The Eyes Have It

By Nick Simonson

There’s a curlytailed grub that’s getting tougher and tougher to find, to the point where I have to order it directly from the manufacturer’s site to ensure I have enough for the season.  While it comes in standard white and yellow, two must-have colors for my spring fishing, along both sides of the twisting plastic tail of the thread-on body are three black dots.  My theory is that these dots symbolize eyes underwater, and based on my research, serve as a predatory cue built into all aquatic species since the first primitive life forms developed the light-sensing receptors.  While I can’t say for sure that these twister tails outperform their non-dotted contemporaries by a rate of three-to-one, I can tell you that more of my success has come on the dotted versions than the plain ones. 

The same goes for jigs.  A plain painted jighead with no eye dot on it doesn’t make it into my shopping cart.  It has to have at least one drop of paint on each side – plain black is fine, but a dot of black within a white circle is best.   Whether at the front or the back (or both ends) of a lure, presenting an eye to the discerning predators I’m seeking – walleyes, smallmouth, crappies and the like, which often require a bit more realism – is key to catching them.  Even on offerings like crankbaits for trolling or large streamers on the flyrod, an eye provides an added element of realism and gives fish something to home in on. It’s the hallmark of a good lure, and one of something edible in the natural world. 

Just like the red-and-white swirl of the Coca-Cola logo draws shoppers to the center of the pop aisle in the grocery store, or the green-and-white circle of Starbucks causes drivers to swerve recklessly across lanes of traffic to get their caffeine fix at the drive-through window, these tiny dots seal the deal with feeding fish.  The eye, placed at the front of any edible baitfish, is a signal to predators that their next possible meal is indeed alive, and gives them a target to move in on and inhale. If there was brand recognition underwater, the eye on a prey species would most certainly be akin to the golden arches of McDonalds seen along the proverbial freeway as fish cruise around in any river or lake. 

Notably, many creatures in the wild – from baitfish like spottail shiners and even gamefish like redfish found in the inshore waters of America’s southern and eastern coasts – have developed eye-based defense mechanisms as well which exploit this predatory instinct, but in a way which may save their lives.  On these fish, the fake eye spots have evolved at the back of the body, meaning the hungry bird such as a heron, or a larger feeding predator fish, more likely key in on those markers than the head and injure the less vital area when they strike, allowing the would-be prey to escape with only a minor nick, instead of becoming lunch. Thus, through what were likely odd twists in evolution, these species have exploited the urge of predators to target an eye for their survival, passing that trait on through the generations and developing the hallmark of their species in the process.

This season, experiment with lures that offer up a well-defined eye, or perhaps have dotting, spotting or other specks on them which resemble eyes underwater.  Compare and contrast them with the level of success found with other lures that don’t and determine which ones work best.  Odds are that those jigs, crankbaits, plastics and other offerings with this added bit of realism will help provide a better target to fish that are on the feed and help you connect with more hooksets.  In time, you’ll see a clearer picture develop as to just how important eyes are when it comes to targeting your favorite predator fish looking for an easy meal.

Featured Photo: See What I Mean?  This large-eyed white crappie targeted a standard jig-and-tube combo.  Even the smallest suggestion of an eye on an offering gives predators a target to key in on and adds a bit of realism to any lure, no matter how gaudy or unnatural it might seem. Simonson Photo.

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