The last decade has seen a massive increase in new tackle hitting the market. And with that comes new paint and paint schemes, including Glow paint and UV paint. But do fish see glow paint on lures? What about UV? Can fish see UV paint on lures?
We stepped away from armchair biology and asked a fisheries biologist here in my home state. Here’s what he had to say.
First, a little background information on light penetration in water….
Shorter wavelengths in the visible spectrum (edge of UV, Indigo, purple) are scattered by water and do not penetrate very far.
Intermediate wavelengths (blue, green, yellow) penetrate water best and are visible at the greatest depths.
Long wavelengths (red, orange) are absorbed by water and also do not penetrate very far.
Second, a bit of information on vision….
A fish’s ability to see is enormously variable from species to species. Some species have very poor vision (paddlefish, sturgeon, catfish) due to the more turbid environments they evolved in and they have other enhanced sensory organs that assist in finding food. For example, a paddlefish’s rostrum is covered in electro-sensory receptors called Ampullae of Lorenzini that detect the electrical impulses given off by their zooplankton forage. Sturgeons have concentrations of touch and taste receptors on their barbels and around their mouth for detecting prey as they swim along the bottom. Catfish have similar taste/touch receptors around their mouth and on their barbels as well as taste receptors covering their entire body (catfish are literally tasting you when you hold one).
Other fish species have much better vision (sight feeders like walleye, pike, largemouth bass, and bluegill). Similar to humans, they possess both rods (shades of gray) and cones (color). I am most familiar with walleye vision and know that research has shown that they have the ability to see yellow/orange/red the best. Walleye also have a reflective layer called the Tapetum Lucidum behind their retina that reflects visible light back through their retina and enhances night vision (this is the reflective layer that “glows” in both walleye and deer when seen in a camera flash or car headlights).
So, do fish actually “see” glow colors in the water? The short answer is yes….as long as the fish has the sensory structures in their eyes to see those colors. The only way for a color to be visible past its depth of ambient penetration into the water is for that color to be produced by the lure at that depth (such as by glowing). But, similarly to surface light penetration, lures glowing in colors of intermediate wavelengths are going to be visible from greater distances than long or short wavelengths.
Same with UV – can fish see this and does it really present an advantage? Some research has indicated that a few species of fish (dace, carp, & goldfish) do have UV-detecting cone cells. However, fish vision has not been exhaustively researched by any means. I suspect most of what we’d consider to be sight-feeding fish would be able to see a bit into the UV spectrum. Whether or not it offers any type of advantage to anglers is debatable. I personally have had my best luck with UV-colored lures when fishing shallow, clear water under twilight conditions and this makes sense given the enhanced scattering of short (UV) wavelengths in water.
So there you have it, some very good insights into colors, glow, and UV paint on fishing lures. While we’re up in the north country where walleyes are king, we may have to look a bit more into bass from a biologist from the south. Stay tuned!