With a warming climate bringing more turbidity and algae blooms to the Great Lakes region, researchers are exploring how walleye — one of the lakes' visual hunters — are adapting to changing water conditions.
Dr. Suzanne Gray, an associate professor of aquatic physiological ecology at Ohio State University, presented her team's findings at a webinar hosted by Ohio Sea Grant last month.
Gray's research, which suggests which color lures walleye prefer in different water conditions, takes a closer look at how fish are responding to human-driven environmental shifts — it also offers new insight to anglers in the multi-billion-dollar sports fishing industry.
Anglers on Lake Erie jumpstarted the new research through a citizen science project designed by Gray and her team. By working with charter captains, the researchers collected data on walleye catches, including photos of the fish, the bait used to catch it and the water conditions at the time.
The data suggested walleye preferred predominately white lures in clear water conditions, yellow or gold lures in sedimentary turbid conditions and black lures in algae bloom conditions.
“This was really interesting,” Gray explained during the webinar. “This is showing that there is some variation in which base colors are more successful at catching walleye under different conditions.”
The researchers followed-up with a controlled experiment to test the findings.
Using white, gold, black and purple lures, researchers found the walleye showed no preference in clear water, a preference for gold lures in sedimentary turbid conditions and a preference for black lures in algae conditions.
“Fish have amazing sensory systems," Gray said. "They can use taste, olfaction, hearing and we’re going to start to look at how those might play into their ability to detect lures and their prey if water conditions change.”