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Does Yarn Color Make a Difference?

by John Evans
(San Antonio, TX)

And The Winner Is . . .

And The Winner Is . . .

Does Yarn Color Make a Difference?

One question tenkara anglers like to debate is whether the color of flies, nymphs, or streamers makes much of a difference in catching fish. I know some well-respected fishermen who say that color doesn’t matter. Just reach into the fly box and grab whatever strikes your fancy; the fish don’t care. Other anglers insist that color makes all the difference in the world.

What’s the truth? I thought I’d tell readers about a little experiment I ran last month at my local fishing hole to see if I could get an answer. No, this was not a scientific study, and I’m sure there are plenty of flaws in my approach, but the results may help.

I tied up some simple crane fly larva/killer bug pattern nymphs on size 11 Alec Jackson Covert Daiichi hooks (yes, those expensive ones) in six different colors of yarn and fished on five separate days in the exact same spot. I used the same number of lead-free wraps of wire on the hooks and tried to fish in more-or-less the same way. I also varied the order of the six colors I used on the different days in case the fish were simply going after the first bug they saw and then laying off the others after they got stirred up. I used a dead drift followed by a slow, twitchy rise and fished about the same length of time with each color. The spot I fished is loaded with panfish and small bass, and almost always produces a fair number of catches.

What did I learn? At least in my limited testing, yarn color definitely does make a difference. First, let me say that I caught fish on every color of yarn. No color was a complete bust, and all colors were useful. Also, in the spot I fish, there are some Rio Grande Perch/Texas Cichlids, and they seem to prefer black, or at least dark-colored yarn, as I reported in another blog entry. But, the clear winner on all five days was the Jamieson Shetland Spindrift Oyster yarn tied with fluorescent pink thread. (Imagine that: The yarn that is most often recommended for the Killer Bug is the yarn that worked best!) Some colors of yarn were ignored until I did quite a bit of twitching on the lift. In fact, by rough count the oyster yarn was better by an almost 2-to-1 margin. This was true whether I used the oyster color first, last, or in the middle of my experiment.

So, in warm, lightly-stained waters, in South Central Texas, there was one yarn color that out-fished five other colors on five separate days. On no day did it come in second or third best.

Why did the oyster color work best? Only a fish could say. Several writers have commented on how the oyster yarn changes color in an unusual way once it is wet. It turns a pinky-tan-translucent color that, to my eye, seems lifelike. Most yarns just get darker. But, how do fish see it, and why did my fish find it appealing in the summer? As anglers, we’re interested in the results but can only theorize about the “why”.

I want to caution against drawing too many conclusions from this very limited experiment. In fact, my trial raises more questions than it answers. Also, remember that all the yarns caught some fish. Would fish in other parts of the country, in other types of water, react the same? What is the role of the underlying thread color? Would the size and color of the hook influence which color of yarn works best? Would seasons of the year make a difference, and how about different species of fish? Is it possible that I just fished the oyster yarn more confidently? (After all, I didn’t fish blindfolded!) The number of variables ensures that the debate will continue.

Next time around, I plan to improve my efforts in several ways. For example, I need to include more repetitions and more yarn colors, plus keep an exact chart of the results. Five days and six colors of yarn is just too small of a sample size. It seems, however, that color makes some difference in some way, and it’s not accurate to say, “One color of artificial fly is just as good as another.” See the accompanying photo for the yarns I used, plus the “winning” pattern.

Perhaps my brief experiment will encourage others to try something similar on their local waters and, in this way, we can learn together.

Comments for Does Yarn Color Make a Difference?

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Aug 12, 2016
More research needed
by: Chris Stewart

John, what this tells me is that we all need to go fishing more. For science.

Aug 12, 2016
Oh, yes!
by: John Evans

Oh, yes!--That makes all the sense in the world!

Aug 12, 2016
Yes, color
by: John L

John E, 36 years ago I fished some creek(s) NW of San Antonio and, though I've forgotten the name(s), I've never forgotten that fishing flies of nothing but black or brown or green or orange yarn wound on long shank hooks, bluegill way favored black, and long ear way favored orange. Results stayed consistent over many sessions the only summer I was there. It is the only place I ever fished that had many long ear, so that is one more way the testing wasn't scientific. You find any such thing?

And, trout and I guess most all fish have eyes structured to differentiate colors, so I suppose they differentiate.

John L
Canon City, Colorado

Aug 13, 2016
Have to Agree With Chris on this One
by: John Evans

John L.--I appreciate your comments and sharing of experiences from long back. I know that Chris Stewart suggested tongue-in-cheek that we need to do more research by fishing more, but I think he's right! Scientists like to debate how well fish see, and how well they can differentiate colors, but I think my little experiment shows that they CAN detect some difference. I think then that anglers have to figure out, through trial and error, what colors work best for the fish they want to target, in the area they want to fish, at the time they can go fishing! All of that should help keep the yarn sellers in business . . .

Aug 13, 2016
by: Phillip Dobson

Same thing goes for dubbing. I think in the case of dub, both color and texture matter. I have one dubbing that catches by far more fish than any other: it's fur brushed from by Brother's dog Dexter. There's something about the charcoal color and mix of fine curly fur and spiky guard hairs that fish love. I think Dexter is responsible for about half of the fish I've ever caught.

To test variations, I'll tie up patterns with just one change and fish them in tandem. I then switch the point and dropper, and fish again. I will often see a clear preference for one of the patterns.

Aug 13, 2016
Yes, texture would be another variable
by: John Evans

You know, I was wondering about the effect of texture as well. Some of the yarns definitely have different textures--and I would think that would be "extra-true" for dubbings. Plus, I've noticed that often the killer bugs become more effective as they get fuzzed and roughed up by the fish. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Aug 14, 2016
Field testing
by: Dave

Arrrgh!! Another "something" to drag along the stream banks--a camouflage lab coat!!

Aug 15, 2016
Color? Texture? Phillip Dobson's method of testing.
by: John L

Phillip D's method of testing ("I'll tie up patterns with just one change and fish them in tandem ... then switch point and dropper..."), is the method I trust. Testing this way, this week's most effective fly on my town river, compared to my usual dubbed favorites, has no texture.

Doing a Google image search for butano fly patterns would show the type.

If there are more reddish bodied adult mayflies around, a red bodied one. If there are more (Hydopsychae?) caddis, a yellow bodied one.
Giving the fish what they want most can be challenging.

John L

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“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” - Benjamin Franklin

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Col. Robert Venables 1662

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