Typically steelhead are extraordinarily selective—reacting to 1 coloration over all others. 

Vivid solar. Slight breeze. Heat, sunny, October afternoon. Too many individuals round on days like that, so we parked ourselves in a superb pool at dawn and stayed put. However we labored it for over an hour with out a take.

We saved altering jig colours and I lastly elected taupe—essentially the most boring coloration within the field­—on this case type of tan with a touch of pink. Waxworms added, I pitched it to midstream. And the float dove on the primary drift. After touchdown the fish, the float was ripped underneath on the subsequent drift.

Preventing a second steelie, I directed my associate Mary to a jig field in my vest. “Open it up,” I mentioned. I pointed to a jig. “Tie that on.”

“This? You’re kidding.” I shook my head. She tied it on. And her float disappeared in the course of the subsequent drift. Resting the pool for a bit after every steelhead, we took six extra from that pool.


Had been the fish there all alongside, refusing each different coloration however taupe? Steelhead do migrate, in spite of everything. May have out of the blue moved in. However altering swimming pools throughout a vivid, calm day in clear water? I moderately doubt it. And that wasn’t the primary time we noticed steelhead being very choosy about coloration.

The place can a taupe jig be bought? I doubt it could. It was a 1/64-ounce custom-made TC Deal with jig painted with Taupe Drawer, coloration #920 within the Pure Ice nail polish lineup. To not discourage anybody, however go to Walgreens and it is perhaps doable to search out 6 or 7 shades of taupe. Go to a division retailer and there might be 5 or 6 utterly completely different shades of that coloration. Pink? Dozens, perhaps lots of of variations exist. And steelhead love pink.

Will steelhead actually choose one shade of pink over each different? Would possibly sound ridiculous, however I imagine they do. Typically. Some days steelhead will strike quite a lot of colours. However typically they’re extraordinarily selective—reacting to 1 coloration over all others.

More often than not, steelhead reply to some completely different colours primarily based on situations, however genetics appears to play a job, too. Rivers with naturally reproducing steelhead have proven a determined desire for one particular coloration 12 months after 12 months in my expertise. No scientific analysis helps that notion, however a half century of remark and journal entries may need some small quantity of benefit.

Science does reveal that bluefin tuna have very poor coloration notion, whereas steelhead see coloration higher than we do. Since bluefin spend loads of time deeper than 100 ft, coloration notion might be much less essential, and the flexibility to see silhouettes excessive above them extra essential, for survival. Steelhead spend most of their lives a lot nearer to the floor, even whereas out to sea. Coloration notion turns into a bonus for fish that feed selectively, as trout usually do.

Steelhead are color-conscious to the intense. New information, observations, and strategies have amended what we knew about how steelhead see the world and why they generally select one coloration or shade over one other.

The Physiology

The eyes of steelhead are much like human eyes in some methods and really completely different in others. Each human and steelhead eyes have an iris, a retina, and a lens. A human iris dilates or constricts just like the aperture of a digital camera to manage gentle ranges reaching the retina. The iris of a steelhead is fastened—it’s the retina that regulates gentle ranges.

Each have rods and cones, offering coloration imaginative and prescient, element, distinction, and evening imaginative and prescient—however younger steelhead parr have cones that permit them to see ultraviolet gentle. People don’t. And neither do grownup trout, in line with latest analysis by Dr. Iñigo Novales Flamarique. People have extra cones for seeing inexperienced whereas steelhead have extra cones for choosing up blue.

Pink yarn jig attached with fishing line to a BloodDot Bead
Distinction colours when visibility is lower than 2 ft—right here a home made yarn jig painted glow-pink with Professional-Tec beneath a chartreuse BloodDot Bead.

The components that have an effect on coloration visibility underneath water for steelhead are: 1) Particulates within the water (the quantity and sort of natural matter suspended really determines the colour of the water itself); 2) depth; 3) distance; 4) climate; and 5) amplitude of sunshine. Steelhead see coloration very properly in clear water, particularly on vivid days. In cloudy water and on darkish days, coloration notion is compromised.

Depth performs a job, too. At 10 ft down in common readability, purple disappears—filtered out as a result of the wavelength is lengthy—whereas blue, with its shorter wavelength, stays true. Lastly—fishing stress comes into play. Aggressive colours like chartreuse, glow, and fluorescent orange can really spook extremely pressured fish in clear water, but is perhaps important in cloudy water even the place fish are labored over actually exhausting.

Then we arrive on the morass of obtainable gentle, which regularly will increase to midday then decreases to sundown. Throughout this course of, colours can change hue underwater. Simply earlier than sundown, out there gentle is about one tenth the brightness of noon, and lots of colours flip grey for a steelhead. The purpose at which this occurs comes earlier in cloudy water and on cloudy days. Simply after sundown, out there gentle is a thousandth of what it was in the course of the day. Steelhead can’t see regular colours in any respect at that time (glow being irregular).

All of the above components can be utilized to assist choose colours. Earlier than selecting, have a look at water readability, the sky, and fishing stress. Begin with vivid colours on darkish days and in stained or cloudy water. Begin with boring or flat colours on vivid days. When fishing stress is excessive, choose colours the fish have by no means seen. That’s the place nail polish is available in.

“Vivid” is considerably relative. Simply because scorching pink appears vivid to us, it is perhaps delicate for a steelhead—particularly one on the backside of a 6- to 10-foot pool—even in very clear water. Pink disappears at about the identical depth purple does.

Five different color jig heads
TC Deal with 1/32-ounce jigs sport nail-polish colours steelhead not often if ever see—peach, mauve, taupe, bubblegum, and metallic inexperienced—a optimistic benefit with pressured fish.

On the different finish of the spectrum—cloudy water— glow colours are efficient. Phosphorescent paints illuminate surrounding particulates within the water, actually placing a highlight on the jig. Anytime visibility is lower than 2 ft, glow is an efficient place to begin.

Water coloration impacts how steelhead see your lure. It filters the sunshine, enhancing some colours and modifying the spectrum of colours. In blue water, purple turns into brown. In rivers which can be barely brown or stained, chartreuse or yellow actually pop.

In deep brown water, over time, I’ve had essentially the most success with lime inexperienced or inexperienced glow, most likely as a result of inexperienced wavelengths prolong farther than different colours in that water coloration. In inexperienced water, chartreuse and yellow tackle completely different shades of yellow-green whereas inexperienced itself is accentuated.

To know if steelhead are actually responding to chartreuse, use a fluorescent model in inexperienced water. In crystal clear water, the one factor limiting how steelhead see coloration is depth. Pink and orange filter out first, adopted by violet and yellow, then the greens and blues. In all however the deepest, cloudiest rivers, inexperienced and blue are seen all through the water column.

In cloudy water, contrasting two colours tends to be more practical than utilizing a homogeneous coloration for steelhead—an remark made by many guides and revered anglers. Contrasting fluorescent or glow variations of orange with chartreuse, pink with white, and different vivid combos is vital. As of late, I do it by threading a vivid bead on the road above a yarn jig of contrasting coloration.

Creating Coloration

Heavy stress is usually a robust situation to take care of, however it may be combated with coloration. When stress is excessive and the water is low and clear—the hardest situations of all— present steelhead delicate colours they’ve by no means seen. That’s when nail polish comes into play.

No one can go to the sort out store or go surfing and discover mauve jigs. Or that shade of orange I name peach. Or taupe, or numerous shades of pink. Most corporations provide jigs in a single shade of pink solely, and it seems to be fairly much like everybody else’s shade of pink. Arduous to stroll previous a nail-polish show with out seeing a brand new shade of pink. And when you begin utilizing polish, it’s even tougher to stroll previous with out shopping for one thing.

Paint jigs utilizing the comb within the bottle. Placed on one coat, then wait 24 hours to use a second coat. Wait one other day to color on a transparent hardener like Sally Hansen’s Arduous As Nails. That manner the colour will final by way of extra encounters with rocks and steelhead enamel with out chipping. End coating jigs at the very least 24 hours earlier than placing them in a jig field they usually gained’t adhere to one another when touching.

With glow and fluorescent powder paints, use a small candle to warmth jigs. Don’t maintain them within the flame for much longer than 10 seconds per facet. Swish the heated jig by way of the powder—don’t dip. Reheat, increased over the flame, for a pair minutes, rotating continually, then dangle on a rack to chill. Apply Sally Hansen’s hardener and permit to dry in a single day.

Many have mentioned they imagine the odor of nail polish places steelhead off. Not true. I all the time apply scent to cowl unfavourable cues like L-serine—an amino acid all of us have on our pores and skin that basically does put steelhead off. However scent wears off and steelhead nonetheless chew when the colour is correct.

Eight different colored and patterned egg beads
These Cleardrift Clear Smooth Beads have coloration however permit gentle to go by way of—an enormous benefit in low, clear water.

Jigs are opaque and there’s nothing to be carried out about it. Beads—most likely the most well-liked baits for steelhead right now—provide the choice of translucency, one other crucial issue when the water is low and clear. Gentle passing by way of a coloration is usually a lethal set off when issues are robust. And beads are commercially out there in hundreds extra shades than jigs.

Michigan information Steve Martinez (Indigo Information Service) just lately informed me “all people needs to make use of floats and beads now. It’s uncommon to get requests for the rest. Casting crankbaits was one of the vital standard strategies, however not anymore. Now it’s primarily floats and beads.”

For a lot of the previous decade I might have agreed. Beads persistently banked extra metal than my bait-fishing companions. However prior to now few seasons, on the rivers I fish, baited jigs have outfished my bead choice nearly every single day out. I nonetheless attempt beads most days and I’m certain they’ll make a comeback, however for now it’s again to the nail-polish division.

Steelhead imaginative and prescient is extraordinarily acute. They’re visible predators with distinctive coloration notion they usually use that to their benefit. Use that information to your benefit by displaying them colours they’ve by no means seen.

Crucial factor about coloration is retaining observe. Every river has a coloration code to crack. The code is written in water coloration, situations, genetics, and depth. Steelhead will be maddeningly fussy about coloration. Conserving a journal and looking out over information collected over time makes coloration choice a lot simpler. It at the very least supplies a spot to begin.

*In-Fisherman Subject Editor Matt Straw has been fishing for steelhead and telling others about how greatest to know and catch them for many of his life. He’s an distinctive multispecies angler and was inducted into the Nationwide Freshwater Fishing Corridor of Fame in 2019.

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