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Topwater Colors According to Ronnie Pettit

By Russ Bassdozer

Can bass see more than just the belly color on a topwater plug? I recently had a chance to ask Ronnie Pettit about his opinion on this question and more. A little about Ronnie is that he had hand crafted topwater lures, and most of the people who had used them say his topwaters are the best. His clients were serious topwater technicians, and most of them ordered their own special custom paint jobs from Ronnie. Currently, his lures are not available, but here is an interview that contains some of Ronnie's insights into topwaters.

Do fish only see the belly color of a topwater plug? Can they see the color patterns on the sides or top too?

Ronnie: I paint topwater lures as though the fish are going to see the bait from every angle. While I don't believe the extreme top of the lure is seen, I do believe that a fish gets at least a 3/4 view of a top water lure.

Bassdozer: I also believe fish see the colors high up on the sides of the bait. The ever-shifting surface of the water causes infinite numbers of reflective angles that can reveal these colors to fish. Also, walking the dog and actively popping causes the bait itself to expose an astronomical number of different viewing angles to the fish.

What color patterns do you think work best on topwater plugs?

Ronnie: I believe the entire pattern should follow the examples of nature and specifically those of prey. The natural order for fish is dark on top and light on bottom. That is our minimum standard from nature. From there we can suggest shad with silver sides and white belly and black dot behind the gills. We can suggest bluegill with an orange or yellow belly and so forth. So that's the minimum standard, but it gets complicated beyond that because the variables and conditions in nature are endless, and once you factor in all the varying color patterns ever made that have caught bass...So while a fish may eat and strike at many things or colors, I still believe that the better we are at suggesting the target prey the more fish we will catch. In clear water that includes more than just the absolute bottom of the lure. In dirty water it may not.

When fish are looking up towards the sun at topwaters, do you think they can see the colors on the bait?

Ronnie: When we speculate about what a fish can or cannot see when looking up towards the sun, I think we innocently assume that fish see what humans see. To the contrary, I think fish see a lot more than humans do in this kind of situation. Sight is always touted as the bass's strongest and most important sense. I think that a fish can see and differentiate color values far better than we realize. The human eye is not able to distinguish extremes in light and dark and therefore makes a lousy benchmark for judging what a bass can see.

Topwater colors and finishes are becoming increasingly more realistic these days. What about realism in topwaters?

Ronnie: We know fish have good eyesight.. so now the question becomes.. does it matter if the offering does not look exactly like the real thing? I believe that because we are dealing with an animal driven by instinct not reason we as fishermen are able to "squeak" by using colors and shapes that "suggest" food. My art background has taught me that photo realism is rarely needed to get the point across. All we really have to do is give enough illusion to suggest prey fish to the bass and its instinct will take over from there.

I believe that a bass is programmed to prey upon anything its instinct recognizes as food. It does not have to be picture perfect. We simply have to send out the right signals. We have accomplished that with the walking, splashing, and popping sounds and movements our lures make. The problem is fishing pressure, hundreds of mechanical lures drug through a spot, and other unnatural or human factors work together to fine tune the survival skill of fish. So now that we are forced to become increasingly clever to "show them something they have not seen," we start questioning every detail of our offering.

We still should not give the fish too much credit... what do split rings and treble hooks simulate? How many bait fish sound like a tin can full of BBs? Why would a bass hit a Zara Spook colored like a frog? I have never seen a frog shaped like that or one that could move like that. I believe that as fishing pressure increases we will have to become better at fooling fish. That includes lure movement AND color. While complete realism may not be necessary - that's called shiner fishing - we who want the edge over the next guy should be better at suggesting food.

What about the concept of dark topwater lures for dark days and at night?

Ronnie: As for the conventional wisdom on lure color for night fishing or low light.... I understand the concept but I am not convinced that the fish are reading the same play book or following the same script that we do. While I usually use dark lures at night because "I am supposed to" I really have never been able to notice the difference.

Bassdozer: I would just like to add that I have caught more fish at night on pure white topwaters and crankbaits than I have on pure black ones.

Bassdozer: Thank you so much, Ronnie, for giving us your insight into topwater colors.

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