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Can Walleye’s Distinguish Between Colors

Can Walleye’s Distinguish Between Colors Can Walleye’s Distinguish Between Colors
By Bob Koeshall – The RiverRat

To Be Continued

Many of you fishermen know the answer to this question, and many do not. My aim is to help those who do not know. Being a Guide on the Petenwell Flowage and Wis. River System here in Central Wis. it is easy to show a client when on the water, as to what colors are the hot colors today, or what was hot yesterday. Their first catch on a certain color tells a client that walleyes like this lure. What it does not tell you is why. Is it the color, shape, movement, sound, or all of them? Have you ever walked the isles in a sporting goods store, or paged through a lure catalog and noticed the array of colors. If you bought one of each color, or variants of each color, you would need many tackle boxes I know that. How do the walleye see colors? Do they see the same colors we see? Let me answer those questions. I too wondered what walleyes were able to distinguish. I asked Lynn Frederick, of the Wis., Sea Grant Program. She told me walleyes can see color, but they cannot see as many hues as fish like largemouth bass and northern pike can see.

Any animal with good color vision has two types of color discriminating cells, Rods and Cones. Cones are used in day vision, and rods are used for night vision. Cones are used for distinguishing colors, and Rods are used for night vision but cannot distinguish colors. A walleye lacks the blue and yellow cells, so it’s color vision is similar to that of the rare human beings with blue and yellow color blindness. What this means is a walleye most likely can see all colors as some shade of red or green. The color bars to the left provide some clues as to the lure colors walleyes can see best. Water color and depth can change the way a lure appears to the fish. In addition, the best lure colors may differ from one body of water to the next because the walleyes are eating different foods. As a result, the only sure fire way to find the best color is to experiment with the colors you have with you. Seeing color is one thing, but knowing how that color stands out in water, is the next step in interpreting why fish are attracted to certain colors. For example, red, which has the longest color wavelength, is usually the first to disappear, being visible down to 15 to 20 feet, in clear water and only a few inches in murky water. After red comes orange, which remains visible down to 40 feet, then yellow to 70 feet. Blue and green are visible as deep as light penetrates.

The deeper each color goes, the less strength it has because of light diffusion. Studies have found that in depths where light is almost absent, white and silver stand out better than even blue or green. There is a message here for those of us who troll deep-water, stained water, muddy water. All this is important because fish locate food primarily by sight. Walleyes acute night vision, finely tuned lateral line, sense and sharp hearing can explain much of the mysterious behavior of walleyes. Walleyes also have a good sense of smell, but it does not appear to play a major role in their life. It is important to choose the right lure color and lure type based on water clarity. Here is a simple rule that I use when selecting lure color. Take a bright colored lure (Flo.yellow or Hot pink) and put it in the water. If the lure disappears within the first six inches of water then you must appeal to the sonar senses of the fish—use a lure that gives off sharp vibrations like rattles or thumping of spinner blades. If you can see the lure at 12 to 18 inches or more under the water surface, use bright colored lures like red, yellow, chartreuse and stripes, florescent colors. If you can see the lure three feet down in clear water, you should use natural colored lures like shiners, shad or perch.

Total light intensity is also important. On a cloudy day, colors will not penetrate as deep as they will on a sunny day. At dusk, as light intensity falls, reds are the first color to go, followed by orange, yellow, green, and blue. As total light intensity decreases, the fish's eye switches to vision with rods, and the fish is no longer able to distinguish colors. After dark, fishermen should choose between a light lure or dark one. At dawn, as light intensity increases and fish switch back to cone vision, the order is reversed, and blues, greens, yellows, oranges, and reds appear. At early dawn, some anglers are successful with a red colors near the surface. To fish striking from below, it shows up as a dark lure against the lightening sky. As the day gets lighter, red no longer works well, and anglers must experiment with colors that are more visible. Ultimately, the appeal of the lure to the fish is most important. Fish must strike the lure to either eat it or attack it. While fish may locate the general area of the bait by smell or sound, most of the walleyes make their final attack by sight. Fish scents and noisemakers can draw fish to the area of the lure, but before it can strike, the fish must also be able to see it. This is why lure visibility and color are important to successful fishing. If you have any questions on anything in this article, you can e-mail me at either [email protected] or [email protected]. I’d like also to thank my friends at Crestliner Boats, Bombardier Motor Corp. Magic Products,,,,, CharlieBrewer Tackle, Lowrance locators, St.Croix Rods, Heckels Marine, Amherst Marine, Comprop Props, ISG Jigs, Reeds Sporting Goods, Big Fish Tackle Co., KD Taxidermy,, Pepsi of Americas, Beckman Nets, Trojan Batteries, Black-Widow Fishing Line, Okuma Reels, Minn-Kota Trolling Motors, Aussi-Tackle, Exciter Baits, Today’s Tackle Co., Timberline Archery/Bait/Tackle, Zalt Lures, Tennesse Trailers,, Minnesota Sea Grant Program, Ohio Sea Grant Program, and others who have helped me along the way. This article MAY NOT be reproduced, or used in Any Way without my written permission.

Bob is a Licensed Wisconsin Fishing Guide, and owner of Gone Fishing Guide Service. Specializing in Walleyes, on the Wisconsin River System. He is also an outdoors field reporter for many fishing web sites, and Author, Historian on the Wis. River and the Petenwell Flowage in Central Wisconsin, and on many Pro-Staff programs for various tackle manufactures, Crestliner Boats, and Evinrude Outboards. He has written many articles on Walleye Fishing, and informational articles on the waters in Central Wisconsin. Bob has been asked to spearhead an educational drive to educate Fishing Guides, and Tournament anglers, boat dealers, and bait/tackle shops, on the Zebra Mussels in the waters of Central Wisconsin.


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