Does Color Matter?

Fly tied by Brad Morris

by Scott Sadil

Tying flies for an upcoming trip to Baja where, this time of year, I’ll make more casts in and around the mangrove-lined esteros than along the wild island beaches I favor in fall, I’m experimenting with a new element, a “structure guard,” that I’ve never employed in the past.

Of course, I’ve already seen weed or structure guards on plenty of other flies.  But, as is so often the case, my first response on inspecting this or that so-called innovation has always been You don’t really need that. 

Then, in Queensland, while we were fishing for barramundi, a guide showed me what he could do with flies tied with his structure guards, zinging casts deep into the mangrove and then retrieving through limbs, downed branches, tangled roots, the fly snaking its way back to open water without snagging.

Hmm? Maybe I do.

After trying my hand adding Brad Morris’s structure guards to a couple of different generic saltwater patterns, tied in various shades of tan and white, I think maybe it’s time to brighten things up—only to come up against a question I ask myself, more and more, after fifty years in this silly game: Does color matter?

If you start with the premise that the fly is meant to mimic some manner of life fish feed on, it follows, quite obviously, that you would choose or create flies that share colors with this particular food source.

Yet over time, most fly anglers come to accept the efficacy of certain patterns in their boxes that exhibit colors approximating nothing they’ve ever seen fish eat.  The Royal Coachman, no doubt, is the classic example from the long history of flies used for trout fishing, while today there are any number of, say, purple patterns, a rare color in a trout’s world, yet one that has proven popular, especially among anglers inclined to reach for the latest and greatest fly, convinced the key to success is staying one step ahead of the other guy.

Also, if you happen to fish for steelhead or other sea-run fish, especially when convinced the fish aren’t actually feeding, you’re the exception if you don’t have your favorite color, even as you are quick to point out, should anyone care to listen, that the color you like has nothing to do with any food source but, instead, has risen to the top of your list because of the frequency with which it has worked in the past.