Fishing Lure Color Selection – A Detailed Guide

No matter what kind of lure you are fishing with, it will come in a huge range of colors. There’s every color out there from black to luminous pink, but why? What is it about the colors that make fish more interested in one color on one day and a different color on the next. There are quite a few factors to consider and here is a lure color selection and guide to make things a little easier for you.

Lure Color Selection And Guide

The Factors

There are quite a few factors to consider when choosing a lure color. Here are the details of what you should think about when picking a lure.

Can Fish See Color?

Scientific evidence shows that fish eyes have both rod and cone cells. Rod cells are used to detect light and contrast. The work in low light and allow fish (and us) to see shapes, shadows, and silhouettes in dimly lit environments. They do nothing to detect color, however. Cone cells are the ones that perceive color but they do need a lot of light to work. If the light dims for any reason, colors begin to fade in vision. Fish have been found to have a lot more rod cells than cone cells, meaning fish pay more attention to contrast, silhouette and shape than they do to color.

Due to the dimly lit environment fish live in, their pupils don’t dilate like humans. Their cone cells have evolved to give better details on contrast depending on light conditions. It’s thought that the environments they live in have helped their eyes to adapt. Game fish are said to be very good at distinguishing between shades of blue, helping them see blue bait in blue light. Fish that have lived in murky water are better at seeing shades of red, yellow and green.

In my opinion, getting the contrast and shape right is what you want to achieve when picking a lure, but how is it best to do that?

Colors Disappear In Water

Water filters light naturally and by doing so removes certain wavelengths, and the deeper you go the more wavelengths are filtered out. If you’re in clean water, the first color to disappear as you get deeper is red, then orange, followed by yellow and green and finally blues and purples. But, this all changes with water clarity and becomes a little more complicated. In water full of algae, green is the most visible color. In silty water, yellow and brown are easiest to see. And in tannin-stained water, red is the most visible.

If a fish could see in full color, it wouldn’t matter that much as slowly the colors disappear with depth. What this information does tell you is how to create the best contrast depending on the conditions and depth you are fishing at.

Here is a link so a color chart that shows you scientifically what colors are easiest to see underwater at differing depths and conditions.

Match The Bait & Geography

Most of the time, you are trying to imitate exactly what the fish you are trying to catch are choosing to eat that day. This depends on a lot of factors, firstly what fish you are targeting, where are you fishing and what time of year. Every ecosystem has it’s moments when a certain baitfish is prevalent in the area and the predators go crazy for them. Knowing about these patterns will put you in good stead to choose the right lure. If you are fishing in Texas in spring for example, then red is an excellent color to use as the crawfish there are red and the bass go nuts for them. If you’re fishing for tarpon in Florida during the mullet run, you’re going to use a bait that imitates a mullet and its color, a shrimp pattern is going to be ignored.

Wherever you are fishing, speak to the locals and look online for advice. It also pays to be aware whilst on the water. The more you notice about the situation the better. You may see baitfish swim past and try and match them, or remember colors that worked at a similar time the year before. If you do catch some fish, quite often some of their food will be regurgitated and you can see what they have been feeding on. If you are bass fishing and can catch one, feel it’s stomach. If it’s soft, then they are eating baitfish, if hard then they’re eating crawfish or other crustaceans.

Water Clarity

When you approach the water you are fishing the first thing to think about is what it looks like and what your bait is going to look like inside it. If the water is crystal clear, your bait will be seen easily by fish. If the water is dark and murky, fish are going to struggle to see your bait.

As a rule, darker colors are easier to see underwater and if the water is murky then using a dark-colored lure is the way to go. Blue, black and Junebug are great colors for this situation. You can also opt for the brightest colors in your box, as these are made to be seen in murky waters. Try luminous pink, orange, and chartreuse.

When the water is clear, the idea is to match fish’s chosen bait as close as possible. This means choosing natural colors that imitate the baitfish in the water. If you are bass fishing using green pumpkin or watermelon colored baits will imitate the crawfish, perch and sunfish species in the system. If you’re fishing in the sea you might go for a crankbait with a blue body and a white bottom.

It doesn’t always quite work out as I’ve mentioned above but it’s a good general rule to follow. Never stop changing if what you’re using is not working.


Sunlight has a similar effect on the water as water clarity. If you have been snorkeling, you’ll know that when the sun comes out, your visibility underwater gets a lot better. It’s exactly the same for fish, bait is easy to see on a sunny day and harder to see on a darker day. In terms of lure color, the same rules we mentioned in water clarity apply here too. Dark or luminous colors on dark days and natural colors on bright days. Although, it’s probably better to weigh them up together. If you’re fishing clear water on a dark day, then use something that is still natural but is either a little dark or has some flash to it. If the water is dark and the sky is darker, then go for the darkest or most outlandish color you have.

Something else that affects how sunlight penetrates water is the surface conditions. If you are a diver you’ll know that visibility is much worse when the water is rough than when it is calm. If it’s windy on a lake, making a big ripple and lot of surface movement, the water reflects and refracts a lot of the light that hits it and stops it from penetrating. This means that if you are fishing in clear water on a sunny day but it’s very windy, you’re going to want to think about using a darker or luminous lure.

Summing Up

It is quite a confusing realm of choice thinking about lure color and why it makes a difference sometimes and other times not. Color definitely plays a role, some days having the right color means fish are all over your bait. If you’re an offshore fisherman, you’ll have seen that on certain days one color in your 8 color spread will be hit all day and the others ignored.

The topics above definitely point to getting the right contrast so they fish can see your bait, this is certainly important. But don’t get too caught up in color, yes find a good one but also fish it well. People who keep changing instead of focussing on fishing over catch less than if they had stuck with one color and fished it hard.

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