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Taking the Anxiety OUT of Color Selection
by North Alabama Guide Troy Jens

Looking at the almost endless array of colors that fishing lures come in can make deciding which colors to own? It's a major endeavor and, a major expense.

We often hear phrases like "it is the confidence colors that work" or, "colors are made to catch anglers, not fish". We hear all the explanations from the marketing gurus telling us of all the research theyíve done to make their colors the best.

I am here to tell you there is a huge difference between what color is important to us and, what color is important to the fish. Once I decided to listen to what was important to the fish, my tackle box got smaller and the number of fish I catch got bigger.

How is color important to the fish? Letís face it. There are some days you could throw a coke can into the water and get a bite on it. When fish are in an active state, color is much less important to them. Aggressive fish donít seem to care about much except to make sure they get to the food first before the other guy. These types of days are great but all too uncommon for me.

It is the inactive fish to whom color will matter most. Young, active fish like any young animal are more aggressive and curious than older fish. The younger fish are more apt to strike a bait out of instinctive curiosity. Once they get older they tend to be less curious and feed strictly out of hunger. They get old, fat and lazy and expend much less energy than the younger of the species. Somehow I can relate to that. A couple of exceptions of course would be during the spawn when big fish are protecting a nest or, in the event they have to compete for food with other predators in the area. The more natural you can make a bait look to an inactive or big fish, the better chance you have of catching it. Fish will relate to non-natural colors in some situations. However, they will relate to natural colors in all situations.

There are a number of variables in terms of color selection. Dark water, heavy cover, light conditions and the often overlooked bottom colors play a role in how a fish sees its prey. Here on the Tennessee River for instance we normally have a slight "greenish" stain to the water. It seems hard to see into the water from the surface until you talk to the divers in the area. They will tell you about the bottom which, is covered with shells. Most of the shells are white side up. This, according to the divers reflects tons of light making it very easy to see on the bottom. The high visibility factor has led me to adopt a rather reverse psychology tactic. Making a bait more difficult for the fish to see seems to be the ticket. This is also important in any clear water situation. Most natural forage comes complete with itís own form of camouflage and fish are used to those types of meals tasting good while at the same time, the fish will presume such natural baits will not yank them out of the water on the end of a string. When a fish can easily see a bait it is easier for the fish to know that it is not real. However, when something that blends in with the surrounding area comes along and is harder to see, the fish arenít so sure it is not real. Then they are more likely to take a chance and check it out as food...just in case. One example is that I often use clear, melon-seed colors in green, grassy waters. The bait is hard for the bass to see but I catch more fish on that color under those conditions than when using june-bug , red-shad or other easy to recognize colors.

Many people make drastic color changes for night fishing. However, I stick to the same natural colors. Iíve found that the crayfish and bait fish which bass have been feeding on in the day donít change colors when the sun goes down. I use the same natural colors for daytime and night fishing. The single most important factor in bait color for me is what does the real food look like. The same goes for how it acts. When you couple natural colors with natural action itís hard to go wrong.

I donít get into buying several different shades of the same color. As I have found for the most part, to the fish green pumpkin is green pumpkin, brown is brown and so on and so on. Unless it is a very noticeable difference in the light versus dark shade of a certain color I donít keep it. I have a friend who will change shades of the same color flake in the same color worm and swear it makes a difference. "Confidence" is the key he says. Well, I agree of course. However, when you learn to have confidence in what the fish like instead of what you like it will not only save you money but catch more fish.

Simplicity is the key to color selection for me. Most forage has consistent colors. Most crayfish are brown for instance. At certain times of the year there may be more orange or blue in them. A little dippy dye on the jig or plastic replica to add the changed tone is much more efficient to me than having 10 different colors of the same bait. I use two colors of jigs, black/blue and green pumpkin. Black and blue seems to work anywhere and most of the time. I donít quite know why black and blue is so effective because it doesnít look like anything Iíve seen under the water. It may simply be the contrast against the darker surroundings. However, black/blue is a case of if it ainít broke donít fix it. In clear water where crayfish are the main forage Iíll go to the green pumpkin with a matching plastic chunk. If the real crayfish are orange then I dip the chunk in orange and match the hatch. Two colors and two sizes of jig chunks cover all of my jig needs.

With worms it is much the same. I have junebug for a dark presentation, green-pumpkin and melon-seed for natural presentations. This also applies to my lizards. These three colors do it all for me. Whether they have pepper flake or green flake donít matter to the fish. Red-shad for instance doesnít do any better than junebug in my boat.

With crank baits I also keep it simple. I donít buy and try to use every color in the spectrum. My colors are the same natural shad, natural bream or fire tiger. At the speed I normally crank the fish donít have long to decide if they like the color or not. Much of the strike comes from reaction to the presentation and not on color. I think of crank bait colors in terms of bright, light and dark. The hundreds of variations of color shades in my opinion donít usually matter much to the fish. When the bream are bright in color and bass are feeding on them Iíll throw fire tiger. Otherwise, any natural shad works in clear water, stained water, Northern lakes, Southern lakes and daylight or dark. Many people will disagree but in all the hours I spend on many different lakes I have yet to see a bass care about subtle shade variations. If bass want something and it looks natural to them then they will eat it.

There are as many colors as there are opinions out on the market today. Most of the colors will work. The question isÖ how many do you want to carry with you? Take the time to choose the few basic colors you feel good about and match your forage. Again, itís most important to learn to have confidence in what the fish want. The fish always want something that looks natural. If it looks natural to you, it looks natural to the fish. While you may be taking time to change colors trying to decide what will work, some guy somewhere else is keeping his bait wet and loading the boat on a simple, basic natural color.

Good fishing, and get involved in protecting our outdoor sports.

Author Information.

Troy Jens is a full time professional fishing guide as well as an accomplished tournament angler.  Troy's beeen fishing since his Dad first took him at three years old. Sharing the knowledge he's learned since then remains his one true passion. He most recently appeared in Bassmaster Magazine in the July/August 1999 issue and January 2000 issue.  On the web, Troy is a regular contributor at the Bass Fishing Home Page.

With over 10 years of guiding experience on many various waters, Troy is versitle and committed.  Troy spends over 250 days a year on the water and specializes in tournament tactics, big fish, and grass pattern techniques.  He guides on a variety of lakes in North Alabama and spends most of his time on Guntersville, Wheeler, and Neely Henry.  Troy is experienced in guiding beginners through full time pros and works hard to help others improve their fishing skills.  He continues to share fishing knowledge through guiding, published articles and published fishing reports.

Give Troy a call: 256-534-4359
Visit Troy on the web at
Email Troy at

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