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So Many Colors, So Little Time

By Russ Bassdozer

Color may not matter to anglers, but it does to the fish!

What a controversial statement that is! Like religion and politics, this is an area where people have highly personal opinions.

The biggest challenge we face as anglers is whenever we walk into any tackle store to buy lures. We are faced with infinite choices of colors. Is it all just a big trick to get us to unzip our wallets? Not in my opinion. I truly believe that color does matter. I can recall too many times when the trick to unzip fish lips was the color pattern on a bait.

Fortunately for us, we can reduce the complexity of color choice by putting almost all lure colors into one of several broad "food groups":

1) Predominantly white or white-bellied lures

2) Predominantly black lures, including black/purple, black/blue, black/red, and other primarily black combos

3) Neutral, subtle, muted lures, ranging from a Smoky Joe pattern on a crankbait, a natural tan-colored surgical tube lure, a translucent smoke-colored soft plastic bait, a transparent plastic popper, or a clear amber darter.

4) Flash colors, including of course tins, chrome-sided plugs or those with metallic inserts, or soft plastic baits that are fundamentally clear and laced with heavy doses of metal flakes in the soft plastic. By the way, gold flash is a highly desirable color to fish at times...and even copper flash...but there are few copper flash lures on the market.

5) Bold shock colors, the most familiar of which are fluorescent green, hot chartreuse, school bus yellow, fire tiger, and hot pink bubblegum.

By the way, I put natural baitfish-colored lures (those with a darker dorsal color and mostly white or silver sides) into either the predominantly white or the flash category.

Sure, there are be a few color patterns that do not fit neatly into one of the above about the multi-colored "rainbow" pattern and "chicken scratch"...where would you place them in the categories above? But these are infrequent exceptions - the majority of lure colors fall into one of the above genres.

If I do not know what fish want, then I will deliberately rotate lures from each of the "food groups" above until something clicks with the fish. That is, I'll try a predominantly white lure, a predominantly black lure, a neutral-colored lure, a flash lure and then a bold color in rotation. Doesn't matter to me if it is day, night, twilight, sunny, cloudy, calm or rough water, clear water or dirty water, deep or shallow. Doesn't matter one bit...I think the fish can pretty much see and sense all colors of all lures 24 hours a day, seven days a week, spring, summer, winter or fall. So, the problem to me is not that they cannot see it, but that they are not biting it. Often, I know there is a school of fish in front of me and I can see them actively feeding. I just want them to hit something, anything...and it can be remarkably unpredictable. You have to discover by trial and error what will trigger the school to bite. Once you find what will trigger them, then it can become pretty predictable at that point. In fact, you may be able to really hone in on them and start making fine distinctions such as that a black back/clear sparkle belly plastic shad is catching more than a blue back/clear sparkle belly shad.

There are many other factors beyond color that go into triggering them - of course, size, shape, speed, action, sound, vibration, displacement, fall rate of a jig -- but the topic of this article is color, so I have limited my comments here to just that.

I do not use or choose different colors for night or day fishing. What I mean is that I have a surf bag filled with lures, and I use the same color of lures in my bag regardless of whether it is day, night, or twilight.

So what's the moral of the story? How important is color? Color is just one of many factors to selection of a lure. Sometimes it matters a lot, sometimes seemingly not at all. In any event, color DOES affect your success every day. On every trip, you must choose - either the right color(s) or the wrong ones. It remains a variable that you, as an angler, must consciously control. Fortunately, color decisions can easily be broken down into five basic categories. Then, choosing colors becomes a controllable process that anglers can systematically apply to better their success while out on the water.

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