When it comes to human aesthetic we love contrast. Wood grain floors contrasted with all white walls, black and white checkered tiles, etc. Contrast helps us see things more clearly and makes objects pop. When something is all one color it, in many minds, is drab, dull, boring, and unpleasing (picture an all-white psychiatric ward room). I think fish are similar. They love contrast.
Popular Fly Patterns: When you think about many popular patterns they all have aspects of contrast. For example, the white goose biot sitting on top of a Prince Nymph, the orangish/ yellow jungle cock eye that sits on the cheeks of spey flies, the red thorax contrasting the dark body of a Royal Coachman, the dark turkey wing case on a Hare's Ear Nymph, not to mention the modern inclusion of “hot spots” on almost all competition flies.
Scientific/ Biological Aspects
I don’t know specifically why fish love contrast. I scoured the internet to find some sort of biological reference point to unlock and reveal the scientific aspects to contrast and fish, but came up empty handed. I didn't have the resources or time to completely study the eye and it's ability to perceive objects, depth, etc. on fish either so I'll have to go with my gut and some logic on this one.
I think some of the biggest factors are, contrast makes the fly stand out more opposed to the usual sticks, leaves, moss chunks, and other debris that float down river. This contrast allows fish to target the fly easier. Now, maybe it’s something else completely - if you know tell me! The bottom line is, contrast works.
Ways to Incorporate Contrast in Fly Patterns:
- Two Tone Materials
What I’m talking about here isn’t exactly only ultra bright colors. With contrast oftentimes just using a dark colored material on the top and a light on the bottom will do. It’s a natural color scheme that mimics most every baitfish and insect that exists. Olive over white, black over grey, orange over yellow, all sorts of combinations will do!
- Hot Spots (Collars and Tags)
Competitive fly angling has pushed fly fishing, specifically nymphing techniques, into a new era. It really has emphasized and showcased the importance of hot spots. A hot spot is essentially ultra-bright colors somewhere on the fly typically the "collar" or the tail of the fly. There's a reason why these professional anglers do this - hot spots catch fish - simple as that.
- Eyes, Cones, and Beads
Nowadays, you can find all sorts of unique things to put on your flies, from double pupil dumbbell eyes to blaze orange slotted tungsten beads. The “head game” options anymore are near endless. Think about it - from the whole gambit of Fly Men Fishing Companies product line, to the new product from companies like FireHole Outdoors and their matte bead lineup most of this stuff was just a dream 30 years ago. You're bound to find whatever you can dream up if you search through a few catalogs.
- Rubber Legs (Black and Orange, Pink and Orange, Brown and Green, etc.)
This is a super simple way to put contrast in your fly pattern. You can add legs in recipes that didn’t previously call for them, a Hare’s Ear Nymph or Stimulator, come to mind. You can use rubber legs as a hot spot (using bright colors), or just a way to include additional contrast into flies from streamers to dries (in dark colors too)! Try all sorts of differing colors to see what works best for you!
This isn’t cutting edge technology, but rather simple observations of something very basic. Including contrast into your fly tying may help you catch more fish! As well, there are cases where using contrasting colors creates an even better imitation of the natural species such as flies mimicking baitfish, stoneflies, caddis, etc. The bottom line is, you should start including contrast in your flies the next time behind your vise!