What colors do bass see the best?

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What do these results mean? The cellular composition of the largemouth bass’ eye is tuned to respond to two colors: red and green. Bass can see these colors well, and make decisions with high selectivity based on these colors. Outside of red and green, many dark colors appear quite similar to bass, which are unable to make highly selective decisions based on those dark colors like blue and black. Likewise, bass cannot readily distinguish between very bright colors, like chartreuse and white.

Now it’s time for a grain of a salt, or rather, some context for the science. These experiments were performed in clear, well-filtered water, conditions that are not exactly representative of every single body of water where largemouth swim. We might imagine conditions under which the color selectivity of bass in cloudy or turbid water might be significantly different from that observed in clear water. Also, the behavioral studies used bass that were 8-12 inches in length, and it is possible that color perception may change with age; the investigators did note that they assumed the color selectivity of their juvenile fish matched that of adult bass. Nevertheless, even with those limitations, these biological and behavioral studies have the potential to have broad impacts on bass fishing.

For me, these results will help to organize my bass lure collection into four basic colors: bright (white and chartreuse), green, red, and dark (blue, brown, black). That white spinnerbait with a few chartreuse strands in the skirt? To a bass, it’s all white. And what about my collection of black-and-blue jigs? Might as well throw them in with the all-blue and all-black jigs because to a bass, they likely all look the same, at least in terms of color. I do think lures with obvious contrast between colors that bass can easily observe will remain important: baits like red cranks with black vertical bars, or bright jerkbaits with dark backs. But now, every shade of blue and purple doesn’t need to be stored separately – science says that bass likely see them all as the same.

Color is an obvious factor when choosing a lure. Let your experience be your guide, but listen to the science too, recognizing that bass see colors as bright, green, red, and dark – and that’s about it.

Want to dig deeper into the science of bass color vision? Put your lab coat on and read it for yourself:

1. Brown, FA, Jr. 1937 “Responses of the large-mouth black bass to color.” Illinois Natural History Survey Bulletin, Vol 21, pages 33-55.

2. Mitchem LD, Stanis S, Zhou M, Loew E, Epifanio JM, Fuller RC. 2019 “Seeing red: color vision in the largemouth bass.” Current Zoology, Vol 65, pages 43-52.

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