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Purple and Blue Flies: Bogus on Top but Deadly Below the Surface

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February 07, 2014

Purple and Blue Flies: Bogus on Top but Deadly Below the Surface

By Kirk Deeter

Sometimes it's good to break up the winter doldrums by going out to lunch with a guide buddy. Which is exactly what I did yesterday with John Perizzolo, who guides for Breckenridge Outfitters, and also happens to make the "Hemo Holsters" that Joe Cermele featured in F&S's Sportsman's Wish List a few months ago. 

As is usually the case, we got to talking about tips and techniques, stuff that works... and stuff that doesn't work. J.P. spends a lot of time on the Colorado River, and he reaffirmed for me that when the fishing days are tough, one of his go-to flies is still the Purple Prince nymph. I've taken a shine to bright blue "Psycho Princes," and those of you who follow Fly Talk and the magazine know that I've written quite a bit on the virtues of purple and blue nymphs and streamers. J.P. and I are also still keen on adding U/V 'hotspots" on flies that we know we will fish deep. 

"But what about purple dry flies, do you catch many on them?" I asked J.P.

"Nah, I don't fish them much," he answered.

I admitted to having been suckered into buying a dozen purple Parachute Adams flies last summer. I don't recall having caught any fish on them, though I gave it a good try. I wondered aloud why that was.

"You ever see any bright purple mayflies?" J.P. asked with a smile.

Point well taken. Actually, there are two points to be made here.

First, when fish are keyed on a hatch of natural insects, you need to throw a fly that looks as close to natural as possible (duh). That's size, profile and color. If trout aren't keyed on a certain bug, the real value of an attractor dry fly is its profile. Throw something big and ugly, and they might just take a whack at it. But they aren't going to think, "Gee, that's purple, I think I should eat that."

It's a completely different game under the water. Different shades of the spectrum dissipate the deeper you go. After a few feet, red starts to turn gray, and when you really dredge the bottom of a run, blues and purples are still vivid. So those flies are attention getters and great underwater attractors.

I do, however, know that pinks and reds work great as accents on terrestrials, and a hot pink San Juan worm is killer in many places, even fished deep.  I don't know exactly why that is. I suppose reds and pinks are really red and pink on the surface or at shallow depths, and fish eat the worm because of its profile more than anything. But that's just a guess.

As for purple and blue, I remember talking to the late, great fish scientist Dr. Robert Behnke about this several years ago. He explained that fish can see colors, and that the violet side of the spectrum grabs their attention better below the surface. Those colors attract fish, but they don't simulate many natural things that trout eat. So when trout are on the feed, your best bet is to stick with more muted colors.  

So purple and blues have great value below the surfacevand little value on top. This is another example of how some flies are designed to catch fish, and others are designed to catch anglers.  

That's the theory we came up with over a couple of hamburgers anyway.  Go ahead and shoot us down if you beg to differ. 

Comments (7)

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from Hoski wrote 10 weeks 5 days ago

A few years ago I discovered purple was about the only thing that would get any attention on certain days on the Lake Erie tribs steelies. Always have a few with me.

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from abcdpete wrote 10 weeks 5 days ago

Tim's told me you're a lot smarter than you look. Thanks Kirk.

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from buckhunter wrote 10 weeks 5 days ago

Have a picture on my wall of salmon flies tied over 100 years ago. The color blue is used in 90% of them.

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from Doug Leichliter wrote 10 weeks 5 days ago

If blue and purple are such great colors, especially in deeper pools, why aren't there more found on in-line spinners? Rooster Tail has a pinkish purple and that's the only one that comes to mind.

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from buckhunter wrote 10 weeks 4 days ago

Doug, I'm just guessing here but one of the most popular jig and plastic bait colors for bass fisherman are grape and purple. Both colors in the blue family. There is (always) cross-over science between bass fishing and fly fishing.

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from rjw wrote 10 weeks 4 days ago

Blues and Purples are staple colors in my boat, not are they only good for Bass these colors work on almost any fish in virtually any body of water.

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from Dogrel wrote 10 weeks 22 hours ago

But Rooster Tails DO come in those colors.

My best-producing Rooster Tail ever is an 1/8 ounce rooster tail with a silver blade, dark blue insect-pattern body, and a blue and black skirt. It works when NOTHING else will, it has for years, and that color combination is still being produced.

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from Doug Leichliter wrote 10 weeks 5 days ago

If blue and purple are such great colors, especially in deeper pools, why aren't there more found on in-line spinners? Rooster Tail has a pinkish purple and that's the only one that comes to mind.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Hoski wrote 10 weeks 5 days ago

A few years ago I discovered purple was about the only thing that would get any attention on certain days on the Lake Erie tribs steelies. Always have a few with me.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from abcdpete wrote 10 weeks 5 days ago

Tim's told me you're a lot smarter than you look. Thanks Kirk.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 10 weeks 5 days ago

Have a picture on my wall of salmon flies tied over 100 years ago. The color blue is used in 90% of them.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from buckhunter wrote 10 weeks 4 days ago

Doug, I'm just guessing here but one of the most popular jig and plastic bait colors for bass fisherman are grape and purple. Both colors in the blue family. There is (always) cross-over science between bass fishing and fly fishing.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rjw wrote 10 weeks 4 days ago

Blues and Purples are staple colors in my boat, not are they only good for Bass these colors work on almost any fish in virtually any body of water.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dogrel wrote 10 weeks 22 hours ago

But Rooster Tails DO come in those colors.

My best-producing Rooster Tail ever is an 1/8 ounce rooster tail with a silver blade, dark blue insect-pattern body, and a blue and black skirt. It works when NOTHING else will, it has for years, and that color combination is still being produced.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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