Mar 29, 2010

What Marlin See

by Peter B Wright
How much of the color range a marlin can see is still an open question

How much of the color range a marlin can see is still an open question

Among the questions I get asked the most, two of the most frequent are: “What colors do you prefer in marlin lures?” or “Can marlin see color?”

Answer number one is “I don’t really care” — which is only partially true.  I tend to prefer colors that I can see.  I like colors that allow me to quickly see the lure when I glance back at the baits.  Red catches my eye and so does white.  Purple isn’t bad, and an orange and black combo is quickly picked up by my eye when I look back at the lure spread.

I also like colors that remind me of something that actually exists in the world of marlin food stuff.  Blue and white reminds me of flying fish.  Both purple, and a combo of red, white, and blue look a lot like the color I see when I get a side view of skip jack tuna surfing down the waves.  Yellow and green is the color of small dolphin fish and some of the scad mackerel that most bill fish regularly snack on.  I have had great success on chocolate or reddish brown lures that look to me like squid and stay down and DON’T make a bubble trail.  I think it doesn’t really matter.

The answer to the second question is “No one really knows.”  We have a few ways of making educated guesses but there is still some argument among the top bill fish scientists about what bill fish can see.

There is no doubt that some fish (including tuna) have excellent color vision.  The rainbow hued reef fish species that divers and snorkelers revel in should have color vision — Why else would they be colored like that? — and they do.  They live near the surface where all the colors of the spectrum still exist and use color displays for a wide range of behavior including mating, species recognition, and territorial defense.

Bill fish cannot be kept alive in a confined space.  We can only look at their eyes and compare them to the eyes of other species: fish, mammals, or reptiles and compare the physiology.  From sophisticated experiments on other animals we know which types of cells are necessary to see color.   Marlin eyes are mainly lacking in the types of cells known as “cone” cells needed for color vision.

Scientists can also analyze the chemicals present in the specialized cells that send the signals to the brain.  Marlin retinal cells have a high proportion of the photo active chemicals known from other species to respond to the wave lengths of light in the part of the spectrum we call blue but have little of the chemicals for other colors.  The inference has been that marlin see mainly shades of blue (the only color left at extreme depths), but can’t distinguish between other colors and are “color blind”.  A new study by an Australian researcher indicates that marlin might have some limited ability to perceive color.

The only CERTAIN thing about lure color is that if the lure does not first attract a fisherman it will not get used.  If it does not get used it will not get bitten.  No marlin, anywhere in the world, has ever stolen a lure from a tackle shop or out of a tackle drawer.

I once brought in a particularly ugly, over skirted, all white with rust stains, lure, that ran like an old rag that a client had asked me to put out.  When asked why, I said, “it didn’t run very well as it had too many skirts.”

 “I’ve already weighed one over 1,000 pounds and another over 900 pounds on that lure” was the hurt reply at my rejection of his favorite lure.
Needless to say I put it back out and left it out!!!

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