Catching bass on artificial lures is usually not by chance. In fact, an assortment of variables must be considered in selecting the right lure. One of these is which color or shade of a particular lure will be most effective under prevailing conditions.
To professional anglers, water clarity is the most fundamental guide in choosing the right lure color. Selection is determined by whether the water they are fishing is clear or dirty. In clear water use clearer, lightly colored worms, shad colored crankbaits and white spinnerbaits. In dingy water, use more chartreuse, more spinnerbaits with hammered blades, brighter chartreuse crankbaits and purple or black worms. For stained or muddy water, throw some sort of dark or bright colored lure. A plastic worm or crankbait in purple, black, brown or chartreuse usually presents a better silhouette for bass to notice in dirty water. In contrast, lures in lighter shades such as white, yellow, gray or silver typically draw more strikes in clearer water. Let it be noted, however, not all lures are simply divided into shades of light verses dark. For example, there are subtle variations in the component of a spinnerbait in which only the leadhead portion of the lure is painted. In this situation, the bass angler must scrutinize, the most prominent feature of the spinnerbait: the skirt. Here again, the basic light-dark distinction usually applies in skirt selection; throw white skirted spinnerbaits in clear water conditions, switch to darker colors or chartreuse for stained or muddy water. As for metal surfaces, like those of a spinnerbait blade, the light-dark dimension also holds. Most veteran bass anglers prefer to throw nickel colored blades in clear water, and brass, bronze, copper or painted blades in off-colored conditions.
Accomplished anglers also consider the weather in selecting the most effective lure color. If the sky is dark and cloudy, then choose a color that, once again, presents a prominent silhouette as the bass looks at it from below. Lures in black, brown and purple are an excellent choice for a dark, cloudy day, whether it’s plastic worm, crankbait or topwater lure. Conversely, for bright sunny days, switch to lighter, more translucent lures that present a subtle silhouette to fish. Baits in shades of white, gray, yellow, silver, smoke or clear are recommended for this type of whether.
Color and Forage Bait:
Another clue in lure selection is the coloration of natural forage in a given body of water. Traditionally, the two dominant types of prey found in most bass lakes and rivers are crayfish and shad minnows. The formula for matching artificial lures with these forage baits is fairly simple. For hard baits (like crankbaits, topwater lures, and spinners) the various natural crayfish finishes on today’s market continue to generate results. Bear in mind, however, that on heavily pressured waters, bass may become bombarded by this crayfish imitation pattern and a less popular shading may prove a better choice. Here is where spinnerbaits, crankbaits and surface lures may be an effective alternative to lures in the natural crayfish pattern. Consider those in the “earth tone” shades featuring a mixture of brown, black, purple, green and orange. A similar choice commonly occurs in matching hard baits with shad minnows. The most popular lures selected for this type of forage are those with either Tennessee shad or silver body with black back cosmetics. Here again, experiment with subtle color options.
A number of manufacturers market surface plugs and crankbaits in white, bone, charcoal gray and a prism like clear finish. Throw these as an alternative to widely used Tennessee shad colored baits. Similarly, there are some intriguing innovations in spinnerbaits in which the traditional solid white skirt, representing shad, has been replaced by glittery, translucent versions with sparkling glitter and mylar. There is more opportunity when selecting the right color for soft plastic lures. With hand poured or injected molded worms, grubs, reapers, crayfish or shad, the shape of the lure is duplicated in precise detail. Today, for instance, a multitude of soft plastics bring out the delicate mottled brown and green hues of a spring crayfish, while another bait features the bright red and black of the same bass forage in summer colors. It is important, however, not to limit your proper choice of lure color solely to mimic either a crayfish or shad minnow. Many reservoirs and rivers have other forms of natural prey that may require a precise color match. Some other secondary patterns featured in many lure catalogues include baby bass, rainbow trout, frog, perch, bluegill, shiner, bullhead, salamander and even mice. All of these different patterns attempt to match the particular shade or color of other forms of bass forage apart from shad or crayfish. You have at least a minor selection of lures in these more insightful patterns to throw when traditional colors fail to produce.
Quite frequently, anglers are caught in the field without the proper color in a particular lure. But with a small collection of felt tip marking pens and a pocket knife, you can use a few simple tricks to custom color baits while on the water. Keep permanent markers in black, brown, green and chartreuse in the tackle box at all times. These can be purchased at most stationary or art supply stores. The black pen probably has the greatest utility. In a pinch, practically any light colored plug, spinnerbait, or soft plastic lure can be changed to a darker shade. A dark dorsal fin or ventral vein can be added to both soft and hard plastic lures for a contrast effect the manufacturer may have overlooked. Use markers in brown and green to create the mottled tones on hard and soft plastic lures. This particular coloration has been widely popularized in the West as the “green weenie” look. And it’s one of the best combinations of color and shade to duplicate crayfish anywhere in the country. A chartreuse marker also can be a real boon when fishing in stained or muddy water.
If a crankbait or plastic worm can’t be found in this more brilliant pattern, add a slight trace of chartreuse to the bait with the marking pen. In stained water, a small band of chartreuse along the underbelly of the plug often can transform an otherwise bland, ineffective lure into a potent bait. The same custom coloring works when a chartreuse tail is added to a lightly colored worm. A small pocket knife can create similar miracles in the field for hard baits that aren’t getting bit. A subtle change can make the different. As mentioned earlier, bass in pressured waters frequently become accustomed to seeing the same parade of lure colors day after day. Take a pocket knife and scrape away some of the paint from a stickbait, chugger, popper or crankbait. Most likely, you will be now throwing a lure with your own customized paint and shade, offering bass something new and interesting.