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"What color of lure did you catch those fish on?"

I hear that on a never ending basis when I am out talking to anglers across the state. You catch a fish and someone invariably asks you that question. 

Color is over emphasized. While color plays a minor role in your ability to catch fish, its not the primary reason why fish bite the offering. The first question should be, how were you fishing the lure, or what depth did he hit it.

But lest I digress, the focus of this article is color and how its choice can affect your fishing success.

The best overall strategy for choosing lure colors is to match the available forage as best as you can. It is important to do this when close imitation is the key to getting fish to strike. More so in clear water than any other water type. In clear water, fish can get a really good view of your offering at a reasonable distance. If it doesn't look like its supposed too, chances are, they aren't going to strike at it. This is the main reason natural looking forage colors are your best bet in these situations. 

In dingy water situations, the color match doesn't have to be so limiting. In these situations, you should try bolder colors. Fire-tiger patterns, yellow, chartreuse, even reds and whites excel. Usually in these situations, I opt for metallic tones, such as bronze, gold or silver, depending on the weather conditions. The brighter it is, the lighter I go for maximum flash. If it is overcast, you will usually have more success with bronze or gold. Countless days fishing spinnerbaits and cranks brought this important aspect into focus. 

I am not one for mincing colors. I usually stick with natural patterns, but I have a few off colors I reserve for special occasions. One is a metallic blue vibratail jig that perfectly imitates the minnows available in the Missouri river during June and July for white bass fishing. While I never put my finger on why, I found out through trial and error that the natural colors available at the baitshop didn't produce, even though they mimicked size and color almost perfectly. Perhaps it was a visibility factor in the slightly tinged waters.Perhaps it is because white bass key primarily on small shad. To this day, I can go out to one of my favorite points and within a few casts with this color pattern, I can have one or two white bass caught and released.

Thus, the mystery of color continues.

Perhaps indeed, it related to the time of day and available light. Darker colors seem to predominate in the twilight hours and the evening hours while brighter colors seem to work better as the light increases.Perhaps. Perhaps not. Depends on the body of water you are fishing. An instinctive angler realizes that he has to let the fish basically 'tell him" what they want through their responses to his different offerings. That is the gist of it all.

For example, when crayfish molt, they typically have a blue shell for a few weeks. But not all crayfish molt at the same time. If you are using natural crayfish browns and reds and having some luck, odds are you are going to stick with those colors. But knowing that blue shelled crayfish are softer and more often the target of gamefish then their harder shelled brethren should make you sit up and take notice. Most anglers I have found or fished with don't realize they have to take those little hints mother nature offers and use them to their advantage.

Forage color should be more important that the hot "new color ' that is the current rage. Every year it is a different color. For example. If the primary forage of a body of water is shad, Bluish silver should be a primary choice. If it is Bluegill, then blues, oranges and lighter shades of red are a primary choice. If it is perch, then yellow and black and dark olive colors would be a good bet. Smelt and you know its going to be silver. See where I am going with this?

There are some pros out there that say even the time of year can make a difference, emphasizing that darker colors work better in cooler water periods such as spring and fall and that wilder hotter colors should be the norm for warm water periods. I can see their justification to that, although I have some serious disagreements with it, having had some of my best luck in cold/cooler water periods with such off colors as hot pink and pumpkin colored lures. (The reason I tried the hot pink was because every angler I watched was using chartreuse or yellow and I figured if I gave the fish something different, it might trigger them)

Which brings me to my next point. If everyone is using the same colored presentation to catch fish, sometimes an oddball colored lure can be your best bet. If you exhaust your options with natural colors, then there is no reason not to try a color the fish haven't seen, as long as you present it the most natural way possible. This depends on what type of bait/lure it is and combine your retrieve rate to match the water conditions.

Everyone has a "lucky" lure which brings me to my final point. If you have great success with one specific color, then stick with it, but don't beat it to death. There is familiarity factor that goes with such lures and usually, an angler who finds a specific color to stick with usually is fishing the lure in a correct fashion which result is more fish and greater confidence.

Until next time

Keep those lines wet

Daniel C. Nielsen


Copyright 2000 
Reprinted with permission

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