Selecting the Right Color Lure

Best Bait Colors-Tackle store shelf shock

Sitting at my desk to start this month’s article, I see the “wintry mix” accumulating on my rear deck. With February upon us, I thought we might stay inside and discuss catching colors for lures. My hope is that maybe a few basic concepts here might add to your success as a bank basser and eliminate some of the confusion that surrounds the great bait color debate.

I’ve been around the tackle stores long enough to recognize the look a new angler or even a non-angler buying a special gift for a friend has. It’s the look of despair as they peer down the long, daunting, wall-to-wall display of airbrushed or dyed must-have lures. As if the sheer numbers of multi-purpose lures and their 42 color variations isn’t intimidating enough, we are bombarded with the “pro” and “expert” videos on the end caps of these aisles, hawking all these baits a serious angler should never consider being on the water without.

What color lure to use? Is the top question on an angler’s mind

Sounds a bit dramatic, I know, but bait color has been probably one of the most-asked questions I get from emails, at sport shows, in tackle shops and wandering the bank among fellow anglers. I want to dispel some of the controversy about bait color, not add to them. My theories are not based on scientific data, but rather accumulated from 50-plus years with rod and reel in hand.

Probably the most important point is that the bait color you see hanging on those peg boards under the canopy of fluorescent-lighted aisles is not the same color a bass sees once that bait enters its environment. The colors on that bait change as the bait descends through the water column. Certain colors fade due to the lack of light penetration caused by lower water clarity, increased depth and the sun (or lack thereof) overhead. Without proper light from above, some of the most brilliant colors lose their distinctive hues once they enter the bass world.

Considering these factors, some years back I became less interested in intricate color patterns and turned my focus on shades of bait color, such as light or dark shades of baits. I’m still testing for sure, with some interesting findings. I’ll add these results to some future articles.

You can simplify this wall of confusion by selecting those few color patterns discussed in the article. bait color| Best Lure Colors| Select the Right Color Lure | Best Bait Colors| ice fishing safety | What color lure to use
You can simplify this wall of confusion by selecting those few color patterns discussed in the article.

“Hot baits” really hit or miss

I know what you’re thinking: “But I was told not to show up at a particular lake without the newest version of the Tennessee-Tequila Sunrise Sexy Purple and Lime Striped Orange Sherbet Spotted Deep Diver!” I know. I’ve been to that lake once or twice myself.

My theory, surrounding this must-have “hot bait” of the lake, goes like this. Some angler made an incredible catch. The word got out on his “miracle” bait type and color. Now, everybody fishing that body of water is throwing that same “hot” bait. So, now, that bait produces great numbers simply because of how many anglers use that lure. Don’t be swayed by these bait crazes. Instead, have a plan, practice that plan and stick with your choices.

My color choices might vary a bit from one body of water to another. But, my goal when selecting baits is to match my lure’s color pattern closely to the colors of the water’s main forage.

Baitfish mimics

For the purpose of this article, I primarily focus on hard baits—crankbaits, minnow baits and spinnerbaits. I’ll also include soft plastic swim baits. All of these baits move at varying speeds and reach different depths. (We won’t cover bottom plastics here—another theory and too much for this article. Stay tuned.)

Some of these might mimic a crawfish or frog, but most hard baits try to suggest some sort of baitfish. The key to selecting productive baits is to learn the color of forage in your particular waters and pick the patterns and colors that closely match that food source. You might ask if brightly colored baits produce as well? Of course. And, in certain conditions, a bright pattern might be what the bass respond to best. Every bait produced by various manufacturers can catch a fish at one time or another. I always carry one bright pattern in my box of naturals for this reason. But we want to key on patterns and colors that produce consistently. I believe natural colors out-produce most of the so called “hot” colors.

Just think for a moment. You crank your favorite square-bill down 5 feet or so into the depths in some stained water with the aid of a speedy 7.5:1-ratio reel. Your bait travels fast, close by a bass. Can you honestly believe the bass can discern the subtle differences between the scale patterns of the Louisiana Shad versus that of the Arkansas Shad? It can’t and it doesn’t care. If that bass chooses to react to that bait, the color doesn’t interest that fish.

Exceptions made for jerks

The exception to this rule is suspending jerk baits. These baits actually hang there in the water. A bass might give this bait a quick once-over before engulfing it. For these baits I want a natural pattern as realistic as possible. For most of our Midwest waters, these are my go-to bait colors and patterns:

Bluegill:

Bluegills, in most waters are the top food source for bass. These baits give off that dark appearance once in the depths, my favorite color choice.

Shad:

Next to the bluegill pattern, shad is my second most-used color pattern. Even in waters that contain no shad, the light-shaded shad pattern is highly effective.

Red:

Often associated as a crawfish color, these baits can produce in many waters. I stick with a dark red rather than the orange/brown of many crayfish patterns.

Bright Parrot:

Called many names by many companies, these are bright baits with combinations of bright blues, greens, and yellows.

Don’t get snagged on color, just get out and fish!

In conclusion, don’t fixate on colors as if they can make or break a successful outing. They’re a factor when choosing the proper bait selection, but consider shades rather than intricate, distinct colors. Learn and focus on how to properly present your bait to a bass—this affects your success much more than trying to find that magical color.

Stop giving fish too much credit for outsmarting you. Bass are creatures of habit. They eat, move, and reside in response to their environment. So, the key to experiencing a successful outing is your ability to consider current seasonal conditions, water temps, fish location and forage, then put all the pieces of the puzzle into place. A secret color or pattern or bait type can’t connect all these various components of angling success. The best tool lies between your ears, not at the end of your line.

It’s often said that many bait designs and colors are created to catch anglers, not the fish. Don’t be that angler who gets caught!

If you have any questions or comments you can reach Dan Brozowski at onthebank@att.net.

Check out more tips on how to pursue walleyes here!