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November 20, 2007

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Color Me Stupid

Mr. Bartkowski brings up a very good point when he mentions the color issue.

Do trout really key on colors? I must say, when the mayflies are hatching, I match size foremost ... with a gray parachute Adams. When it's PMD time, I'll use a yellow or cream colored parachute. But I've never been a big advocate of specific shades. Until now.

Recently, I've found purple to be a hugely important hue in my flybox. When no other attractor nymph works, the purple Prince will. Then there's the blue midge, or the blue glo-bug. Blue? You can turn over a million rocks in the river, and never see anything remotely similar to a purple Prince (or regular Prince for that matter) or a blue midge. Yet they work. My theory is that differentiation is the real factor in play here ... and a good drift trumps all. Anyone with some good sources on colors as they relate to trout attraction, please chime in.



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First - Mr. is for my father. I appreciate the honor, but prefer being referred to as Anthony - one of the great trout chasers.

Second - I love the color debate. This only leads back into the previous Deeter post about River Pressure putting the trout down in America.

When there is so much pressure, it requires umpteen shades to be carried in the box to trick the trout. I think it has come time to employ my Copper John Experiment.

The famous Copper John is now offered up in numerous colors like Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream flavors. Too many to keep track of except your favorites.

This experiment would be cool to deploy next spring with our Fly Talk companions to see what colors worked best in various river conditions.

I guess I will take a hit for the team and drive up to see Kirk around the bar table to derive the standard test.

In looking in my fly box, I just realized that I have three different shades of grey RS2s and on top of that there are three different color-wing combinations. WHY I ask you, WHY??? Stop the insanity.

Maybe we are our own worse enemies. All fly tyers, especially guides, like to have different patterns and shades that they test vigorously compared to the standard. Ultimately we are creating the demand and working on the supply need, a classic economics 101 example.

Chad Miller

I have pondered this question about fly color and trout. It is a similar question we contemplate in the bass world as well. I made the comment earlier about bass potentially saving trout fisheries by turning attention away from trout and onto bass. To be fair the same problem exists for a lot of famous bass fisheries as well, though there are many more places to fish for bass in America which sort of offsets this problem. Some of the TVA lakes have become almost impossible to fish mainly because of fishing pressure. The same process of color experimentation has been gone through on these lakes as well. Certain colors will work well for a while until a large number of fish have been caught on them and then another color comes along. I remember the old color selectors that had a transponder that was dropped in the water and told you ph level and the color that should be used. I really don't think it told us anything we didn't already know.

This spring bubble gum was a hot color for pre-spawn Smallmouth. Why? I have not the foggiest clue. Someone just tried it. I wish I could talk about absolutes in regards to color but the fact is none of us can. The question is what do fish see. Well no matter what is written about it we really still don't know for sure, the fish aren't talking.

I think more to the point is that your question is really a fishing question which I find facsinating. Your question is really about the process of fishing. Putting together an equation to come out with a positive answer. Positive can mean alot of things it may be fishing a highly pressured river and coming away with three or four fish. Sometimes it is the difference between a huge day and a small day.
That brings me to your original comment. You idea that it is differentiation that is the key. I think you are right. If anything the trial and experimentation process tells us that. What the heck looks like bubble gum in the river? The question is a fishing question and not a fly fishing question. You have gone through this process and figured it out. That is why we should be fishing. I know this question was about color and trout, but are they really that different when it comes to attractor flies. We killed the fish on the Big Hole a few weeks ago with our Bass streamers, in all sorts of funky colors! I don't know why but it keeps me thinking about the process of fishing.


i heard chartreuse was the only color you need...

Anthony Bartkowski

Joey -

Chartreuse is a great color in Colorado. It works great from late winter into Spring. As Kirk mentioned, blue is a great winter color. I also find myself using a lot of purple as well and tend to lean towards purple more in late spring and summer months.

As summer gets older I tend to find the standard fly colors work well (green, yellow, red, black, orange), and then as fall presents itself I start using a variety of muted deeper red, orange, brown, and black colors.

One thing that I have noticed over the years is:

Fall - Orange egg patterns
Winter - Blue egg patterns
Spring - Chartreuse egg patterns

My only conclusion is that the eggs are fresh in the fall and have an orangish hue. If the eggs are free in the winter and become frozen they must take on the hue of ice (blue). Then finally in the spring as the water warms do the eggs take on a greenish color as they have been sitting with the color fading from when they were laid.

Brian T

The human retina has both rod cells and cone cells. The cone cells are responsible for color vision. However, more light intensity is needed to set off your cone cells. That's why green leaves look black in semi-darkness. Rainbow trout and Pacific salmon have both rod cells and cone cells. Reports suggest that the Pacific salmon can distinguish more than 2 dozen color shades. Although color/brightness contrasts in a fly might be best as attractors (rod cells), I'll bet a nickel that color shades and proportions matter just as much if not more. Remember that silly adage: "bright day, dull fly and dull day, bright fly?"


i'll bet that half-dead pacific salmon doesn't care what color that fly is when that hook is snagged across his back.


Okay, it's official. Joey is a bitter man. You need some Argentina time, buddy.

Brian T

Joey: The west coast is the best coast, that's why we call them _pacific_ salmon. You need some time on the salt with a WF9.
Personally, the sea-run cutts are better than anything but 30+ - pounders.


ha, you guys are funny. i already AM IN ARGENTINA!!! and loving every minute of it.

where can i post a photo of a 40 pound dorado that will eat any salmonid's lunch and the salmonid, too?!!


i prefer tarpon, snook, redfish, bonefish and permit to anything trout related/salmon realted, as far as fishing goes. although, i have to admit, salmon are yummy. ate about a pound of it last night, albeit Chilean pen-raised.

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