearby without being able to see it.
The addition of small rattles inside the bait can add extra sound vibration to the bait, helping draw fish in from a greater distance. This can be particularly helpful in water where visibility is limited. It’s clear that fish use vibration to locate and hunt prey, but when it comes to lures, too much noise can scare fish away and ultimately work against you. Like many things in fishing, it's a balancing act.
Conventional wisdom says picking a lure with the perfect color, pattern, size, and action for each fish is the best way to get a bite. However, some anglers have shown how little lure selection impacts getting a bite. Nate Marling, better known on YouTube as Marling Baits, has a video where he caught fish on a block of wood.
When it comes to lure selection, it’s best to use an “all things in moderation” approach. It’s been proven that the most important steps to getting a bite are first finding the fish, then putting bait in front of them. Once that is established, then mixing up the lure color and design might be appropriate. Considering the factors that may impact what lure will work helps select the first lure of the day or what bait to switch to later on. Fishing requires trial and error to get dialed in on the most effective lure, so stressing over the details will likely produce diminishing returns.
Learning a new body of water or how to target a specific gamefish can have a big learning curve. Going through the process of trial and error each time can be frustrating, but hiring an expert can help shorten the curve. Taking a guided trip will help you narrow down what to throw and where, when you decide to take on a new experience. You can find the right guide wherever you decide to fish here.