How Fish See Bait

Archive / Fish Info / February 17, 2017

Catching the big fish involves some knowledge as to the way fish see your baits as it moves or floats through the water.  have you ever thought about how fish see bait?

It is something that many people do not consider. What might look good, in terms of a pure, may look totally out of place to a fish.


How Do Fish See Bait?

It’s More Than Throwing Out Bait

Many think it is easy to catch fish: just throw the bait out wait. However, there more to fishing that throwing the bait in the water. That knowledge is evident because not all fish are the same and not all bait is the same. There are a variety of lures for a reason – fish are different and fishing conditions are different.

It’s important to know how fish maneuver and encounter the world around them. Does the fish you’re targeting have good eyesight like Walleye or strong lateral line senses like perch and trout? Can the fish you’re targeting smell your bait well? These are the types of questions and answers which will allow you to know just what kind of combination of size and shape, noise and color, best able to deceive your prey.


Just like humans, fish can see color and brightness. Some fish, like bass have good vision. This is a common trait among freshwater bass.

Most fish can see color similar to that of humans. However, the deeper your bait or lure descends, the more muted in color your baits and lures seem to become due to the lack of light penetration through water. The deeper your lure goes, the less it is likely to reflect the sunlight above.

Some fish have great vision, but they see colors different. Take for instance walleye; they have great eyesight, however they can only see orange and green type colors, other colors appear grey. Even still, walleye’s great eyesight can allow them to see color at deep depths humans would otherwise not be able to see.

Its important to know how well your targeted species can see and at what depth they begin to lose the ability to distinguish the color of their prey.



Fish can hear quite well. Remember fishing with your father and grandfather and they kept telling you to be quiet? They had a good reason for that; fish hear well.

Water conducts sound much better than air does. Though fish lack external ears, vibration in the water transmits sound directly through the bones of the body.  Sound is a much less predictable variable. Some fish like trout might be spooked by a voice or while other fish might be attracted to noise around a dock.

Many lures, like plugs or swimbaits, take advantage of the fish’s ability to hear by adding small plastic or metal balls to generate enough noise to attract fish.


Lateral Line

Made most famous in sharks is the lateral line. Nerve endings along the side of the fish sense vibrations in water. Fish can ascertain the direction, speed, action, size, and shape of water bound objects.

The Lateral Line works for predators and prey. Predators use it to track prey and baitfish. While prey use it to escape, darting into heavy cover. This is also what allows fish to swim so closely and organized within schools.

Lures which disturb the water around them, like chatterbaits, take advantage of fish with strong lateral line systems, such as large mouth.



This one is quite obvious.

Most anglers are familiar with fish chomping on their bait once or twice. They are tasting before they decide to really bite. Most fish can identify taste by bite.

Some whiskered fish have the ability to taste food with their sensitive whiskers. Some fish can be tricked with scent patches or by spraying WD-40 or motor oil (Yes, you read that right) on their lures though these have mixed results.

Fishermen for generations have tried countless things to get fish to perk up and bite on a lure. I imagine it will continue to happen for generations to come; as long as people are fishing.


Smell is the most sensitive and well known of fish senses.

Fish can smell with great sensitivity and accuracy. You might never think that smells travel underwater, but fish were created with the ability to smell when we might think it never matters.

Salmon are the superhuman (superfish?) anecdote, swimming hundreds of miles back to their own spawning grounds guided by instinct and smell. The smell of predators, whether they be human or fish, can send any school of fish in to a terrified frenzy. Some predators like Muskie have the ability to distinguish between the smells of live and dead baitfish.

Scent patches or lure sprays will also generate interest or bites.


Final Thoughts

Some of the the above considerations are obvious while others may not have been. The goal it so understand which of these senses your target fish relies on most.

Remember, each fish species will be different in using their senses in the water. Fish which rely on lateral line and sight are drawn to colors, flash, and disturbance are best targeted by things like chatterbaits. If you can master these fish senses then you’re on your way to becoming a master angler.

As mentioned earlier, fishing is more that a “bait in the water game” it takes knowledge to succeed.

Happy fishing!

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February 17, 2017