how fish see

Trout camo – just wear it.

Camouflage is an essential means of survival for many wild critters. Nature lends a wide variety of unique color and pattern variations to keep these critters well-hidden from predators, and those same predators also employ effective camouflage as a means of making them more stealthy and able to sneak up on their prey.

Many fish have dark coloring on their dorsal side so that predators from looking down from above cannot easily spot the fish against the dark field of water in which the fish swim.  Similarly, those same fish are light-colored on their bellies so that predators lurking below do not easily see the fish against the light from above. Obviously this varies from one fish species to another, and some are much more specialized when it comes to natural concealment: certain types of fish are experts at blending perfectly into their surroundings while others take a more general approach. For example, the spotting on a trout’s backside doesn’t exactly replicate their environment, but the spots serve to break up their outline in much the same way as do the spots on a guy with say,  full body leopard spot tattoos. This makes it difficult to see the trout, just as it makes it difficult to look at the guy with the tattoos.

Being apex predators, we humans have devised ways to overcome our lack of natural concealment by cloaking ourselves in clothing that allows us to blend in to our environs. For example, you can just barely detect the man below sitting on his couch because his camo Snuggie hides him so effectively, making him appear to be no more than a lump of decomposing vegetable matter, or something.

The hunting industry is inundated with more camouflage patterns than you can shake a foliage branch at. From intricate designs that look like marsh grass to conifer trees and everything in between, including snow (which is amazingly not just a field of white), companies like Realtree and Mossy Oak offer just about everything imaginable. If you want to see the many camo patterns available, just attend an outdoor sports expo. Though cleverly disguised, there will be hundreds if not thousands of attendees blending into their environment.

Can you see the plaid-clad hunter in this photo?

Before the invention of modern camo patterns, plaid jackets seemed to do the trick of breaking up the hunter’s outline and sufficiently concealing big game stalkers from their colorblind quarry. Similarly for hunting waterfowl, canvas coats in drab shades of brown and tan seemed to be all that was needed to effectively shoot a generous limit of ducks, which do see color. But it’s the 21st century, and in this world of specialized gadgets and gizmos, camo manufacturers know they have a viable market and they do an effective job of advertising to their audience. Case in point, yours truly has several different camo patterns for waterfowl, turkey and deer/elk hunting.  It all seems to work reliably well, having kept me sufficiently concealed and unsuccessful in my many days afield. All the cool camo in the world cannot make up for being an unaccomplished shot.

An argyle fishing sweater hides this angler.

The fishing industry is not quite on par with the hunting world when it comes to offering a range of camo for the pursuit of watery inhabitants. In fact, there are scant few options available to the angler who has been convinced that an argyle sweater or dull-colored clothing isn’t sufficient for remaining stealthy in the eyes of fish. What exactly a fish sees may be up for debate, and certainly I am no Piscatorial Opthalmologist.  However, there is information based on the study of fish eye anatomy to suggest that fish do see in color, even though they do not appear to have the keen vision of say, a turkey (who will scope you out unless you’re wearing the latest and greatest forest camo specific to the time of day in your exact county).

Many things affect a fish’s vision, including the amount of light on the water, the depth at which the fish are holding, water clarity, etc. Personally I’ve never worried too much about what color shirt or jacket I’m wearing when I go fishing. I tend to wear muted colors, but mainly because brighter shades don’t go well with my skin tone and eye color, nor do bright colors match my wading boots. I’ve never experienced a higher catch rate based on the color of my clothes, but for those who seek to boost their angling confidence by donning something a little more technical, there are a few choices.

Aqua Design Voyager shirt, 3D water camo

Aqua Design offers a full line of apparel that feature a variety of water patterns/colors. Their tagline says, “Blend into nature (and get close to those smart fish)”. It’s pretty cool if you like that look.  I suppose it makes good sense that if a fish looks up and sees you wearing this shirt, they’ll mistake you for water (albeit water wearing sunglasses and holding a fly rod) and be more inclined to take your fly. I wonder what the shirt looks like when it gets wet?

Fishouflage pullover featuring Bassouflage pattern

Another line of camo fishing apparel is made by Fishouflage, which is a clever use of “fish” and “camouflage”. Upon initial view it may appear to be just another woodland camo pattern, but closer inspection reveals that it is actually an underwater setting, complete with structure and a fish or three (maybe more). Certainly the familiar weeds and submerged branches will put any wary fish at ease should they happen to see you wearing this clothing. The fish may even leap out of the water and try to wrap your line around your clothing in an attempt to snap you off. I have a love-hate relationship with structure.

Pattern Master's Kiddy Fishing Camo

I discovered another interesting camo pattern but could not locate any clothing featuring this particular design by Pattern Masters. It seems a rather non-threatening pattern for the trout, bass or catfish that an angler may pursue.

The Trout Underground also came across some interesting camo patterns that are certainly worth a quick look. But look quickly, then quickly look away.

Hey, look— it's a funny fly fishing shirt!

Barring an actual camo pattern, if the goal is to hide one’s intentions and present oneself as no threat to the fish, another option might be to simply wear a funny fishing shirt. Humor is, after all, a great way to break the ice and make oneself moderately amusing, if not completely appealing. I mean, who doesn’t love a funny fishing t-shirt, right?

Just when I thought I’d exhausted all possibilities of camouflage for the discerning angler, Marck sent me a photo taken of him at a Nike outlet store. Ladies and gentleman, I believe Nike has produced the ultimate in trout camo! Of all the things that would put a wiley trout at ease, it would be looking up and seeing another trout. Even though this jacket was marked down to $120 (regularly $400), in the end Marck did not buy it for the obvious reasons: it makes a very bold statement. I’m not sure the fishing world is quite ready for this cutting edge design just yet.  Until it becomes a fashion accepted by mainstream angling industry, it would require a person with very little self respect to actually wear it on the water, or anywhere else for that matter.

I want one.

Nike Trout Camo—Just wear it.