Baits, Lures & Flies photo

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I ran into my pal Steve Parrott, co-owner of the Blue Quill Angler in Evergreen, Colorado, the other day at the Bass Pro Shops Spring Fishing Classic. We struck up an interesting conversation about the use of “hot spots” or “trigger points” on fly patterns.

Basically, by adding fluorescent material accents in key places like the collar or tail of a beadhead nymph fly, you create these “hot spots” or “trigger points” that trout may indeed see better, and theoretically react to more favorably. These two photos show Steve’s fly box in natural light, and then again in ultraviolet light, which simulates deeper water conditions. Those “hot spots” make you notice, don’t they?

The point in all of this is trying to make a closer connection between what you, the angler sees, and what a fish really sees. Sometimes, we anglers get too wrapped up in what a fly looks like in our hand above the water, and not enough thought is given to what it really looks like below the water. I can tell you, having spent a lot of time scuba diving in rivers, lakes and oceans, that colors change dramatically as natural light penetration through the water diminishes.

For example, that hot pink San Juan worm doesn’t look all that hot 10 feet below the lake surface (it looks gray), especially when there’s a lot of particulate matter suspended in the water. The less light penetration, the more you lose the reds, and the better you see yellows, for example. And blues maintain a solid silhouette.

I would assume this factor would have to have an influence on fish as well, wouldn’t it? We know through science that fish do indeed see colors. They also already give us other hints as to why perceptiveness matters. It’ no coincidence (in a slap your forehead kind of way) that those chartreuse, orange, and yellow pike baits would work well in the more tannic, stained waters where pike typically live. We know that purples and blues work great.

Have you ever seen anything natural that looks anything like a purple Prince nymph? No, of course not. But the way that color acts in the light environment of a river is its real appeal. Steve theorizes that those fluorescent red accents work well in shallow clear water, and lose effect with depth. He’s written about all this on his website, which you can check out here.

I’m intrigued enough to want to check this out in more detail, do some research, and maybe write about it in the magazine. The thought that bait colors vary in importance according to water conditions is certainly nothing new (ask a bass angler when to use green pumpkin versus junebug on a soft plastic if you want to open that, um, can of worms). But the notion of changing those colors based on light penetration through water, and specifically the use of fluorescent accents to make flies “pop” could add a whole new layer to the way we think about subsurface flies and the rationale we use when tying them. And having a deeper understanding of the color factor can only pay dividends for the angler.