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Pink Matter: On flies, fish, and color

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So it comes up from time to time, and has regained my attention with the recent threads on smallmouth bass fly fishing. The issue is the surprise that comes with the success of flies (and lures) that incorporate pink and chartreuse hues. I'm not here to make a conclusive case for WHY fish eat such patterns--my guess is that it's largely because they can see them, and they often act like potential food.

 

What gets me is the surprise that these colors "work." Often, these statements are joined with some version of: "it's not a color found in nature," or "I've never seen a baitfish that color," or "I guess the least natural thing stands out the most."

 

Pink is an easier one to deal with than chartreuse, but I won't pretend either is a difficult case to make. I see these hues all the time in fresh- and saltwater environs. Let's start with the obvious--weakfish in the brine and rainbow trout in freshwater. Who has seen one of these species not showing pink (and not counting many steelhead)? They are nearly always displaying some pink hues along the side, back, etc. Do gamefish eat weakfish and/or rainbow trout? Absolutely! Creek chubs and other minnows in freshwater, especially around spawning time? Bright pink cheeks! Take this a step further, to the issue of iridescence, and suddenly a thousand or more bony fish species are showing pink hues. I've seen pink on drum (freshwater), bunker, shad, herring, stripers, etc. Look at their cheeks or head/back near the front of the dorsal sometime...

 

Squid? Pink! (often, along with red, purple)

Shrimp? Pink! (well, red hues that turn their predators pink)

Worms? Pink! (-ish)

 

Okay, so what about chartreuse? Well it's hard to get fishermen to agree on which shade should be called chartreuse. I see fly tying materials called "chartreuse" from a bright grassy green to a hot yellow, and all of them seem to have caught some fish. I hope we can agree that many species of forage have yellow or green areas. Green in baitfish can be found in emerald shiners, pilchards, ladyfish, sandeels, and many more (certainly in small mahi!). Yellow in jacks, weakfish/seatrout, carp, herring, shad, and more. When the light from sun, bridge lights, etc. hits these fish at certain angles, what might look like medium green or yellow is reflected very bright.

 

Add to this two processes--(a) when fish are excited (such as when fighting or fleeing for their lives), they often display even brighter colors and markings, and (b) bioluminescence, such as among squid and marine phospherescent plants.

 

I think the problem is that when we think about fish in the abstract, such as when we are buying lures or sitting at the fly tying bench, we think about their simplistic two-dimensional depiction. Even disregarding the ever-present illustrations in DNR pamphlets, guide books, t-shirts, how would you describe to someone what a fish--say a striper--looks like? You'd probably include the light/white body and belly with dark thin stripes running (mostly) parallel from gill to caudal fin with a back ranging from green to navy blue to black depending on its local habitat. What you would probably leave out is the spectrum of hues you see in among the shiny, silvery patches.

 

As fishermen, we most often see fish from above (not necessarily directly, but we are looking downward) when they are near the surface of the water, or when we remove them from the water. These are not the conditions under which predator fish primarily see forage fish. We know that fish spend most of their time deeper than a few feet from the surface--where light is scarcer--and they feed upward on many things from baitfish to crabs and shrimp and squid. Often, the strike is sideways from the rear and below. And finally, fish have different eye structures than us. All I am saying--and I might be defeating my argument to this point--is that most of us have very little understanding of how fish see their prey, in color.

 

I haven't the room here to go into why fishermen buy the colors of lures and materials that they do. I can only conclude that pink and chartreuse are staying in my box. In the marine world, pink matters.

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A well thought out post.

 

I share your conclusions about pink and chartreuse. Pink's a commonplace color, as you note. Chartreuse may show up in odd places; there were photos and a thread (I forget which Forum) showing a bright edge of chartreuse on the tail of a shrimp, awhile ago. Overall it's a highly visible color in stained water, but it may well be an accent color that can appear, depending on the angle of the sun, the color of the water, as well as the color of a fish, and quickly disappear. Mind, this too is just speculation.

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And, there are situations where color, apparently, matters not a lick. I have had many experiences where I fished the exact same fly, a 4.5" long sand eel pattern, at night, and caught as many stripers on the black/blue/purple one as I did the chartreuse/yellow/white one or the white/yellow/green/blue one.

 

Still, colors are fun to play around with in fly tying. Fun is important. :-)

 

Steve Culton

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I still think "Pink" especially and red to some degree, gives the impression of injury or illness especially when imparted on to a minnow or baitfish pattern.  The other thing pink will do is stand out against the natural camo that many fish pocess.  So Pink and Red are obvious and may mean an injury thus an easy meal.  So pink works to be sure. 



 



Chartruse?  I buy your flight bioluminous agruement. 



 



i like the idea of using a bait pattern that mimicks the size of the bait the fish are feeding on but stands out and looks injured or different.  So pink and Chartruse accomplish this. 



 



Of course the real hard part is finding the fish more than enticing a bite many times.  If fish are hungry and present, a good cast and presentation probably means more than color I guess.

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Probably the first lure you used was a Daredevil, red and white on one side and silver on the other. When used it would create a pinkish silver color that is natural in bait like shiners and herring. I've seen chartreuse in spearing and small bunker many many times but only as a small part of the the profile. I use black and red flys at night, Glenn Mickelson's trick, doing very well along side all black flys yet there are no really all red baitfish (though squid do turn red, copper, white-ish pink, etc). Size, action then color is the order but I know for a fact yellow is sometimes the only color they like????

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Awesome post! :th:

 

When folks say that such colors are not natural or found in nature, I think for the most part it's how we as tiers incorporate the colors that may not always be so natural! :huh:

 

I don't know for certain what fish really see, all I have are thoughts, opinions & theories from many years of tying & fishing. I've learned to catch some fish on many colors over the years. I've yet to find anything that always works.

 

The bottom line is that both pink & chartreuse are colors that work enough of the time we need them to. That's really all we need to know. :)

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Out off Chatham a few years back in 70' of water, when we were targeting bass under birds that were driving bait toward the surface, I watched a big striper chase a sand eel under the boat, which the sand eel was trying to use for cover. The sand eel was about 8-9 inches long and bright orangish-pink. What the He**, I thought, is a baitfish out there in dark space doing colored up like that??

 

THAT question went unanswered, but suddenly all the big, bubble gum colored sluggos (that were catching fish) made sense. Of course, I was looking through air and a little water...and with human eyes....so underwater color shifts were not apparent to me.

 

Peter Patricelli

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I think a major key that comes in here is color mixtures and movement. Both pink and chartreuse are both mixtures of color that are present under water; red, white, blue, and yellow. Now I am not an artist but I was shown by a friend that is that when items of color move the individual colors will mix together and appear to give off the secondary colors and shades.

 

This was displayed to me through a fly that I had tied to exactly mimic a lipped crank bait Rapala that I had been slaying fish on. The Rapala color scheme looked nothing like a bait fish found in nature but it was working well on days when no other scheme seemed to be working. The back was a bright almost florescent blue the side was bright yellow and the belly was bright red. I tied a fly to mimic the colors as best I could. The fly was a bucktail with those three colors, no peacock hurl or flash was included. Sitting still you could see the three colors and not much else. My friend showed me that if I picked up the fly and held it looking up towards an empty background or light source and started to rotate/ moved it you could see a myriad of colors coming out of that one color scheme as the hairs mixed in relation to the light. Colors included different shades of chartreuse, green, orange, and purple with different shades of black in the areas with more hair, beside the red, yellow, and blue I had tied the fly with. I did not use any chartreuse, orange, black, or purple strands in that fly.

 

To me a fish scale represents a prism. As the scale is moved light is reflected off in different angles displaying different shades and colors. Moving that scale typically involves something alive doing so.

 

With that one example I was able to see that unusual colors and color change, specifically chartreuse, denotes movement and life.

 

Then again I have had days when a shiny bare hook has elicited a fish to strike, so go figure......

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I've been tying clousers with olive marabou tails, chartreuse or pink bodies, and yellow dumbbell eyes, and not one has let me down yet.

 

 

 

 

 

Well, I technically haven't fished them at all yet, but I swear my clouser fly box has never looked prettier :p

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Hunt for Bluessssss, what kind of fish are you holding up?

 

Somewhere along the line I read, fairly recently, that some kinds of fish eyes have receptors for colors that we can't see - and not just UV, the obvious one.

 

Further reading is called for!!!

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Here is an excerpt from a previous thread regarding my thoughts on the color chartreuse. Some of you may have read it before. It has direct bearing here so I took the liberty of reposting.

 

A few fish physiological facts about what fish see in the marine environment, properties of light, our buddy Morone saxatilis, and how the color chartreuse fits nicely into it all.

 

In the Chesapeake Bay Region Striped Bass are anadramous fish. Simplistically this means they live in saltwater and spawn in freshwater. Science tells us that fish living in a marine environment have a visual system in which the sensitivity of the fish's eye is heavily biased towards green. In freshwater, this sensitivity is biased towards oranges & reds. During it's migration between environments a Striped Bass will undergo physiological changes to adapt to the change in it's environment.

 

So how does Chartreuse fit in all of this? Allow me to surmise.

 

In the ocean, the primary way that water interacts with light is absorption, and water absorbs different colors of the visible spectrum better than others. Water preferentially absorbs red light, and to a lesser extent, yellow and green light, so the color that is least absorbed by water is blue light. What does all this mean? In clear ocean water the color green can be seen at greater depths than yellow, orange, or red because it is less readily absorbed. Is this the reason Green is so effective in saltwater? Perhaps one could argue that chartreuse is a sort of greenish -yellowish -blueish color that takes advantage of all this scientific mumbo-jumbo.

 

If one were to follow this logic, then what about blue? Blue penetrates clear saltwater the greatest, absorbed at a depth around 280 meters (m). Wouldn't that make blue the new chartreuse? I mean if green penetrates to a depth of about 100m (incidentally the same depth as purple) and blue at about 280m, wouldn't it be most beneficial if the sensitivity of a fish's eye was biased towards blue?

 

I think chartreuse is so effective because it takes advantage of the sensitivity bias of a fish's eye in a marine environment. If you were to blend colors to make chartreuse, you would need varying tones of blue and yellow. What is green but yellow and blue? And what do we have here but the three colors (yellow, blue, green... four including purple!) that are the least absorbed in the marine environment. And therefore, couldn't I deduce it to be the most likely color to be seen over the greatest range of depths?? And, conversely, the widest range of turbid (read: light penetrating) conditions?

 

This logic supports the tying philosophy of Kenney Abrames with respect to color and the illusion of life. No one solid color, but a myriad of colors to represent living organisms in the aquatic environment.

 

Kevin

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The problem with all these theories about what color is the most visible to what fish where is the assumption that a lot of our refusals are because the fish just can't see the fly. I just don't buy that, under the depth and other conditions that almost all fly fishing is done.

 

Steve

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I've been tying clousers with olive marabou tails, chartreuse or pink bodies, and yellow dumbbell eyes, and not one has let me down yet.

Well, I technically haven't fished them at all yet, but I swear my clouser fly box has never looked prettier :p

 

Sure would like to see a pic of that fly....thanks.

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