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Best color fishing line for trout fishing (and does it matter?)

Most fishermen will claim you need to fish low visibility or clear lines when targeting trout. Is this true, or just confirmation bias? Do the trout actually care?

For new anglers, there is no need to take risks when trout fishing. The best color fishing line for trout is clear or green. The clearer, and calmer the water the more important having a low visibility line becomes.

When the water is dirty, or turbulent. It is possible to catch trout on almost any color line. If the water is crystal clear, and the trout veterans of a thousand presentations it is a good idea to use the thinnest diameter line you can get away with, better still if it is clear or dull green in color.

Another option is to fish a high visibility mainline, then tie on several feet of clear leader material. This is the best of both worlds.

My own experiences trout fishing with visible line.

I will share some of my own experiences, in general if the water is murky, trout innocent, or feeding hard they will ignore ‘visible’ line and will still take a lure.

I have caught wild brown trout as by-catch while fishing with wire trace. There was numerous pike in the water, so needed the trace to prevent being beaten off.

Wire is not transparent, and while it is usually in neutral colors it is certainly visible. Yet, the trout did not seem to care and will strike the lure. The clarity of the water is usually a bit murky, but not dirty so the trout’s senses would have been a bit dulled but they could still see.

I have also met quite a few steelhead fishermen who will fish straight high visibility line. These are usually older anglers, with failing eyesight. They still catch plenty of fish.

Can trout see fishing line?

Trout can certainly identify fishing line and are aware that it is there. If the fishing line is too prominent it can cause them not to bite.

I choose my words carefully above, because I do not believe trout only identify fishing line by sight. Trout also use their lateral line to feel the micro-vibrations the line gives at it moves through the water (1).

Trout can see and feel a fishing line as it moves through its pond.

A thicker, higher diameter line is not only more visible, it will also cause more disturbance, making it easier for the trout to feel.

I also believe, the faster a line is retrieved, the more ‘visible’ it will become to the trout. If fishing line just drifting with the current, chances are the trout will ignore it. After all things drift by them all day. If the fishing line zooms by at speed, this will likely catch their attention. Because it is so unusual.

A final consideration is that in clear sunny conditions, the shadow of a line can also warn trout of its presence.

Okay, trout can sense fishing line, but do they actually know what it is?

Trout probably have no idea what fishing line is. It is completely foreign to them. Their brains are smaller than a pea, they frequently mistake twigs and leaves for nymphs so it is surprising to think that they have no idea what fishing line is.

What trout can comprehend is that fishing line represents an unknown disturbance or presence in the water. Trout are both predator and prey, and like all animals are wary of the unknown. A large unknown disturbance heading towards them is a reason to be alert and not to take any risks which include feeding.

If they have been caught before, they might even be able to associate fishing line with danger. They still do not know what it is, but they know it can not be trusted.

Can trout see color?

Trout can see color, and by all reports, their color vision is better than ours (1, 2). But just because they can see the line better, does not necessarily mean they will know what it is.

Best color fishing line for trout?

I am on the fence about whether line color really matters. I personally find diameter is much more important. But I still do not take any unnecessary risks when trout fishing.

When targeting trout I always fish a clear, blue, or green leader. These colors blend in with the background, making them less visible

Ask any experienced trout fisherman, and most will recommend using transparent or low visibility lines.

The exception to the above generalization is that many steelhead fishermen do use high-vis line when float or drift fishing. Steelhead are rainbow trout after all, and despite their time at sea can be equally as fussy.

Below I have outlined the advantages of the different shades of low visibility fishing line. But to be honest, I feel like I am splitting hair when discussing the differences.

  • Clear line: The absence of color makes clear a safe color to use in all fishing situations. Downsides include that is it hard to see and keep track of.
  • Green line: Green line is good when fishing over weed because it blends in well with the background.
  • Blue line: A blue line is good when fishing deeper water, it blends in well with the general surroundings.

High visibility mainline with a clear leader is an excellent compromise

It is possible to fish any color mainline if you pair it with at least 3 or 4ft of clear or low visibility leader. I personally use a longer leader, around 8-9ft, because I do not like touching braid while casting. Line cuts hurt.

95% of my trout fishing is using braid, often bright yellow and I have not noticed any decrease in hook-ups. Trout simply do not care about the color of my mainline”.

How about in crystal clear water?

When water clarity is excellent, I take no risks and will always make sure to fish a clear or neutral color leader between my mainline and lure.

All of my fly fishing tippet material is also clear and has low visibility for this reason.

Advantages of high visibility line

The main reason people fish high visibility lines is that it is easier to see. Allowing for easier tying of knots and more precise presentations.

High-vis line is easier to see, making it easier to observe the line as it moves through the water. In many fishing situations knowing where the line is, allows for a better presentation that will result in more trout caught.

I also sometimes fish alongside other anglers, when two lines tangle (it happens). Separating a bright pink line from a transparent green line is much easier, than untangling two lines of the same color.

Bright lines are also a lot easier to see for anyone with poor eyesight. Tying knots in 4lb monofilament is fiddly at the best of times, it must be next to impossible when everything is a blur.

Not really a problem when spinning for trout, but birds are less likely to fly into and hit bright colors lines.

Summary and key points

  • Trout can see fishing line, but they do not know what it is.
  • Line diameter is more important than color.
  • High visibility mainline is advantageous, but consider using a clear leader when targeting wary trout.

Additional information

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