Last week, I reported on many aspects of fish vision. This week, I will take it one step further: what colors do fish see?
I will focus on sciaenids, the drum/croaker family since they are favorite targets here in coastal North Carolina. And we have access to great research data from Horodysky et. al. on retinal color response of the likes of red and black drum, speckled and gray trout, croaker, spots and sea mullet…the sciaenids.
But first, a Haiku poem as a lead-in t0set the stage: “Rainbow of colors/In sky and below the sea/Where did the red go?”
Where did the red go indeed?
We know that red is one of the favorite colors of artificial baits. We even have “blood red” hooks, but what we see in the rainbow of colors in the air takes on a different bent under water. Did you know that at 10 feet deep, 60 percent of light is absorbed, but not equally for each color. In fact, you only have 6.5 percent of red making it to 10 feet in depth, 50 percent orange, 73 percent yellow, 88 percent green and so on with blues and violet penetrating to deeper depths. Then at 30 feet, only 0.025 percent of the red remains, 12 percent of the yellow…you see the trend.
If you dive on some of our local reefs, you will notice at easily attainable depths of 40 to 60 feet only green, blue and violet remain. So where did the red go? Absorbed and scattered by the water, so at typical depths, red fades to grays and black. Did you ever see a red snapper at 65 feet?
So that’s what happens in to our rainbow below the sea, but now what do fish see? I will just stick for today’s purpose to a couple of our favorite sciaenids, gray trout and red drum as per (AZ) Horodysky et. al. whose studies indicate these and other sciaenids have very poor red vision, which makes sense since there isn’t much red to be seen. On the other hand, these fishy visions get better in the yellow and peak sensitivity in the green/blue/violet range. Interestingly, the gray trout’s (weakfish) sensitivity to blue and violet is even enhanced at night, and they even have some sight into the ultraviolet.
Our tackle boxes are full with a veritable rainbow of colors, most of which catch fish under one or other conditions. Our artificial baits are effective when they act like food, smell like food, sound like food, and yes, look like food. With many of our favorite predatory fish, the last thing they do before they eat something is see it. So, visibility is an important key: they see…they eat! That’s why shiny reflective baits work well – great visibility.
Here are a couple other points. Intricate details on baits are usually not very important, realizing that many predators only see silhouettes of their prey backlit by sunlight as they attack from below. Also, you have probably heard the saying, “If it ain't chartreuse, it ain't no use.” Chartreuse is the color halfway between yellow and green and holds its visibility well under water and at times when water clarity and quality are compromised.
So, what’s the bottom line? Dark colors are most visible to many fish at all depths, particularly for fish we target here in coastal North Carolina. Shiny is good, and by the way, white is good too as far as its inherent visibility. And of course, there is chartreuse.
All this is also affected by a variety of environmental conditions: water clarity and color as we often have tannin-stained water, suspended particulates in the water that scatters light, cloud cover and time of day or night too.
Here is a final question: What is the best color MirrOlure to speckled trout fish in the dark of night? Think about it!
Although we continue to fight the elements of wind and rain and rapidly fluctuating temperatures, fishing remains good.
The local surf, especially toward Atlantic Beach and Beaufort Inlet, has produced reports of a great variety of fish: blues with some choppers, Spanish mackerel, citation pompano, sea mullet, black drum and gray trout too.
Sand fleas, which have emerged from the depths, are ready to be dug up along the surf. The general beach bite is best in the east island, less in the west side toward Bogue Inlet. And yes, I’ve seen my first lizardfish!
There are also good numbers of flounder showing at the piers, reefs and inside waters, but remember, that brief season doesn’t open recreationally until Sunday, Aug. 16.
Outside the inlets, there are plenty Spanish and still surprisingly good catches of Atlantic bonito in 35 to 45 feet of water and out to Cape Lookout.
Inside the Morehead City Port area, grays, reds, sheepshead and flounder are keeping anglers angling. There are scattered spotty specks around on topwater at day and on mud minnows at night. One area I’ve heard of is in the upper reaches of Core Creek around lighted docks under the cover of darkness.
By the way, at nighttime, black Night Stalker and Purple Demon MirrOlures are the best! There are still good catches of reds and trout in the New River and Neuse River too. From the New River, there are also reports of manatees showing already. Seems like this has gone from rare to almost common over the last few years. As far as the Neuse, the striper bite is still excellent.
Speaking of stripers, the upper Roanoke River striper bite is on fire. The Roanoke fishery is currently single barbless hook, catch and release since we are now in May. If you get a chance, try the late-day, topwater action, using a single barbless J-hook in the middle location of the topwater lure. It’s awesome fun!
All Bogue Banks and Topsail Island ocean fishing piers are now open for business, with obvious restrictions, and Fort Macon is also now open.
Offshore, when the wind lies down, the bite is great and quite a mix of mahi-mahi, yellow and black tuna, wahoo, albies and the always fun reef donkeys, the amberjacks. The bottom triggerfish bite is holding up as well.
Final question: it’s May, where are inshore the cobia? A few are being caught offshore, but I haven’t heard of any landed yet near and inshore. By the way, a number of the local tackle shops are carrying live eels for cobia bait. Tip: keep them on ice before you try to hook them up!
Take care, be safe, catch fish and see you next week.
2) "Ask Dr. Bogus" is on the radio every Monday at 7:30 a.m. WTKF 107.1 FM and 1240 AM. The show is also replayed on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. Callers may reach me at 800-818-2255.
3) I’m located at 118 Conch Ct. in Sea Dunes, just off Coast Guard Road, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. The mailing address is P.O. Box 5225, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. Don’t forget a gift certificate for your favorite angler for fishing lessons or my totally Bogus Fishing Report subscription. Please stop by at any time and say “Hi” or call 252-354-4905.