Bass Master KVD Ponders the Importance of Lure Color

Nothing escalates fishing fever like restocking tackle boxes with new baits we bought in the off-season—baits that we just know are going to produce big fish this year.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a river steelhead fisherman, big-lake troller, panfish angler or a nutty bass fisherman, we all have a fascination for new ways to trick a fish into biting. But I have to be honest with you: After spending the past several decades around the fishing tackle business, I can assure you that many heavily-promoted “hot” new lures are either knock-offs of longtime favorites or were created to catch more fishermen than fish.Stout-Does Lure Color2

Now, color is another matter. If there is one thing that intrigues anglers about lures, it’s color.

I had a conversation with four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion Kevin VanDam while he was restocking his tackle boxes during practice for the Classic.

“Does color really make a difference or do fishermen put too much emphasis on it?” I asked the pro.

“It should play a role, but not to the extent it overpowers your judgment,” VanDam said, smiling. “You have to be willing to experiment with variations of colors because it can make a difference at times.”

The color issue resonates with him now because his teenage sons are fishing more and asking questions.

“I find it interesting to see how they, as new anglers, select colors based on previous success regardless of a changing-lake situation or the bait style they’re fishing,” he said. “I’m not going to tell them they are wrong, because, again, I know confidence is huge as you develop as an angler.”

Yet, if you look in VanDam’s crankbait box, you’ll see 40 different colors. His soft plastic tackle storage looks like a rainbow.

“When I go on tour, I carry 500 pounds of plastics in numerous colors; I have to because each lake is different and we never know what we might encounter,” he says. “But there’s no denying I have my favorites because of the confidence and previous success I’ve had.”

He went on to say there are a handful of basic colors that work just about everywhere. But after fishing hundreds of lakes around the country during his 25-year career, he’s learned there are specific colors that you better have when fishing some lakes.

“A good example is Texas in the spring. The crankbait you throw there better have some red in it. And a year ago while fishing on the California Delta, red craw outfished everything else.”

VanDam says in most of the Midwest you can’t go wrong with watermelon or green pumpkin soft baits and hard baits that resemble bluegills, perch or crawfish.

“If you’re on the Great Lakes during a mayfly hatch, you’re going to catch a lot more fish on pumpkin brown than any other color you use,” he said, in regard to conditions and insect activity.

It’s also all about matching the forage on a given day, he insists. If bass and pike are feeding on bluegills, you better be using some shade of green pumpkin. On the St. Joseph River, where shad have become a prolific forage fish, some of your lures better have the lighter shades of minnow colors.

“Don’t just look at the basic colors, but examine the forage in the water and watch for any hues that may be reflecting off it,” he said. “Factoring that into your lure selection can be huge.”

Water clarity matters as well to the angler. When fishing ultra-clear water he chooses natural colors because the fish get a better look at your bait. VanDam insists that fish will shy away from lures that don’t look natural to them in clear water. And if the water is a little dirty, he brightens up colors so the fish can see them better.

Of course, there are exceptions to those standards. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve laughed at my boat partner’s lure color only to find myself digging in the tackle box trying to find one similar after he’s given me a good whoopin’.

“Honestly, there is no right or wrong in this debate,” said VanDam. “There are standards to go by, but then, there are days when a weird color just works better. The entire color game is another element that adds intrigue to the great sport of fishing.”


Louie Stout is a Hall of Fame journalist and longtime “Bassmaster” Senior Writer who has covered Indiana and Michigan outdoors for more than 40 years. He’s co-authored three books with Kevin VanDam and is the outdoors columnist for the South Bend Tribune.