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How Does a Bass See Your Tackle in Water?

Many scientific studies have indicated that bass and other species of fish see differently than humans. The rods and cones that impact how we, as humans, see light are different in the eyes of a largemouth or smallmouth bass. We see light wavelengths on a smaller set of the overall spectrum while fish species like bass can see much broader range. Humans see just above the UV range but a bass can see color (light) in the UV range as well as in the far red range that we can’t detect with our eyes. Picking tackle as a human makes this difference difficult but also very important for success on the water.

There are a couple considerations when thinking about how a fish sees a bait that you might buy in a tackle store. In addition to looking at how a bass might see a color in air (like a human) we have to consider that a bass always sees an object in water which does have an impact on light.

Four key things impact color in water include the following:

  1. The color or wavelength of the bait
  2. The sunlight’s ability to reach the color of the bait based on the depth where the bait is located
  3. The clarity of the water
  4. Color on a bait that is outside of the spectrum that a human can see but in the range that a largemouth bass can see

Certain aspects of the color spectrum don’t penetrate very far below the surface and may play a smaller role in attracting a fish. Blues and greens penetrate further than colors like yellow and red. Those yellow colors on your baits might not be visible the deeper you put your bait. Then there’s the issue of clarity. In many low clarity situations we consider dark, contrasting colors like blue and black or brighter colors like chartreuse near the surface. The hope is that a bass, which can see better in low light conditions than a human, will see the color contrast and mistake your bait for prey. In high visibility clarity conditions we must also consider the depth of sunlight penetration when we normally select more natural color patterns. In both clarity situations we need to consider UV and high red ends of the spectrum where our eyes can’t see colors present.

It takes very expensive equipment to allow us to see colors on a bait that are outside our ability but could result in a strike. Evidence suggests that spawning forage like bluegills generates colors on their exterior that we don’t notice but could be key markings that a bass looks for when finding its next meal.

Here’s a video created by Bass Utopia where professional Bass Elite angler Seth Feider and University scientist Mark Sanders investigate the colors presented on baits and look to see if they fall outside the spectrum of the human eye and could be effective in catching fish:

Seth Feider correctly points out that there are lots of baits he’s used that look very similar to a human but for some reason one catches fish more frequently than the rest.  This could be a result of color markings present on a bait that we can’t see but the largemouth bass you’ve been catching could. It’s possible these markings either mimic the color patterns of a baitfish or contrast enough in low light that it results in a strike.

We think it’s important to show the baits we sell under light conditions that both fish and human eyes can see.  We’ll be working with the team at Bass Utopia to generate images like you see in the video above so you can select baits with bass eyes instead of your own.  There’s more to the story of selecting color and we’re committed to shedding light on these concepts.